Block Printing - The traditional art of India

Posted on January 25th, 2020 10:09 AM
Block Printing - The traditional art of India

India has been recognized for its unique art and crafts since ancient times. Over the centuries, it has produced fabrics with different types of manual printing techniques. People of different customs and cultures use different techniques. Among the many, one of the most popular forms of hand printing here is - Block printing. While this traditional technique has been in use since ancient times, it has created a space for itself in the metropolitan cities of India today. Not only this, block printing clothing material is exported to countries around the world.

This technique is typical of India, although its origins are Chinese, and it seems to date from the twelfth century. It is true that some previous examples have been found, but their use became widespread in this century.

The technique of block printing is completely handmade and for its implementation only natural materials are used .

The fabrics that are normally used are wool, silk and cotton. All of them are produced in considerable quantities in different regions of the country and, therefore, can be accessed easily and sustainably.

India has many centers where these large-scale art and craft techniques are performed.

Mainly, there are two types of block methodologies prevalent in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat: Bagru and Sanganeri. Almost identical to each other, what sets them apart is the background color in which they are printed. While Bagru's forms are performed on a red and black background, Sanganeri is performed on a white background. As far as other regions are concerned, block designs in the western part of India are usually fine, and those in the eastern parts are bolder and bigger.

Wood carving

The characteristic element of this technique is the seals carved by hand . They can be made of teak wood, but today most of them come from the sheesham tree that is native to India and belongs to the "Rosewoods" family.

One thing that I did not know and that I found interesting, is the pre-carving preparation. Once the pieces are cut, they are immersed in oil for approximately 15 days to soften the wood and make it easier to work.

The drawings are transferred to the wooden block using a white paste that they prepare with chalk. This way they make the light color stand out in the dark wood and it is easier to carve the drawing. They carve it with chisels or special gouges hitting them with another object that is usually a block of wood.

As in any stamping technique, each matrix (in this case a wooden seal) serves to apply a different color zone. This means that if our design has 3 colors, one stamp will have to be carved per color. This is perhaps a bit complicated to understand.

The whole process that I have introduced you before, you can see in this interesting video that I found and that seems very, very didactic:

The process of printing block clothing material in India

First the seals are carefully prepared with an embossed pattern that is carved in the chosen material. For printing in several colors different blocks are used, that is, one per color, playing to marry the drawings or even sometimes overlapping them, producing different shades of color with the same print.



The blocks are carved by hand, with which the detail, definition and fineness depend on the hand of the artisans. In the wooden blocks sometimes pieces of brass or copper are included to refine certain lines.

The first step is to prepare the design. It is important to invert the image or text to carve the stamp, since the print will invert the drawing when applied to the fabric to be printed.

hand carving

 printing2 printing1

  • At first, the fabric to be printed is washed without starch.
  • If there is a need for dyeing, this is done before the process. If the fabric is already dyed, it is washed to remove excess color and dried in the sun.
  • Then, the fabric is stretched on the table.
  • Next, the blocks and colors to be mixed are kept ready. Typically, the blocks are made of teak wood and are hand carved. To soften the wood, they are usually soaked in oil for 10-15 days before use.
  • To give the color a soft base, it is stored in a tray that rests on another tray that contains a liquid made of glue and pigment. This also helps in the diffusion of color in the block.
  • As the manufacturing process begins, the color is first matched in the tray and the block is immersed in the contour color.
  • Then, the block is pressed hard on the fabric. This makes a clear impression.
  • Once the fabric is printed, it is left in the sun to dry. Then, it is rolled up in the newspaper to prevent the layers of cloth from sticking together.
  • In addition, the fabric is steamed, washed with water and dried in the sun.

  • Finally, the fabric is ironed before putting it on sale.

    At Roopantaran you will find  traditional Indian garments with a refreshing and modern touch.  Please make sure to visit our store.