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Humans have been using various tools and styles for printing. One such technique of printing is called Woodblock printing or more commonly block printing.
What is Woodblock Printing?
Woodblock printing is a printing technique, which was a very popular method of printing before the 20th century. This technique was very commonly used throughout East Asia, especially Japan and China for printing text, images or patterns until the 19th century. Though woodblock printing originated in China, it was made more popular by Japan. The Japanese took the art and developed it so much that the best woodblock print art is believed to be from Japan. The Japanese woodblock art print, ‘Ukiyo-e’ is believed to be the best type of woodblock printing.
Torii Kiyomasu, Ichikawa Danjūrō I in the role of Takenuki Gorō. A famous early 18th century actor print of the Torii school
Origin of Woodblock Printing:
Woodblock printing is a very old and common printing technique, which uses woodblock for transferring the text, images or desired pattern. The technique originated in China, where it was used for printing, initially on cloth, and later on paper. The oldest surviving examples of woodblock printing on a cloth from China date to before 220 AD. The technique was originally used in carved and formed stamps and seals.
Woodblock printing existed in Tang China by the 7th century AD and remained the most common East Asian method of printing books and other texts, as well as images, until the 19th century. The invention of paper was a big boon for woodblock printing. Scientists date the origins of papermaking back to ca. 105 AD in China.
Western-style graphical perspective (uki-e) and increased use of printed colour were among the nnovations Okumura Masanobu claimed. Taking the Evening Cool by Ryōgoku Bridge, c. 1745
When it comes block printing, Stone carvings appear to have been developed the first. In this technology, stones were engraved and then rubbed with moist paper and ink. This paved the way for engraved calligraphy. The woodblock prints got developed around the same time.
Woodblocks in Europe
However, it took the printing a very long time to reach Europe. Most European uses of the technique for printing images on paper are covered by the art term woodcut, except for the block-books produced mainly in the 15th century.
Woodblock printing had to wait, however, until the introduction of paper production in paper mills in the 1390s.
The first woodblock prints were single-page prints: pictures of holy figures who were called upon in bad times and whose images offered protection. They were stuck on the covers of books or pinned to walls. These initial woodblock prints were made by hand with a muller. They were also sometimes hand-coloured by so-called "letter painters" with help of patterns. But these painters took care to leave the lines visible.
How is woodblock printing done?
The starting point of a block printing is making a drawing or pattern. Once the pattern is ready, it is then transferred on to the block, in a reverse manner. This is done so that when the block comes in contact with the cloth or the paper, it would produce a mirror image of that. And that is the correct image we want.
The block is made in such a way that the areas of the drawing that the artist does not want to get printed are carefully carved out of the wooden block. Ink is then rolled on to the block and then placed over the cloth or paper, where the impression is desired. To achieve a good print, it is important to put the correct amount of pressure on the block so that it makes a firm and even contact with the paper or cloth. This way a mirror image is produced. In the case of text printing, a similar method is used. Just that this is little complicated as compared to image printing.
In the case of colour printing, multiple blocks are made, which when superimposed one after another, produce the complete image. While printing, these separate blocks are used, one for each colour. For colour printing, multiple blocks are used, each for one colour. Though more colours can be produced by the printing of one colour over another.
Woodblock for textile printing, India, about 1900, 22×17×8 cm
Woodblock prints are amongst the oldest printing techniques, used to make book pages and later images. The earliest traces of woodblock printmaking were found in China. Later the Japanese adopted the technique and pushed it over centuries to the highest pinnacle of craftsmanship and artistic expression.