3 color print photo by Rachel Tine

Project by Jeremy Fryer-Biggs

making a woodblock print on your microfactory!

We aren't crazy (well maybe a little). You probably aren't buying our machine to make woodblock prints. With that said we enjoy creative challenges and showing off the range of things one can make with a microfactory. We set out to turn two images graciously donated by local Boston professional photographer Rachel Tine into simplified, abstract woodblock prints. The process was super fun and we are thrilled with the results!

project parts list

  • linoleum (or wood blocks)
  • printmaking ink
  • (2x) hard rubber ink rollers
  • good quality printing paper (we suggest a paper with minimal texture as it is hard to get the ink in the crevasses)
  • scrap wood for holding bracket
  • scrap wood for registration mount
  • piece of glass for rolling the ink evenly prior to application
  • painter's tape
required bits

you can use any size endmill on the woodblocks. We recommend something small (we used 1/32nd) to capture the fine detail BUT remember that the smaller the bit, the longer routing of the woodblock is going to take.

photo by Rachel Tine

making the jigs

making a woodblock involves simplifying a picture and breaking it into several independent color layers. In order for the result to look correct it is important that each block is milled EXACTLY the same way and printed on the paper in EXACTLY the same place. We suggest making a jig to screw into the spoil board which will allow you to hold each woodblock in the machine the same way and a jig that you can tape the paper to so that the blocks are all registered the same way.

for the screw in jig we recommend taking a piece of scrap wood (we had Plyboo around) and milling at least 2 "L" brackets that you can screw into the spoilboard. Make sure that they are tight against the block and that the block is oriented perpendicular to the "X" and "Y" axis. This will ensure that the blocks don't wobble in the jig and that the image will be milled in straight vis-a-vis the edge of the woodblock.

L bracket photo by Rachel Tine

next take a second piece of scrap and mill it in a "doughnut" shape so that the outside is the same size as the paper you are using and the inside is the size of the woodblock. This will allow you to register each block in the same position when you are printing.

Printing bracket photo by Rachel Tine

making the image

we started with these two images donated by Rachel Tine

photo by Rachel Tine

photo by Rachel Tine

next we used photoshop to simplify the image and break them into individual color layers

simplified image by Jeremy Fryer-Biggs

simplified image by Jeremy Fryer-Biggs

we now need to convert from pixel to vector format so that we can generate a tool path. There are several ways to do this but the easiest is to save the image as a .dxf file in adobe illustrator. If you open this file in a CAD program you should now see lines along the edges

CAD of woodblock by Jeremy Fryer-Biggs

we now use these vector files to generate toolpaths for the blocks. Note that each layer needs to become its own block and is therefore its own file

CAM of woodblock by Jeremy Fryer-Biggs

also remember that the less you cut out the less time it takes to make each block. Just cut out enough so that you don't accidently get ink on the wrong part when using the roller.

CAM of woodblock by Jeremy Fryer-Biggs

now you get to mill out all of the blocks. If you made the jig, you can pull out the finished block and easily drop in the next blank one then execute the file

toolpath of wodblck by Jeremy Fryer-Biggs

(a picture Linux CNC while the part is being cut)

block being milled photo By Rachel Tine

(see short video of the block being milled)


when you are done making the blocks find a clean surface to work on. Use the painter's tape to adhere the printing paper to the "doughnut" jig (the painter's tape is good because it is easy to remove later). Now apply ink to the first layer.

rolling ink photo By Rachel Tine

line the layer up with the center of the "doughnut" jig and press down hard. You can turn the whole thing over and use a CLEAN roller to press the paper into the block (which after turning over is now sitting on the table)

pressing block photo By Rachel Tine

and when you remove the block the first layer of color is down

after print photo By Rachel Tine

now repeat these steps for each layer

printing process photo By Rachel Tine

...and repeat some more...

printing process photo By Rachel Tine

And voila two beautiful prints! For fun you can change up the colors.

finished print photo By Rachel Tine

finished print photo By Rachel Tine

special thanks to

Rachel Tine - for documenting the process and donating the amazing photos!

And all of the people in the cubicles around me at the Artisan's Asylum who put up with a couple of days of straight milling as I, by trial and error, figured out this process :)