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Wood engraving is a technique in printmaking where the "matrix" worked by the artist is a block of wood. It is a variety of woodcut and so a relief printing technique, where ink is applied to the face of the block and printed by using relatively low pressure. A normal engraving, like an etching, has a metal plate as a matrix and is printed by the intaglio method. In wood engraving the technique for working the block is different from woodcut, using an engraver's burin to create very thin delicate lines, and often having large dark areas in the composition, though by no means always. Wood engraving traditionally utilizes the end grain of wood as a medium for engraving, while in the older technique of woodcut the softer side grain is used.

The technique of wood engraving developed at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, with the works of Thomas Bewick. Bewick generally made his engraving in harder woods than are now normally used, and would engrave the end of a block instead of the side. Finding a knife not suitable for working against the grain in harder woods, Bewick used the engraving tool the burin, which has a V-shaped cutting tip. Engraving on wood in this manner produced highly detailed images, which are distinct in style from those produced by engraving on copper plates. Since wood engraving is a relief process (ink is applied to the raised surface of the block) while metal engraving is an intaglio technique, wood engravings deteriorated much less quickly than copper-plate engravings and had a distinctive white-on-black character. Wood-engraved blocks could be used on conventional print presses, which were themselves making rapid mechanical improvements during the first quarter of the 19th century. Cut to be type-high, the blocks were composited within the page layout along with the movable type, and thousands of copies of such an illustrated page could be printed with almost no deterioration of the illustration blocks. As a result of Bewick's innovation and improvements in the printing press, illustrations of art, nature, technical processes, famous people, foreign lands and many other subjects became more widely available.
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