Asian Prints

Asian prints probably first originated in China, where a wooden block was carved with a design or characters, inked and then covered with a paper that could be pressed on the design. These monochromatic Asian prints only required one block, whereas color prints required a separate block for every color. To make an Asian print, an artist would draw an image on paper which would then be traced by his assistants. Before the Oriental print could be made, each of the traced copies, put on thin, almost transparent sheets of paper, were attached to a smooth block of wood secured to a frame.

The design of the Asian print is then cut into the wood with a sharp knife with the negative areas cut away. A complex Chinese print with many colors could require many separate woodblocks. Because each Oriental print was done by hand, there were very limited runs of each image. In addition, each Asian print could have minute differences in appearance, especially as the printing process went on. This is because prolonged use of a woodblock would often cause the loss of its crisp edges, resulting in dulled outlines.

On occasion, a printer would sharpen the outlines by touching up the carving, which would allow the woodblock to be used longer for making Oriental prints. However, the drawback was that these touched up and recarved blocks generally produced Asian prints that were less desirable than those originally printed. Later on in Japan, around the 17th century, the print-making process made a quantum leap as artists began to perfect the color printing process. Japanese prints in color became a huge demand around that time.

Japanese prints and Asian prints from that time period, and in general, were made for books, albums or individuals. The most well-known type of Japanese print is called Ukiyo-e, which translates to mean "floating world". These Asian prints depict scenes from everyday life and were popular from the 17th century through the 19th century. Portraits of famous beautiful women, actors and the latest fashions were all common subjects on Japanese prints back then. Later, during the 19th century, landscape prints came into vogue. Most Asian prints include the artist's signature, title of the work and publisher's seal.