A glossary of terms used with Chinese-style seals. See Seal knobs for terms about the decoration on the top of seals. See Seal Materials for terms about the materials used in the making of seals. Contact us if you have any corrections or additions.
ba die zhuan 八疊篆
Eight-fold zhuan script, in which vertical lines are folded back and forth to fill the available space.
See also: jiu die wen.
bai wen 白文
Literally “white writing.” A seal with white characters on a red background; sometimes referred to by the western art term intaglio.
See also: yin wen.
ban tong yin 半通印
A half-squared seal, or half-size seal. A rectangular seal used by lower ranking officials.
bi dao 筆刀
A graver (for engraving characters on a seal, etc.); burin.
See also: ke dao, tie bi, yin dao.
bian kuan 邊款
A seal colophon, or side inscription on a seal stone. “Usually appears on the left side of the seal when the seal is held in the correct position for making an impression.” A side inscription, if long, will start on the left side and then continue to the left around the sides of the seal stone. The illustration shows a rubbing of a side inscription.
bie hao yin 別号印
Courtesy/epithet name seal.
A western term for the steel tool used for engraving. Sometimes used as a translation for the Chinese seal carving knife although the tools in east and west look nothing alike and are not used in the same way.
chang fang yin 長方印
Oblong square seal.
chang yuan yin 長圓印
See also: tou yin.
Can refer to any stone with red coloring, though the term usually refers to a variety of changhua stone.
For more see: Seal Material.
See also: ji xue shi.
chong dao 衝刀 / 冲刀
Swift knife/pushing cut, a seal-cutting technique.
chong niao shu 蟲鳥書
Bird and insect script (calligraphy). Often used on seals.
chuan dai yin 穿帶印
Rectangular seal carved on two sides with a hole between to thread a cord through. The illustration is a bronze seal from the Han dynasty.
ci yu yin
“Word” seals, as opposed to pictorial seals.
da chuo 打戳
(To) stamp with a seal.
da yin 大印
Literally “great seal”; the seal of power.
da zhuan 大篆
Literally “large seal script.”
See also: xiao zhuan.
dan dao 單刀
Single knife. A seal-cutting technique.
dao fa 刀法
Knifework in the design of seals.
See also: zhang fa, zhuan fa.
dao qu 刀[?]
deng pai 鄧派
The Deng school of seal carving, founded by Deng Shiru (1743-1805).
diao chong zhuan 雕蟲篆
A type of calligraphy featuring characters twisting and turning like worms.
Eight Masters of Xiling
See: xi ling ba jia.
fang yin 方印
Square seal. The most common shape for a seal.
feng ni 封泥
See also: ni feng.
feng niao wen xi 風鳥紋璽
Phoenix pattern seal.
Silk ribbon traditionally attached to a seal.
gu shu 古鉥
Ancient seal. Usually refers to Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) and older seals.
gu wen 古文
Pre-Qin dynasty (221-206 BCE) script.
gu xi yin 古璽印
Ancient “xi” seal.
See also: xi yin.
gu yin 古印
Ancient seal. Usually refers to Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) and older seals.
guan fang 關防
Oblong official seal.
hai bao 海豹
Seal (the animal). This has absolutely nothing to do with Chinese seal carving.
hu lu yin 葫蘆印
Gourd shaped seal.
hua shu yin 花書印
Floral writing seal.
hua ya yin 花押印
Seals using Mongolian characters. Popular in the Yuan dynasty (1260-1368).
See also: yuan ya yin.
hui pai 徽派
The Hui school of seal carving.
See also: wan pai.
huo wen xi 火紋璽
Fire pattern seal.
This term is often used for yinwen/baiwen seals. A western art term referring to a raised background with subject carved out. We should stop using this term for seal carving as it confuses almost everyone.
Refers to the transparent look of a stone.
Seal, mark, sign.
ji jiu zhang 急就章
Haste seal; literally: urgently improvised seal. Often made by the military in ancient China where an officer might need to be quickly promoted. Blank bronze seals were sometimes brought along on campaign just for this purpose. Some modern seal carvers imitate their clumsy look.
See also: xian zhang.
ji yu yin 吉語印
Seals with propitious phrases/auspicious words.
jian yin 監印
Keeper of the seal.
jiu die wen 九疊文
Nine-fold/bend script, in which lines are folded to fill up the available space. Created after the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), primarily for official seals.
See also: ba die zhuan.
juan ke 鐫刻
Engrave. See also: zhuan ke.
ke dao 刻刀
Carving knife, burin, graver, seal-cutting knife.
See also: bi dao, tie bi, yin dao.
ke tu zhang 刻圖章
Carve a chop; engrave a seal.
ke xuan 刻選
Selection/anthology of engravings/carvings/cuts.
ke yin 刻印
Carve characters on seals, etc. Literally “[to] carve [a] seal.”
ke zi 刻字
Carve characters [on seals, etc.].
ke zi she 刻字社
lian zhu yin 聯珠印
Twin seals; two seals carved on the same stone. Often with one baiwen and one zhuwen.
liu mian yin 六面印
liu ye zhuan 柳葉篆
Willow leaf zhuan script. A style of zhuan script writing used with seals where both ends of the strokes taper to a point.
long wen xi 龍紋璽
Dragon pattern seal.
miao zhuan 繆篆
Sinuous seal script. The most common script style found in Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) seals. The name comes from the way strokes can be twisted or altered to fit the design.
mu zhu ji 木朱記
Wooden “zhu ji” seal.
See also: zhu ji.
ni feng 泥封
See also: feng ni.
See: jiu die wen.
qi shou zhang 起首章
See also: yin shou zhang.
qian ji 鈐記
qie dao 切刀
Chopping cut, a seal-cutting technique.
Also called relief carving. Often used when referring to yangwen/zhuwen seals. A western art term meaning a raised surface with the background carved out. We should stop using this term for seal carving as it confuses almost everyone.
See: zhu wen.
shen bo 审勃
Jade seal with … [?]
shi gu wen 石鼓文
Stone drum script, used on seals and named for the ancient drum-shaped stones on which the calligraphy was engraved. Transitional between dazhuan and xiaozhuan scripts. The illustration shows one of these stone drums.
Silk ribbon attached to an official seal.
shou cang zhuan yong yin 收藏专用印
Collection seal; usually with the name of the art collector. Characterized only by the text and not by the style.
shou mian yin xi 獸面印璽
Animal face seal.
shu jian ju ming yin 書柬具名印
Correspondence name seal.
shu zhai ming yin 書齋名印
Studio name seal; a seal with the name of an artist’s studio. In this example the character on the left means “studio” as in “studio of …”
See also: zhai shi yin.
shuang dao 雙刀
“Double knife,” a seal-cutting technique.
si mian yin 四面印
Four-sided seal with a hole through the center.
si quan 四全
The four perfections: poetry, calligraphy, painting, and seal carving.
si yin 私印
Private/personal seal following the owner’s name. [Ordered by Emperor Wu.]
si zhang 私章
Personal seal; signet.
tao yin 套印
tie bi 鐵筆
“Iron brush,” the chisel used in seal carving.
See also: bi dao, ke dao, yin dao.
tie yin 鐵印
Iron seal/stamp. An uncommon material for seals.
Oval seal. See also: chang yuan yin.
tuo yuan yin 橢圓印
Elliptical seal, somewhat like a rectangular seal.
tu ji 圖記
tu xing yin 圖形印
tu zhang 圖章
wan pai 皖派
The Wan school of seal carving.
See also: hui pai.
xi ling ba jia 西泠八家
Eight Masters of Xiling: Chen Hongshou, Chen Yuzhong, Ding Jing, Huang Yi, Jiang Ren, Qian Song, Xi Gang, and Zhao Zhichen. All active in Zhejiang province.
xi shou 璽綬
Imperial seal and attached cord.
xi yin 璽印
Official and private seals used, up to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), as a means of authentication.
See also: gu xi yin.
xian zhāng 閑章
Leisure seal/private seal usually containing an idiom or poetic quotation.
xiao xing yin 肖形印
Seals with animal figures; pictorial seals.
xiao zhuan 小篆
Literally: small seal script, as opposed to the earlier large seal script. Commonly used on seals.
See also: da zhuan.
xuan zhen zhuan
Suspended needle seal script. Said to have been created by calligraphers Shi Weize and Qu Lingwen during the Tang dynasty (618-907). Sometimes used on seals, with thick verticals tapering to a point at the bottom.
ya jiao zhang 押角章
Bottom corner seal/balancing corner seal; usually square.
yang wen 陽文
“Yang writing” or “positive” seal; seal with red characters on a white background.
See also: zhu wen.
Seal(s); stamp; chop.
See also: zhang.
yin bing 印柄
Seal handle, an elongated handle on ancient bronze seals.
yin dao 印刀
See also: bi dao, ke dao, tie bi.
yin chuang 印床
Literally a “seal bed,” a vise used to hold seals while carving.
yin gui 印規
Seal rule, used to help position a seal when stamping a work of art.
yin mian 印面
The surface of the seal (where the characters are carved). Literally: “seal face.”
yin ni 印泥
See also: zhu sha.
yin ni her 印泥盒儿
Inkpad, container for seal ink.
yin pu 印譜
A book of seal impressions. Blank books are sold for this purpose.
yin shou zhang 引首章
“Foremost seal,” colophon-head seal, upper right-hand corner seal; usually oblong.
See also: qi shou zhang, ying shou zhang.
yin tui 印蛻
A seal impression.
yin wen 陰文
“Yin writing” or “negative” seal, seals with white characters on a red background.
See also: bai wen.
yin xia 印匣
Seal case, or a box for holding seals.
yin zhang 印章
The general term for seals.
yin zhang xue 印章學
The study of seal engraving.
yin zhu 印箸
“Seal chopsticks,” a paddle used to stir the seal ink paste. Steel is discouraged (though I don’t know why). Antique ones are sometimes made from ivory, modern ones from bone or plastic.
ying shou zhang 引首章
“Leading seal,” upper right-hand corner seal; usually oblong.
See also: yin shou zhang.
yu zhu zhuan 玉箸篆
Jade chopstick seal script. Said to have been created by calligrapher Li Yangbing during the Tang dynasty (618-907). Sometimes used on seals, with thick squared-off white characters on a dark background.
yuan ya yin 元押印
Seals using Mongolian characters. Popular in the Yuan dynasty (1260-1368) when the Mongols ruled China. Sometimes with both Mongolian and Chinese characters, as in this example.
See also: hua ya yin.
yuan yin 圓印
Round shaped seal.
yuan zhu wen 圓朱文
Round-relief script. Thin rounded red characters on a white background. In use since the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368).
zhai shi yin 齋室印
See also: shu zhai ming yin.
Seal, stamp, chop.
See also: yin.
zhang fa 章法
The art of composition in the design of seals; one of the three skills of seal carving.
See also: dao fa, zhuan fa.
zhe pai 浙派
The Zhe school of seal carving, founded by Ding Jing (1695-1765).
zhen yan yin 箴言印
Motto seal (zhenyan = maxim, precept).
zhi ying zhuan 芝英篆
“A variation of xiaozhuan with strokes with bifurcate ends.” The “v” shaped ending on a stroke is the result of the double-cut technique, without squaring off the ends of the stroke.
zhu bai wen xiang jian yin 朱白文相間印
A seal with both red and white characters.
zhu ji 朱記
zhu sha 朱砂
Cinnabar paste for seal imprints; seal ink.
See also: yin ni.
zhu wen 朱文
“Red writing,” a seal with red characters on a white background.
See also: yang wen.
zhuan fa 篆法
The calligraphic aspect of seal design; seal character writing technique; one of the three skills of seal carving along with zhangfa and daofa. See also: dao fa, zhang fa.
zhuan ke 篆刻
zhuan ke jia 篆刻家
A person who carves seals.
zi mu yin 子母印
“Mother and child seal” with one or more small seals nested inside a larger one. This example, from the Freer/Sackler Galleries in Washington, DC has the body of the tortoise as one seal and the head and neck as another, smaller seal.