In block printing, the printer carves the design to be printed into a solid block, much like a stamp. The block can be applied to paper or textiles. Block printing is an ancient printing technique, and numerous examples of historical block prints can be found in the historical records of Europe and Asia.
The origins of the block print can be found in the round cylinder seals used by the Mesopotamians. Many famous artists, such as Hiroshige, worked in the block print medium. Block prints were also used to produce books and other printed material. Printers quickly learned how to create multi-colored block prints, using blocks with different designs on them which could be used to overlay color.
A complex block for printing could take weeks to carve to perfection. Carvers needed to have an excellent design sense, as the block prints in reverse, meaning that the image needs to be carved in reserve so that it will print the right way. A well-made block print is a stunning work of art, representing hours of labor and a superb visual sense.
Several techniques can be used to create a block print. First, the block is inked with the assistance of a roller. The carved areas will show up as white in the final product, while the raised portions left behind will print. The block can be used to stamp paper, the printer can place paper on the block and rub it, or the block can be mounted in a printing press. Each technique will produce a block print of a slightly different style, and if the block is well cared for, it can be used again and again.
If you want to learn more, check out our How to Block Print booklet.