What is block printing A Comprehensive Guide to Blocking Prints | allsaxmusic

Some of the most stunning and historically significant works of art are the result of the block printing method, which is widely practiced around the world. This article delves into the interesting world of block printing and highlights the history, methods and applications of block printing.

What is block printing?

In block printing, a printing block (made of wood, linoleum, or another material) is cut out with a design and then ink or paint is applied to the block to create a printed image. The pattern is transferred from the block to the paper, fabric or other surface by pressing it.

The final product is a unique, detailed design that can be replicated to form a pattern or image. Throughout the ages, people around the world have used block printing to create everything from textiles and wallpaper to playing cards.

Even in the twenty-first century, artists, designers and enthusiasts around the world continue to use block printing.

History of block printing

Historically, block printing can be traced back to China where it was initially used to print patterns on fabrics for decorative purposes. Many other civilizations, including the Japanese, Europeans, and Indians, later adopted the method.

Prints for art, publications and even playing cards were made in Japan using block printing. Some of the most famous examples of block printing are the Japanese ukiyo-e prints of the Edo period.

A variety of European products, from playing cards to decorative sheets and book illustrations, were printed using block printing techniques. Artists like Albrecht Dürer popularized block printing throughout the Renaissance when they used it to create highly detailed and elaborate works of art.

When the steam-powered press was developed in the 19th century, it enabled the industrial-scale production of printed goods such as wallpaper, textiles, and books that had previously been hand-printed.

Still used today by artists and designers, block printing is often combined with digital printing and other advanced methods to create truly unique and groundbreaking works of art.

The different types of block printing

Over time, a number of distinct variations in the block printing process have emerged. Some of the most typical examples are as follows:

Relief printing

The most common form of block printing is called relief printing and involves carving a design into a block of wood, linoleum, or another material. The inked block is pressed onto the material, transferring the design to the raised areas.


To make an intaglio, a copper or zinc plate is cut out with a motif. At this point the plate is inked and a press is used to force the ink into the plate. Then the design is transferred by pressing the inked plate onto the material.

Planographic printing

Planographic printing is the process of making a print of a design created on a flat surface, such as a lithographic stone or metal plate. The surface is then inked and printed onto the material, after which the pattern is transferred to it through a chemical process.

Print stencil

Cutting a stencil or pattern from a material such as paper or plastic is the first step in the stencil printing process. After the stencil is placed over the material, the ink is brushed or rolled onto the stencil. After the ink has been applied to the material, the desired pattern can be reproduced.

Many block printing methods have different results and materials that can be used to print them, so choosing the right method is important.

The block printing supplies

Below are some of the more basic tools and materials you’ll need to try your hand at block printing.

Tools for carving

Knives and gouges will become your best friends when cutting blocks for your prints. Using these tools, the design is notched into the block. A wide range of cutting tools, from those designed for beginners to those used by experts, are at your disposal.

Printing ink

You need printing ink that is suitable for the medium you are printing on, such as fabric, paper, or wood. Printing ink comes in various forms, including water, oil and solvent based.

A brayer

It is common practice to apply ink to the surface of the block using a small roller called a brayer. Depending on the size of your block and the ink you’re using, you’ll want to use a different brayer.

Block material

You cut your design into the block. You can use different materials for your block, such as wood, linoleum or rubber. Due to the specifics of each material, it is critical to choose the best one for the job at hand.

Paper or fabric

To print your design, you will need paper or fabric. Choose a material that is suitable for the type of ink you are using and the final product you are making.

Press to print

Although not strictly necessary, a printing press can greatly facilitate and standardize the printing process. There are many different types of printing presses available, ranging from small hand-operated presses to huge industrial machines.

These are just some of the essentials you need for block printing. You may also need cleaning solutions, registration guides, and transfer paper, although this will depend on the specifics of your job.

The block printing process

Designing, cutting and printing are the three stages of the block printing process. The method of block printing is described in detail below.

1. Design

To get started with block printing, you first need to design your print. You can draw your design directly onto the block or use tracing paper or carbon paper to transfer your design onto the block.

2. Carving

The next step is to cut your design into the block using various cutting tools. Your first step in making a blank printout is to cut out any unwanted details. Take precautions when cutting to avoid injury to yourself and the block.

3. Inks

Once the block has been cut out, you can start inking. You will need to use a brayer to apply a thin layer of ink to the block, making sure to cover the entire surface evenly.

4. Print

After you’ve inked your block, you can start printing. Arrange the block on the print surface with proper alignment. Use your hand or a printing press to apply pressure to the block, then lift it to reveal your print.

5. Repeat

The printing process can be repeated, with careful block alignment, to create a consistent pattern. The block may need to be re-inked between prints.

6. Drying

If you use fabric ink for your design, you may need to let it dry and then heat set it after printing. When working with textiles, it is common to carry out finishing operations such as trimming and hemming.

While it takes time and effort to learn how to print with a block, the end product can be something very special if you put in the effort. Most people can learn how to block prints if they have access to the right materials and instructions.

Final thoughts

The ancient skill of block printing has been used for centuries to print stunning, unique designs on a wide variety of fabrics. Whether you’re an established artist or just starting out, block printing is a great medium to explore your artistic side and create unique prints.

Most of us can learn to block print with the right tools and equipment, and the resulting designs are worthy of reproduction as fine art or used as fabric or decorative items.

Why not put your creative energy into exploring the possibilities of block printing?

By Liam