A baren (or barren) is a tool used in Printmaking. The main use of a baren is as a hand press for techniques such as woodblock printing or cine-colle. For example, a piece of paper would be placed over an inked woodblock and the baren would be used to burnish the back of the paper and transfer the image. (Burnish means to apply smooth and even pressure.) Baren vary in size and texture but most are circular and about the size of the palm of your hand. There are several types of baren.
Hon Baren- Hon meaning "real", some consider these to be the best in the business. Starting at 640 US dollars for 0.4 pounds, I would hope they were correct. They come in three textures fine, medium, and coarse. Due to the light amount of pressure they apply these baren are specifically useful when the artist is trying to get fine lines or is using thin paper.
Ball Bearing Baren- The backing of this baren is made from black leather with a twisted piece for the handle. Attached to the leather is a piece of metal with holes in it to house the many tiny ball bearings. This, like the Hon Baren, makes it possible to pull prints with a small amount of pressure. Ball bearing baren run at about 225 US dollars each.
Korokoro Baren- A plastic ball bearing baren similar in make to the metal versions. Korokoro are about 125 US dollars.
Murasaki Baren- These baren originate in Japan. The word murasaki means purple, which is the color of the inner coil of the baren. They were created with the intent to duplicate the qualities if the Hon Baren with less expense. They are made of a hard twisted cord that applies heavy pressure to the print. The cord is covered with a bamboo sheath. Murasaki baren come in various textures from Murasaki soft for detail and Murasaki super for heavy printing. The baren range in size from three to four inches. They can be purchased for between 50 and 160 US dollars.
Sosaku Baren- Similar in concept to the Murasaki baren, but less well made and less expensive. They have plastic backing for the twisted cord. The cord is covered with a bamboo sheath. Cost: about 30 US dollars.
Pla-Baren- Pla in this case is short for plastic. These baren are simple and cheap, about 4 US dollars. The surface of the baren is covered in tiny bumps giving it surprising printing power.
Standard Baren- These are the most popular baren for students and novice printmakers. They are constructed from a piece of cardboard covered in a bamboo sheath. They range in size from approximately 4 inches to over 15 inches. The advantages of the larger, more expensive baren are versatility and they won’t press the paper into cleared spots on the block, inking where ink shouldn’t be applied. They range in price from 8 US dollars to 50 US dollars.
Magic Spoon- This baren looks similar to- you guessed it- a spoon. It has a foam handle and a slightly convex top. The spoon’s surface is just soft enough to overtime become shaped to the user’s specific rubbing motions. Magic spoons cost about 14 US dollars.
Wooden Spoon- You could also go super economic and simple and use the wooden spoon lying in your kitchen drawer. This baren will set you back just a couple dollars, at most.