Block Printing in Textile: Types, Procedure and Disadvantages

Last Updated on 19/11/2022

What is Block Printing?
The block printing is an old method of printing which involves the use of wooden blocks with raised printing surface, which are inked and then pressed on to the fabric. So we can say that, the printing of fabric by hand, using carved wooden or linoleum blocks, as distinguished from printing by screens or roller is called block printing. Block printing is a method where the pattern was cut into wooden blocks, or was built through an assembly of metal stripes, nails and so on. The pattern then was the elevated part of the block, similar to a stamp.

block printing
Fig: Block printing

These elevated parts were then covered with printing paste and the block was pressed on the fabric. The transferred dye was then fixed on the fabric through appropriate methods. Block printing is a special form of printing first developed in China. The earliest known example with an actual date is a copy of the Diamond Sutra from 868 A.D (currently in the British Museum), though the practice of block printing is probably about two thousand years old.

The block printing is used from time immemorial and is still being practiced in all Asian countries as it can be done even at homes by the people in their free time. The blocks are usually made of wood and the design is hand carved so that it stands out in relief against the background surface. The print paste is applied to the design surface on the block and the block is then pressed against the fabric. The process is repeated with different designs and colors until the pattern is complete.

Block printing is a slow and laborious process and is not suitable for high volume commercial use. This process is the most artistic and the earliest, simplest and slowest of all methods of printing. In this process, a design is drawn on, or transferred to, a prepared wooden block. A separate block is required for each distinct color in the design.

A block-cutter carves out the wood around the heavier masses first, leaving the finer and more delicate work until the last so as to avoid any risk of injuring it during the cutting of the coarser parts. When finished, the block presents the appearance of fl at relief carving, with the design standing out.

Fine details are very difficult to cut in wood, and, even when successfully cut, wear down very rapidly or break off in printing. They are, therefore, almost invariably built up in strips of brass or copper, bent to shape and driven edgewise into the fl at surface of the block. This method is known as coppering.

Types of Block Printing:
There are different types of techniques and materials used for block printing around the world. A few of the most popular block printing types are:

  1. Block printing on fabric
  2. Reduction printing
  3. Woodcut printing
  4. Linocut printing
  5. Rubber stamps
  6. Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock printing

Block Printing is done in different printing styles. Widely used techniques of block printing in India – direct printing, resist printing and discharge printing.

In according to applying process of block printing can be divided into two types. Those are:

  1. Hand block printing
  2. Machine block printing

Procedure of Block Printing:
The fabric to be printed is washed free of starch and soft bleached if the natural gray of the fabric is not desired. If dyeing is required as in the case of saris where borders or the body is tied and dyed it is done before printing. The fabric is again washed to remove excess dye and dried thoroughly. The fabric is stretched over the printing table and fastened with small pins. This is an important stage as there should be a uniform tension in the fabric and no ripples. Color is mixed separately in another room. Usually pigment dyes are used for cotton.

The first step in block printing is the production of the original document. This is laid on a large, smooth wooden block and fixed into place, reversed. Next, craftsmen of various skill levels, ranging from master carvers for the fine work to less talented artisans for cheaper blocks or less important sections, carve the original painted, drawn or written image into the block of wood. The block can now be covered with ink and used in a press to create duplicates of the original.

To print the design on the fabric, the printer applies color to the block and presses it firmly and steadily on the cloth, ensuring a good impression by striking it smartly on the back with a wooden mallet. Color paste must be applied to the block surface in a controlled manner, and this was achieved by using a ‘sieve’. A small tub was nearly filled with a starch paste and a waterproof fabric, stretched on a frame, rested on the paste. A piece of woolen fabric was stretched on a slightly smaller frame and fastened to make the sieve. The sieve as saturated with color paste and placed on the waterproof fabric. For each impression, the ‘tiered’ (a boy) spread the color paste on the top surface of the woolen sieve with a large brush and the printer charged the block by pressing it on the wool. The block was then carefully positioned on the fabric, using the pitch pins as guides, and struck with a mallet.

The second impression is made in the same way, the printer taking care to see that it fits exactly to the first, a point which he can make sure of by means of the pins with which the blocks are provided at each corner and which are arranged in such a way that when those at the right side or at the top of the block fall upon those at the left side or the bottom of the previous impression, the two printings join up exactly and continue the pattern without a break. Each succeeding impression is made in precisely the same manner until the length of cloth is fully printed. When this is done, it is wound over the drying rollers, thus bringing forward a fresh length to be treated similarly.

If the pattern contains several colors, the cloth is usually first printed throughout with one, then dried, and printed with the second, the same operations being repeated until all the colors are printed.

After Treatment of Block Printing:
The fabric, after printing is dried out in the sun. This is part of the fixing process or aftertreatment of printing. It is then rolled in wads of newspapers to prevent the dye from adhering to other layers and steamed in boilers constructed for the purpose. Silks are also steamed this way after printing. After steaming, the material is washed thoroughly in large quantities of water and dried in the sun, after which it is finished by ironing out single layers, which fix the color permanently.

Disadvantages of Block Printing:
Block printing is a very expensive technique because, often, the blocks are hand carved from wood and then hand printed. Usually, fabric that uses this process is produced in small quantities (batch production) at approximately sixty to one hundred meters per week. This printing method is used only at small scale or in cottage industry and is not used at industrial scale because of less flexibility and productivity.

The worker working on block printing should be highly skilled to place the blocks exactly in the place as needed.


  1. Block Printing in Textile Industry,
  2. Handbook of Value Addition Processes for Fabrics by B. Purushothama
  3. Textile Chemistry by Thomas Bechtold, Tung Pham
  4. Fibres to Fabrics by Bev Ashford
  5. Textile Engineering by Yasir Nawab

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