Guide to Standard Woodblock Print Sizes

Guide to Standard Woodblock Print Sizes

Hosho paper (奉書紙) is a washi (和紙) paper made of mulberry tree bark fibres and was commonly used for the production of Japanese woodblock prints. It was strong enough to withstand the pressure of a tool called the baren (馬連) when it was rubbed over the paper, but was soft enough to allow pigment to penetrate it.

Japanese woodblock prints have traditionally been made in specific sizes and formats based on the typical dimensions of Japanese handmade paper called o-bosho (大奉書) (large hosho). There is no exact standard for a large o-bosho sheet since papermakers used slightly different recipes and moulds, but the average size is approximately 53 x 39 cm.

The various formats of Japanese prints were cut from a piece of o-bosho sheet to avoid any possible waste. The most common print size was the oban (大判) format (which used half of a large o-bosho sheet), approximately 39.4 x 26.5 cm. This was halved again to create a chuban (中判) size print, with other variations also possible.

Over time, some sizes became more popular than others and some publishers favoured specific full-size sheet sizes because they were sold easily. For example, the formats hosoban (細判) and chuban were most common in the early 18th century, driven by the popularity of the prints produced by the Katsukawa school that specialised in actor prints in narrower formats.

The oban size became the preferred size for prints in the late 18th century and remained so for a very long time. During the Edo period (1603-1868) the ruling Tokugawa government regularly passed laws to regulate the production of woodblock prints, from paper sizes to depicted subjects. Despite the restrictions, artists found creative ways to produce images by combining various formats into larger designs. In order to create larger images, oban prints would be put side by side, creating diptychs (made of two oban panels), triptychs (made of three oban panels) and so on. 

The orientation of the prints are denoted by the terms tate-e (縦絵 'vertical picture’) and yoko-e (横絵 ‘horizontal picture’).

Print Format

Approximate Size (cm) H x W

Approximate Size (in) H x W

Notes

Oban 大判

39 x 26.5 cm

 15.6 x 10.7 in

The most common print size, half of a large o-bosho sheet.

Dai-Oban 大大判

42 x 30.5 cm

16.5 x 12 in

Large oban.

Kakemono-e 掛物絵

76 x 23 cm

30 x 9 in

Vertical format.

Hashira-e 柱絵 

68-73 x 12-16 cm

29 x 5 in

Narrow vertical format.

Hosoban 細判 

33 x 15 cm

13 x 6 in

Narrow format.

Chuban 中判

19.5 x 26.5 cm

7.5 x 10.7 in

Half of oban size.

Aiban 間判

22.5 x 34.2 cm

13 x 9 in

Between oban and chuban size.

Shikishiban 色紙判 

19.5 x 17.6 cm

6.7 x 5.1 in

Square format.

Tanzaku 短冊 

43 x 12.7 cm

17 x 5 in

Narrow vertical format.

Otanzakuban 大短冊判

39 x 17.6 cm

15.6 x 6.7 in

Larger tanzaku format.

Diptych 二枚続

 

 

Complete image of 2 oban prints.

Triptych 三枚続

 

 

Complete image of 3 oban prints.

Pentaptych 五枚続

 

 

Complete image of 5 oban prints.

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