A Baren is a lightweight, hand-held disk made with an ategawa or stiff backing piece; a shin, which is a coiled pad of twisted fiber; and a Barengawa (cover) made from a takenokawa (bamboo sheath). The Baren is used to rub the back of the printing paper after it is placed on the inked block, to transfer the ink into the printing paper.
Left: the black ategawa on a Hon Baren is under the handle formed by the Barengawa
Right: when the Barengawa is removed, you can see the shin on this Murasaki Baren, which is the working part of the Baren
Benefits of Baren
Unlike a printing press, a Baren is light weight, easy to carry and takes up very little space.
Although it is quite simple in appearance, it possesses all of the qualities necessary to get an ideal impression from a woodblock. A well-made Baren has many raised points in the shin that make contact with the printing paper simultaneously, so that one stroke will print a wide area. The subtly convex shape of the ategawa places the pressure from the printer's arm most strongly in the center of the Baren, so it moves smoothly across the paper. The disc shape of the Baren keeps it from falling off the edges of the carved areas of the block, which can strain the paper and allow it to pick up ink below the carved line. Instead, the Baren rides across the top of the block, bridging the cut areas and enabling the printer to obtain clean-edged impressions from the block.
While they are designed to print water-based ink from a wooden block, Baren also can be used to pull prints from either linoleum blocks or wood blocks using oil-based ink. Because oil-based ink is stiff and you cannot exert as much pressure as a printing press, the ink coverage will not be as even or solid, but many people appreciate the softer, mottled effect achieved with a Baren. Even if you do not use it for printing the entire edition, it's a great tool to have at home to pull proofs as you carve.
While Baren are available in every price range, there is a wide difference in how they perform. More expensive Baren take time and effort to make. However they are also more efficient and do a much better job of pulling ink off the block and into the paper.
Sizes and Kinds of Baren
Different sizes and kinds of Baren are used by printmakers depending on the area to be printed and the effect they want to achieve.
Baren come in several sizes, but the standard size is about five inches (13cm) in diameter. This size is large enough to keep the Baren from dipping into cut areas on the block, making clean, even and rapid printing possible.Many artists also keep a small Baren handy to print smaller areas.
The material used to make the shin and the way that material is twisted affect the Baren's performance and use. Basically, a thicker shin made with more strands of material delivers stronger pressure, which is useful for printing large areas. A Baren with a thinner shin is used for printing fine lines.
Today new materials and designs of Baren, like the Disk Baren and Ball Bearing Baren, are also available to printmakers. Many of these new Baren work very well and have gained wide acceptance in the printmaking community.
How to Use a Baren
The proper way to hold a Baren is to slip your four fingers under the handle with the thumb at the end of the handle, making a loose fist with the palm towards the Baren. Press from the heel of the hand, transmitting strength and power from the shoulder and upper body.
For more information about using and caring for Baren, please go to
Basic Instructions and look under "Baren & Presses."