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Traditionally used in Japanese woodblock printing, a baren is a circular tool with a flat face used for rubbing paper to effectively transfer ink. Like many artists, you might have found that a wooden spoon can serve a similar purpose, but there’s no true substitute for a baren. The tool eases the burnishing process, allowing you to achieve more uniform and steady circular motions while covering more space in less time. Barens can also be used for linoleum printing, gel printing, and more, and they cause far less slippage than a brayer. Explore our favorite ones below, and say goodbye to the spoon.
Speedball Block Printing Baren
Speedball’s baren has a thick, easy-grip wooden handle and a bottom that smoothly glides over paper while delivering proper, evenly distributed pressure. It is designed as a modern take on a traditional Japanese hon baren, which features a slightly rough base made of a coiled cord. A similar, if more subtle, texture is achieved here with Nitex nylon mesh, which forms a cushion that is very responsive to the user’s touch. With a 4-inch diameter, this baren is well sized for both small and large prints. Use gently on more delicate papers, like mulberry paper.
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Blick Economy Baren
This is a perfectly utilitarian baren that is roughly half the price of our top pick and suited for use by adults and children. Unlike Speedball’s baren, it doesn’t feature any padding and instead has a very smooth face made of ABS plastic. Measuring 3.75 inches in diameter, this rigid surface is less responsive but does an effective job of transfrering ink for basic printing projects that don’t have lots of intricate, small details. The tough plastic is affixed to a sturdy wooden handle that provides a comfortable grip.
Heteri Baren and Wooden Mushroom Roller
This printing kit comes with two tools: a mallet-like pearwood implement that resembles a long-stemmed mushroom, and a firm plastic baren. The former is ideal for applying highly concentrated pressure as it glides smoothly across paper. The baren itself is a riff on a disk baren invented by a Japanese professor of printmaking, Akira Kurosaki. Rather than a smooth surface, it features a base uniformly covered with small raised dots, which is ideal for smaller prints and delicate papers. Use the two tools alone or together for inking blocks, printmaking, and more.
Yasutomo Bamboo Baren
The most traditional baren on our list, this option is aesthetically pleasing and eco-friendly, but it requires a bit more care than the competition. The disk is encased in bamboo bark, providing a base that has a tough, organically grained texture. It is highly effective for printing subtle surface details, and it responds well to various pressures. You can apply a good amount of force to this baren, but it is relatively brittle, so it is not the best tool for rough surfaces. Still, if you use it for small projects and thinner papers like mulberry paper, and if you clean it with care, this baren can last a long time. Sold in two sizes (3.88 and 4.75 inches), this baren is also most comfortable for those with smaller hands, as the handle area is quite tight.
Speedball Red Baron Baren
This striking red baren is similar in design to Blick’s economy offering, the main differences being its slightly larger diameter and slightly higher price. It features a hefty, comfortable hardwood handle that’s firmly attached to a plastic base, which is very smooth and completely flat. The plastic is tough and won’t break should you accidentally drop it; it’s also easy to clean. The face measures 4 inches in diameter.