Block Printing: Definition & Meaning

Hand-printed items have continued to have a secure place in a culture that is preoccupied with machine printing. Here, we’ll pay particular attention to the complexity, beauty, and history of hand-block printing. Block printing is the process of imprinting a design on a piece of paper or fabric using a piece of intricately cut wood. It’s interesting that books and scriptures were frequently printed using block printing. The earliest block-printed book was most likely created in China around 200 A.D. Chiselling out designs and printing them on cloth, on the other hand, is now an important part of the lovely process of block printing. A single fabric can be printed using a number of blocks. Block-printed bed linens, block-printed sarees, and block-printed dupattas are a few examples of popular items.

What is Block Printing?

Block printing is a printing method that involves pressing and stamping fabric with coloured, carved wooden blocks. Other names for block printing include “hand blocking” and “hand blocking.” Block printing involves more than just pressing blocks against fabric. Each wooden block must be carved, then the fabric must be ready, the dyes mixed, and the finishing touches applied. Each block printing method demands patience, talent, and artistic ability. The culmination of these tasks results in our exquisite block-printed fabrics.


It is nearly impossible to tell from the picturesque cues provided by pre-Christian, classical, or even mediaeval records and writings how much, if any, allusion is being made to this specific process. Printing patterns on textiles is so closely related to other different methods with similar intentions, such as painting and the processes of dyeing and weaving. As a result, its initial invention must likely continue to be a question of inference.

It is likely that printmaking originated from the ancient practise of using blocks of stone, wood, etc. that were cut or carved in such a way as to leave impressions on surfaces made of any material. Where these can be found in ancient civilizations, such as those of China, Egypt, and Assyria, there is a probability that printmaking originated in these cultures.

Despite the Chinese’s long-standing mastery of ornamental weaving and other textile arts, there are no direct indications that they used printing for textile decoration as extensively as peoples in the East Indies, such as those of the Punjab and Bombay, from whom 16th-century European, particularly Dutch, merchants purchased Indigene’s or printed and painted calico for Occidental trade.

Block Printing Method

As the name implies, the manufacture or preparation of wooden blocks that are expertly carved out to imprint on fabric constitutes the first and most crucial phase. Blocks constructed primarily of lime, sycamore, holly, or pear wood are frequently used for textile printing. Deal or Pine can be taken into consideration if someone seeks a less expensive solution. The majority of the blocks are 2-3 inches thick. The woodblocks that cost less or are of lower quality are typically twisted together, meaning that several portions are adhered together. After the blocks have been evenly spaced, design work can be done with chisels, compasses, or knives.

The pattern is traced or carved into the woodblocks, which are then covered with damp cloths while the block cutter or carver starts carving the wood. The delicate work is saved for last, while the heavier components are targeted first. To protect the woodblocks from damage, this is done. Wooden block outlines are occasionally filled in with felt to better absorb the colour and leave an impression on the fabric. The finished block has a distinct design and resembles a flat relief carving.

However, it is challenging for artisans to carve out intricate designs in wooden blocks, and even when they do, the delicate details fade quickly after a few imprints, making it a less than ideal solution. Strips of copper or brass are frequently employed to address this issue, and this strategy is referred to as “cooperating” in popular culture. The coppering process can also be used to create moulds that make it simple to duplicate complete blocks. Block printing requires the use of a printing table, a colour sieve, and an engraved block, among other tools. The table’s construction allows it to support the cloth as it is neatly spread out. The starch-paste-filled tub or swimming pool serves as the colour sieve.

The craftsman starts by rolling out the cloth and marking it with chalk after the entire apparatus is complete. These marks show where blocks would be stamped with imprints. A single impression is frequently insufficient, so the artisans must be extremely careful when applying the second impression. To make a nice impression, the back of the block is frequently hammered with a wooden mallet. When a single pattern calls for numerous colours, the fabric is first printed with just one colour, dried appropriately, coiled up again, and then printed again until all the colours are present. Natural colours were used at first, but synthetic dyes have gained popularity due to their affordability. Trees, animals, fruits, and geometric patterns are the most typical motifs used in block printing.


To sum up, woodblock printing is a technique used for printing images, texts, and patterns. In all of East Asia, it is frequently utilized. It is the technique of imprinting designs on fabrics or paper using carved wood blocks. One of the earliest, most straightforward, and labour-intensive textile printing techniques is block printing. One of the oldest and most pleasurable crafts, it has been adding colour and design to paper, cloth, and other surfaces for close to 4,000 years. The procedure is substantially unchanged even today.

It is an art that is made by hand with the finest expertise and attention in an era where machines produce fabric in yards rather than restrictions. This characteristic stands alone as evidence of the technique’s originality. But as another distinctive feature that few other designs can match, Although the approach has changed over the years, the majority of the original techniques are still used, and each hand-block-printed cloth has a distinctive tale to tell. Minor flaws that machines would normally ignore can be appreciated, but it appears that the craftsmen’s efforts that go into each step of producing hand-block printed fabric can be appreciated.

Updated on: 02-Feb-2023


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