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Woodblock Printing Process For Beginners

by Winnie Li Updated on April 02, 2024

Are you passionate about painting or creating artwork? Then, woodblock printing is a craft you might fall in love with. The feel of the wood, the rhythm of the carving, and the magic of printing—every aspect is deeply satisfying. 

If you’ve been hesitant to try, assuming it's a cumbersome and prolonged process, then rest assured, you’ve found the right guide. This article offers a simple approach for newcomers to the woodblock printing craft. It sheds light on how laser engraving can transform a labor-intensive task into a more manageable and efficient process.

In This Article

  • Traditional Woodblock Printing Process
  • Woodblock Printing with Laser Engraving: A Beginner-Friendly Approach
  • How To Make Woodblock Prints With A Laser Engraver?
  • Conclusion

Traditional Woodblock Printing Process

Block printing originated centuries ago, first practiced by the Egyptians and Chinese mainly for fabric printing. This technique gradually made its way to Europe and Asia, gaining popularity and evolving along the way.

Among the regional techniques, the Japanese approach to block printing has garnered widespread acclaim and is still a cherished method among artists and craftsmen worldwide. However, the process is time-consuming and requires hand skills.

Tools Needed:

Want to try the traditional blocking printing process? Gather these tools:

  • Woodblock: The foundation of your artwork. Cherry wood is a top choice for its stability in damp conditions and fine grain, which translates beautifully into prints. Baltic birch is another good option, known for its dense, fine grain that allows for clean, even cuts. Aim for a thickness of 9mm or more to ensure durability during the carving process.
  • Tracing Paper (Optional): Useful for transferring your design onto the woodblock.
  • Carving Tools: A variety of knives and gouges will be your main instruments for carving. Look for sets that offer different blade shapes and sizes, such as V-shaped tools for detailed lines or U-shaped tools for clearing larger areas.
  • Ink: You'll need relief printing inks, which are designed to roll out evenly and transfer cleanly from the block to the paper. There are water-based and oil-based options. Water-based inks are easier to clean and quicker to dry, while oil-based inks offer richer colors and smoother applications.
  • Roller/Brayer: This tool is used to apply ink evenly across the surface of your carved woodblock. Choose a roller that’s soft enough to accommodate the uneven surface of the block and wide enough to cover your design in one pass.
  • Paper: The choice of paper can greatly affect your print's appearance. Smooth, heavyweight papers are typically used in Western printmaking, while Japanese papers are thinner but very strong, suitable for capturing fine details.


1. Transferring the Image to Block

transferring the image to the woodblock

©Utah Museum of Fin – YouTube

Begin with your design. You can draw directly onto the wood if you're confident in your artistic skills. Beginners can trace the design using carbon paper or use the soft pencil rubbing technique. Remember, your image will be mirrored in the print, so adjust for orientation, especially with text.

2. Carving the Woodblock

carving the woodblock

This step is time-consuming and requires patience. Work slowly to avoid mistakes; even shallow cuts will show in your final print.

Begin with shallow cuts to outline your design, then deepen them as needed. For removing larger sections of wood, choose a wider U-shaped gouge. Apply even pressure and carve in the direction of the wood grain to avoid splintering. Use V-shaped gouges for creating textures and intricate patterns.

3. Inking the Woodblock

inking the woodblock

Apply a thin layer of ink evenly across the carved woodblock. Use a roller (brayer) for a uniform coat. Less ink is better, as too much can fill in carved details, reducing clarity.

4. Transferring the Final Design onto paper

transferring the final design onto paper

Place paper over the inked block. Use a baren or a spoon to rub and press the paper onto the wood, ensuring even ink transfer. Carefully lift the paper to reveal your print.

the final woodblock print

Woodblock Printing with Laser Engraving: A Beginner-Friendly Approach

Although following the traditional path of woodblock printing offers a unique sense of satisfaction, it's understandable that this craft, with its steep learning curve, is not suited for everyone.

For those who are new to this art form and might not yet possess the hand-carving skills required, laser engraving is the safest and easiest alternative to traditional woodblock printing. It shines in the following departments:


Traditional carving offers a hands-on approach but can vary in precision based on the artist's skill and the unpredictability of the manual process. In contrast, laser engraving shines in its ability to produce incredibly precise and intricate designs. Laser is controlled by computer software, so it can achieve fine details that are often challenging and time-consuming by hand.


Another benefit of laser engraving is its automated nature. Once a design is finalized digitally, it is sent to the laser engraver, which then takes over the job. This automation reduces the physical effort and time involved in the carving process.

No Design Limitation

With traditional woodblock printing, the complexity of a design imposes limitations, as intricate details can be difficult to carve out by hand without risking damage to the woodblock or the fidelity of the design.

On the flip side, laser engraving opens up endless possibilities. Artists are not limited by the intricacy of their designs, as the laser can accurately reproduce any pattern or image, no matter how complex, directly onto the woodblock.


Speed is another area where laser engraving excels over traditional methods. Their engraving speed is in a multiple of 100 mm/s. What might take hours or even days to carve by hand can be accomplished in minutes with a laser engraver.

Very Safe

Traditional woodblock carving requires sharp tools and a steady hand, posing a risk of cuts or other injuries, especially for beginners. On the other hand, laser engraving is a contactless process. After the machine is set up and the design is in place, the laser does all the work without direct manual intervention, significantly reducing the risk of accidents.

How To Make Woodblock Prints With A Laser Engraver?

To create woodblock prints with a laser engraver, you’ll need similar tools as in the traditional process except carving tools. Here, you'll require a powerful laser engraver capable of deeply etching designs into wood.

CO2 laser engravers are ideal for wood engraving but can be expensive for hobbyists. Diode laser engravers are equally effective and often come at a lower price tag. Once you have the laser engraver and other tools, here’s a straightforward process to make woodblock prints:

diode laser engraver

Step I: Design Digitally

You no longer have to manually trace a design – a digital design is sufficient. You can craft your own unique customized design using graphic design software. Alternatively, you can download any of the pre-made designs available online. xTool Projects is an excellent resource for finding such laser engraving files.

Step II: Laser Engrave the Woodblock

Before starting the engraving process, it’s a good practice to slightly wet the wood. This can help reduce the potential for burning. Place the woodblock inside the laser engraver. Then, using the laser engraver software, drag your digital design onto the wood. Adjust settings based on the material, and initiate the engraving process.

laser engraved woodblock

Step III: Add ink to The Block

With your design now engraved onto the woodblock, the next step is to apply ink. With a roller (brayer), spread a uniform layer of ink over the surface of the engraved block. The goal is to fill the uncarved (raised) areas with ink while avoiding the carved (lowered) sections.

Step IV: Transfer Design to Paper

Carefully place a sheet of paper over the inked woodblock. For optimal results, use a type of paper that complements your ink choice and supports the level of detail in your design.

Using a baren, apply even pressure across the back of the paper to ensure the ink transfers from the block to the paper. The key here is uniformity; uneven pressure can result in patchy prints. Gently peel the paper away from the block to reveal your printed design.


Woodblock printing, an age-old craft, remains beloved by artisans. However, for beginners, the traditional route may not always be suitable. This is where laser engraving steps in, making woodblock printing accessible to all. Without the need for carving skills, you can quickly engrave a woodblock using a laser engraver.

Interested in trying this printmaking technique? Explore our collection of laser engravers and find one that fits your budget.

For more questions. Please join our Facebook group to get inspired!

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