The Art of Hand Block Printing

by Shatika, September 9, 2015


Since ancient times, India is known for its unique arts and crafts. The most inspiring and ancient of them all are the different types of hand printing techniques used by people of varied customs and culture. One of the oldest types of printmaking, Block Printing has been around for thousands of years dating back as early as the fifth century BC. Essentially a carved material covered in ink to transfer an image onto fabric, the technique of block printing is very enchanting and inspiring and is done using different materials like wood, linoleum, rubber and many more. Lengthy and complex, the process of creating a block itself is quiet elaborate.

Right from sketching a design, transferring it onto the block and finally carving the design on the block can take anywhere from an hour for small pieces to several weeks or even months depending on the size and detail of the image. These blocks are then used by skilled craftsmen to imprint the design onto the fabric. Depending on the number of colors and the intricacy of the designs, they may have to hand stamp the fabric some 500 to 2000 times to complete one saree!


In India, different types of block printing techniques are used by people of varied customs and culture. The major centers whereit is done on a large scale are: 

– Gujarat: In Gujarat, it is mainly done in Surat, Ahmedabad and                    Pethapur.
– Rajasthan: An integral part of Rajasthan’s cultural heritage, the two        types of block printing famous here are Sanganeri and Bagru.                     These two styles of block printing are very similar to each other                with the only difference beingin the background color on which they        are printed. Bagru prints are done on dark background whereas                Sanganeri is done on white background.
– Andhra Pradesh.
– Uttar Pradesh: InUtter Pradesh, it is predominantly done in                        Farukhabad.
– West Bengal.


A thing that distinguishes the block prints of the west from the eastare that in western India the block prints are typically fine while in eastern part,the prints are bolder and bigger. Lepakshi and Ajarakh prints are also examples of the type of block prints.

The unique feature of these printing is the amount of printing variations that can be made in the same type of motifs.

Different Techniques of Hand Block printing

1) Discharge Printing:

In this kind of block printing, firstly the fabric on which printing is to be done is dyed and then the dye isremoved from the part of the fabric on which designs are to be made by use of a chemical. Later,the printed segments are treated so they can be re-colored.

2) Direct Block Printing:

In Direct Block Printing, the cloth is first bleached, and then dyed with the desired color. After that block printing is done on borders with carved wooden blocks followed by inside the borders. The fabric used in this kind of  printing is either cotton or silk.

3) Resist Printing:

In this technique, the part of the cloth which is not to be dyed is covered with the paste of resin and clay. The fabric is then dyed with the desirable color. At this stage, the dye penetrates through the cracks which create wavy effects on the cloth after which the fabric is finally block printed.

Block printing by hand is a slow process. It is however capable of yielding highly artistic results, some of which are unobtainable by any other method. While in olden days it was done with natural dyes, artificial colors and synthetic dyeshave now replaced them. The colors commonly used for printing are saffron, yellow, blue and red.

Generally wooden blocks are made of seasoned teak wood by trained craftsmen. These blocks are known as Bunta. The underside of the block has the design hand carved on it by the block maker. Each block has a wooden handle and 2-3 holes drilled into the block for free airpassage and also to allow release of excess printing paste. The new blocks are soaked in oil for 10-15 days before use to soften the wood.

Do It YourSelf! :

The sheer joy of making symmetric designs on fabric is completely therapeutic and an experience to cherish. Today we share with you simple steps of doing it yourself, this most inspiring and ancient art that is extremely beautiful and a very relaxing experience.

1. Preparation of Fabric: Iron your fabric to remove all the wrinkles and tape its edges to the piece of cardboard to ensure there are no wrinkles in the printing surfaceand also to keep the fabric from flapping in the wind.

2. Preparation of Custom ‘Ink Pad’: Measure about 4 tablespoons of fabric dye into your plastic container. Take 3 paper towels and fold them in half. Press them into the dye. When they’ve soaked up most of the dye, flip it over. Your ink pad is now set. 

3. Print Your Fabric: Press your wood block stamp into the ink pad. Make sure dye gets on all parts of the stamp. This is especially important for large stamps with a lot of detail (You may wish to wear a pair of rubber gloves.). Place the stamp where you want it on the fabric. To get the best impression, tap it with the heel of your hand.

4. Tips & Technique:Traditional prints repeat over the entire length of the fabric. For larger, complicated stamps, the patterns might even overlap. Traditional Wood Block Stamps have “markers” (such as the peacock’s tail or flower’s stem) which are used to repeat the pattern. Skilled craftsmen use these marketers to create symmetrical patterns. Make sure you re-apply ink after every print. Your ink pad will last for about 20-30 prints of the large stamps, and twice that many for the small stamps. When your print starts to get a little faint, flip the pad over. When you run out of dye on both sides, pour 1-2 tablespoons of dye directly onto the paper towels to “refresh” your pad.

5. Finishing Touch: After you’ve finished printing, spread your fabric in the sun to let the dye dry. Do not put it in the dryer as the dye is not yet set and may leave a stain. To clean up, wash the stamps in a bucket of cold water. Rub them with your hand (or a brush) to get off the excess dye. Make sure they are completely dry before you put them away for otherwise they will develop mold.

6. Set The Print. After the dye on your fabric dries, rinse your fabric in cold water to wash out any excess dye. To set the print permanently, pour about 2 cups of vinegar into a fresh bucket of cold water and let the fabric soak for 15- 20 minutes. Finally, hang your fabric up to dry and lo, your block printed fabric is ready!

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