Japanese Woodblock Prints (Moku Hanga)

The production of traditional Japanese woodblock prints is a complex and collaborative process involving several different people. The artist creates the design, which then goes to the publisher who controls the woodblock carver and the printer. The publisher oversees the production and arranges for the distribution and sale of the completed prints.

The artist draws his initial design in black ink on a thin sheet of paper. This drawing is delivered to the publisher who passes it on to the woodblock carver who pastes it face down on a cherry wood block. All excess wood is cut away, leaving only the outline of the design. This is called the "keyblock".

The keyblock is cleaned of all paper residue and the raised lines are inked. A sheet of hand made paper, evenly dampened, is placed on the block and firmly rubbed with a baren, a flat, disc-shaped tool made of a twisted cord wrapped with a bamboo sheath. This pressure forces the ink into the paper fibers. The keyblock proof is then returned to the artist who indicates the colors to be used. The carver then cuts a separate block for each color. In order to assure a perfect alignment of colors, each block has registration marks cut in a lower corner of the margin. The finished print can require from 10 to 20 separate color blocks.

By repeatedly printing and overprinting, the printer is able to create and control the nuances of color and texture that make Japanese woodblock prints so rich and luminous. These impressions can number 50 or more.

To see a comprehensive listing of the various sizes of Japanese woodblock prints, see our Print Dimensions below. For an explanation of terms relating to Japanese woodblock prints, see the Glossary page.

Print Dimensions

A full sheet of Japanese hand-made Hosho paper is approx. 15 x 20" (38 x 52 cm). The most common print size is Oban, approximately 9 ½ x 14 ½ inches (24 .1 x 36.9 cm); or half the size of a full sheet. Tate-e refers to a vertically aligned print, while Yoko-e is an horizontal format.

(All sizes are approximate)