About Woodblock Artwork

Porcelain Woodblock Artwork  New Collection at The Teapot Shoppe

What are Woodblock Prints?

Origins of Woodblock Artwork Printing

Woodblock artwork printing is a technique used for printing patterns, text, and images. It originated in China and can be dated back to before to 220 and quickly spread through Asia as a popular printing technique. Originally woodblock printing was used on fabrics and then later on paper. Until the 19th century, woodblock printing was the most used method for printing text and books. The term woodcut was the form used by European artists. The technical term for woodcut is xylography. Japanese woodblock is known as Ukiyo-e, meaning “pictures of the floating wind”. It was well received by the wealthy merchant class and flourished from the 17th century through the 19th centuries.

What is the technique for woodblock printing?

As would be imagined, a block of wood is the starting point for a woodblock print. The block of wood is created into a relief pattern, meaning that the image or text to be printed is raised. The areas that are not part of the design, “white” are carefully carved, chiseled, and sandpapered away to leave only the print “black” to show on the original surface level. The block is then inked and firmly and evenly pressed onto the cloth or paper to make the print. The image does print as a mirror image, thus making text more difficult.

Basic woodblock printing results in a two color print, the background and the image or text. However, multicolored prints can be beautifully produced by using multiple blocks. A separate block is created for each color. For example to achieve a simple landscape, one block would be prepared for the sky, one for the ground, one for tree trunks, one for leaves, etc. Each block must precisely fit the pattern, although overprinting two colors can produce additional colors on the print.

 Methods of achieving a woodblock print.

Methods of woodblock printing include stamping, rubbing, and a printing press.

Stamping is used for a wide variety of fabrics and paper. It was most often by early 15th century woodcut printers. Fabric or paper is placed on a sturdy table or other flat surface. The inked block is placed on top, design side down and the back is pressed or hammered. A simple version of this are the woodblock stamps you can purchase at a hobby store.

The Rubbing technique however was the most common for Far Eastern woodblock printing on paper. This method was also widely used by Europeans on fabric for woodcuts in the 15th century. It has also been used by many Western woodcut printers from approximately 1910 to the present day. The procedure is basically the reverse of Stamping. The block is laid on a table design face up and the paper or fabric is laid on top of it. The back of the material is rubbed with a burnisher, a flat piece of wood, or a hard pad. The Japanese later invented a very complex mechanism made of wood to help stabilize the woodblock and apply even pressure during the printing process. This was extremely beneficial for multiple color printing for precise placement of each ink layer.

It seems as if presses have only been used in Asian countries in relatively recent times. Prior to 1480, Europeans used printing presses for woodcut illustrations for books. Later they were used for woodblock prints. Simple weighted presses may have been used in Europe before printing presses.

Variations of Woodblock and Woodcut Prints


Linocut uses the surface of a linoleum tile mounted on a wooden block. A sharp knife, gouge, or v shaped chisel is used to cut away the area not to be printed. Pablo Picasso was perhaps the most famous artist to create linocut prints. He created prints of multiple colors using a technique called reductive printing. A single piece of linoleum is used for this method. After a color is printed onto the paper, the linoleum is cleaned and what will not be printed in the next color is cut away.


Batik is a dying process usually used on fabric utilizing a dye resistant wax. Most batik designs are hand drawn; however, another type is block printed batik. A copper or wooden block is used with the pattern created on it. The block is then dipped into wax and the wax is printed onto the fabric. The fabric is then dyed with the wax pattern resisting the dye. Again different blocks can be used for different colors. Usually this method is used for repeating geometric shapes, not the detail of hand drawn Batik.