Make Your Own Ex-Libris

Caution: For serious book lovers only; otherwise you might be extremely bored.

What is an Ex-Libris?

The Latin phrase means ‘From the library of…’.

An ex-libris (aka bookplate) is a printed label that people stick inside the front endpage of their books to indicate ownership. This was a practice in Europe as far back as the 15th century.

Wikipedia states that ‘Bookplates bear a motif relating to the book’s owner, such as a device (coat-of-arms), crest, badge, motto, or a commissioned design by an artist or designer. The name of the owner usually follows an inscription such as “from the books of…” or “from the library of…”, or in Latin, “ex libris“. Bookplates are important evidence for the provenance of books.’

This practice eventually spread to Japan where some famous woodblock artists were commissioned to make them, which is how I got to know about them. Below are some of my favourite examples.

Two colorful designs by the legendary Clifton Karhu. Hamahata (1970s), Kita (1982) Images from ukiyo-e.org

Today, there are many collectors who specialize in collecting vintage ex-libris (not sure if there’s a plural here) from different countries or time periods. There are many good blogs dedicated to this hobby too if you google around.

Making Them.

Of course, I had to get in on the action (making, not collecting), so I designed my own ex-libris by combining the following:

  • Getting my chinese name in a suitable font from this online generator. If you’re not Chinese or don’t have a Chinese name, get one first from this page. If it sucks, please remember that I can’t read or write chinese…
I put in Arsene Wenger and got this.
  • After that, I just got an image I liked off Pixabay.
  • Combined everything in Gimp/Paint/Powerpoint (whatever floats your boat, I used a bit of all three). I wanted to keep mine in red, evocative of the style of Chinese/Japanese seals. However I have no skills in making them look vintage so this is a modern take.

And here is the final result:

Shout out to the cats…

Next Step: Making The Prints.

I carved out two woodblocks by hand on a piece of virgin birch from Kyoto for the…….okay I’m just kidding. I have leftover sticker paper from some past projects so we’ll just be printing this on them using my inkjet printer. You can buy the sticker paper (A4 size) via Lazada here. I went with the matte version for better results.

Some others opt to turn their designs into a rubber stamp as well. There are many websites you can upload your image to and they will then produce and ship you the physical stamp.

6 bookplates to 1 A4 sized sticker seems about right. Cutting skills are completely atrophied though, here goes…
The final product! Pretty sure this is the front endpage…

I’m pretty happy with how mine turned out. As my books will be inherited by my kids in future, I thought this would be something whimsical to make. Also if some of the books are donated or given to friends, this will make the gift a little more unique.

So you see, making your own ex-libris isn’t a very complicated project. Anyone with basic computer skills can do it. You just need to have a design in mind. Oh, and probably a deep love for books and reading.

*Update: I made one for my sister as well!

I used a vintage Ogata Gekko print for the graphic.

*If you make any purchases via my Lazada links, I may get a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for reading!

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