05. February 2017 · Comments Off on What is Woodblock Printing, and How Does It Work? · Categories: Printing Methods · Tags: ,

Woodblock printing is one of the earliest methods of printing text, images or pattern widely used in East Asia. This method uses engraved woodblocks to print out texts or images. It dates back to 9th century in China as a method of printing on textiles and later paper.

How it works

drawing on paperFirst, an image is drawn on plain paper with a lead pencil. An alternative to this is printing the image then covering the parts you want to be printed with a lead pencil. The image is transferred onto the wood by turning the drawing face down. To have the pencil transfer to the wood, a burnisher is commonly used to rub the back of the drawing.

Tracing the Illustration

Tracing the illustration with a pen typically makes it easier to see before starting to carve. The carving part of the printing is the most technical, and that’s why the wood is placed on top of a rubber mat so that it doesn’t slip. The large U-shaped gouge is used for clearing most of the material, whereas the small U-shaped gouge carves the details.

Proofing the Block

Proofing the block is the next step after the image has been carved out. It may not be easy to tell what the print will look like if the block is not proofed. It is done by applying a line of ink on the glass, mixing it then rolling out an even surface of it using the rubber brayer. The brayer is then rolled onto the block. Additional carving is done on areas that pick up the ink and are supposed to be clear.

Printing the Block

The block is then printed once the image has been carved to perfection. This is done by repeating the inking process done before then placing the paper face down onto the block. The back of the paper is then lightly pressed down starting from the center with the bottom of a rice spoon. The paper is then lifted and the block allowed to dry.

Cleaning/Framing the Woodblock Print

cleaning up before framingThe last process is cleaning and framing the woodblock print. Some little water is used to scrub off the unwanted prints lightly. However, this part of woodblock printing is not necessary, so most artists don’t do it.

This type of printing has been extensively used to decorate leathers, fabrics, and wallpapers. It is usually easiest when working with repetitive patterns since the carving and handling process is reduced. In the case of a multicolor pattern, an artist will have to carve each color element as a separate block. Ink is also applied individually.