Wood engraving is used in the printing and publishing industry to produce images with great detail on wooden blocks. While woodcut employs relief processes, wood engraving cuts into the end grain of dense hardwood blocks such as boxwood to form images. Once complete, these images can be inked up using presses before being printed and inked by the press.
Wood engraving requires skill and precision. Engravers use special tools like fine, pointed chisels and burins to carefully remove parts of a woodblock that won’t be printed – this allows them to create intricate lines, textures, and tonal variations in their images while leaving areas meant to print untouched. Artists work backward by carving away white areas while leaving those intended for printing unaltered.
Wood engraving became increasingly popular for book illustrations during the 19th and early 20th centuries, as it enabled the reproduction of intricately detailed images that could be printed along with text. The wood engraving proved especially adept at reproducing fine lines and intricate details, creating prints with distinct, crisp qualities and rich tonal range.
Wood engraving may no longer be used as a mainstream commercial printing technique; however, its artistic value still needs to be improved. Collectors of wood engravings still appreciate its distinctive aesthetic and craftsmanship; its historical importance can also be recognized. Today, wood engraving continues to be practiced by an active community of artists and printmakers who value its traditional yet tactile nature.