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SCRC Virtual Museum at Southern Illinois University's Morris Library

How Woodblock Prints are Made


1. The Outline

An artist (who's signature is on the prints) draws an outline using a brush and ink  on a thin piece of paper. The type paper used initally didn't matter, because it gets destroyed in the process.




2. Pasting and Carving

The outline that the artist prints is then placed face down on the wood block using a rice starch paste. The person responsible for this step is called the block cutter. The typical wood to use is well tempered cherry, because that wood is short grained, and is soft enough to carve, yet durable enough to be inked and stamped multiple times in order to create a the full color print.

The most skilled of these block cutters is responsible for cutting along both sides of every single line in the picture. The remaining wood inbetween the outlines was then removed with a chisel. This destroyes the ouline that the artist creates, but allows a raised line to be left in place of the ink to be printed.




3. Inking

When the block is done being carved, the block cutter turns the carved wood over to the printer. The printer then makes several outline prints. Because each color has to be done individually, several blocks of wood will be used for this single print. First, the origional will be used for a black outline. The printer paints black ink onto the block, and lays the special kozo paper on top. He then rubs it in with a tool called a baren-- a circular pad wrapped in a large bamboo leaf.





4. Coloring

After this, the printer and the block cutters work together with the artist to create several more outline drawings, one for each color, and then the blocks were cut, and inked for each individual color, so the raised part remaining will print that single color onto all the parts of the picture that required it. Therefore, the more colors used in a print, the more work it took to create. 

Since repetition was necessary for each color, the allignment had to be spot-on. This was ensured by two raised lines (registration marks) being printed onto the paper, so that the paper could be aligned with each block of wood every time. 

 The paper used for the actual print was a thick, very strong-fibered paper made from the bark of the Kozo tree. This paper needed to be very durable as it would be wetted and rubbed several times to add all the color to the print.




5. Final Print

After all the blocks are created for each color, the printer takes them, and lays them down, one by one, onto the kozo paper. This was generally done starting with the black outline, and then proceeding from lightest color to darkest.

For an interactive walkthrough of how these woodblock prints are made, please click here.

For a visual of how the print looks as color is being added, click here.