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Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ 1: Questions on woodblock printmaking

(This FAQ last updated: November 27, 1999)

This is FAQ #1 of two. This FAQ includes information about woodblock printmaking. The other FAQ includes questions about the list itself.

Note that technical information about how to subscribe, unsubscribe, post to the list, and change to digest mode is available on the [Baren] information page.


  1. I want to make a print. What do I do?
  2. What makes up a basic carving tool set?
  3. Where can I get tools?
  4. What wood is best for making prints?
  5. Do I need special pigments? Inks?

I want to make a print. What do I do?

For an overview of the general process of making a woodblock print, read some of these on-line references:

In addition to these contemporary references, some of the books in the Library section of the [Baren] Encyclopedia contain complete and comprehensive descriptions of how prints are made.

What makes up a basic carving tool set?

For those interested in the Japanese traditional ways of working, [Baren] member David Bull described a basic tool set in [Baren] posting #60 - available in the archived Digest Vol #1 #12. That sort of set does not include 'V' or 'U' gouges though ...

For a more 'international' viewpoint on a basic set, see [Baren] posting # (this also hasn't been written yet - but soon will be, I hope!)

Where can I get tools?

If you are unable to find any woodblock printmaking tools in your local art shop, you will have to turn to specialist supply houses. Some are listed in these entries in the [Baren] Encyclopedia of Woodblock Printmaking.

What wood is best for making prints?

To quote from the eminently sensible advice offered by Mr. Tomikichiro Tokuriki: "Any flat piece of wood ... will suffice. If it is rough, plane it smooth."

Oh, you asked what wood is best ...? There is no single answer to this. Here are a few common types:

'Shina' plywood: used by beginners and pros alike. Not capable of holding very fine detail. Cutting is easy and fast, but not particularly rewarding, due to the varying grain direction in the multiple plies. Relatively inexpensive. Available in large sheets. Not much problem with block expansion or warping.

Basswood: (comment will be filled in here ... soon ...)

Cherry: the wood of choice in the traditional Japanese method. Hard and capable of holding fine detail. Expensive. Will print large editions. Not recommended for the beginner, who would spend much too much time resharpening broken tool blades.

Magnolia: a superb wood for colour blocks; generally too soft for fine detail work. Cuts like butter, and prints smooth impressions. Woodgrain sometimes vividly visible in finished print. Not really suitable for very large editions, as the wood eventually gets 'saturated'.

Pine: (comment will be filled in here ... soon ...)

Wood selection, preparation, etc. is of course discussed in detail in the Encyclopedia (or will be - one day!)

Do I need special pigments? Inks?

For the beginner, there is no question that water-based pigments are the way to go. Woodblock printmaking can be done with inks and a press, but watercolours will produce satisfactory results for someone just starting out.

Standard watercolour tubes will work just fine, are available anywhere, are easily mixed to produce intermediate colours, and produce pleasing results when absorbed by the paper.

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