Block (Relief) printing

Indian block printing technique, INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP / Getty Images
Indian block printing technique, INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP / Getty Images

Block printing (also called Relief printing) is the process of carving patterns, shapes and designs into a 'block'. The 'block' could be made of wood, acrylic plastic sheet, lino (linoleum) or metal.

Different materials are suited to different results:

  • metal or acrylic sheets can produce much finer lines with 'sharper' detail.
  • wood and lino are more suited for bolder images.

The drawback with all of these materials is that each mark you make on the printing sheet will be printed – you cannot afford to make any mistakes.

Block prints are usually made with oil-based ink.

  1. Apply the ink to a flat surface, eg an acrylic sheet.
  2. Work the ink with a roller until it becomes 'sticky'.
  3. Roll the ink onto the printing block. This will cover protruding surfaces, leaving recessed areas ink-free.
  4. Use a clean roller or printing press to press the block onto the paper/surface of your final print.

Uses

Block printing can be used for many purposes, including:

  • fine art prints
  • printing lengths of fabrics (look at examples of Indian wood block prints)
  • greetings cards

It is used for small to medium 'runs' of prints. Successful block prints range from bold, simple shapes and designs with limited colours, to more complicated designs using a number of different colours.

Block printing is good for making positive and negative images and repeating patterns.

Under the Wave off Kanagawa, aka The Great Wave, Katsushika Hokusai, 1830-32, woodblock print, DeAgostini / Getty Images
Under the Wave off Kanagawa, aka The Great Wave, Katsushika Hokusai, 1830-32, woodblock print, DeAgostini / Getty Images

curriculum-key-fact
  • Always use vegetable oil to clean oil-based block printing equipment.