Does the line cutting technique in western wood block printing differ from the one in japanese wood cut?

In japanese wood block printing the line is cut almost exclusively by a sharp pointed knife - the hangi to

Japanese hangi to

by cutting at the line and then removing the unwanted area with a chisel or a counter cut (especially when lines are close together). Is this the same way lines are cut in western wood cut tradition, what kind of tools are traditionally used for this purpose?

On youtube(e.g. here or here) and instagram you can often see that some artists cut fine lines using a v-gauge. I feel this is an inferior technique as the line might be damaged or the cut might not be deep enough ( also the the gauge has to be very sharp for this and needs to be resharpened frequently)

1 Answer 1


The knife is more common in Japanese printmaking. I unfortunately can't find any sources comparing the two, but I hypothesize that one reason gauges are more common in Western printmaking is due to the influence of wood engraving. Another reason might be the style differences - Japanese prints are much more likely to have strong clear lines and large blocks of color. Note that gauges are still used in Japanese techniques, but usually to remove areas of the block instead of defining the linework.

The engraving process was used to create very realistic images and used a tool called a burin, which is essentially a gauge that's been filled in. Engraving involved much harder woods than typical wood blocks, which necessitated the tool. The gauge is more effective at removing large areas of wood and so may have become more predominant that way also.

Japanese art started having more influence on European art during Impressionism. You can see how Western prints evolved away from complex shadow gradients and into a world of higher-contrast and flattened picture plane. Their tools may have changed at this time too.

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