The art or craft of block printing consists in cutting a design in relief upon block of Wood so that the raised part when charged with colour will transfer the design to whatever fabric the block is Stamped upon. It is the oldest and generally considered to be the most artistic of all methods of textile Printing, but it is slow and somewhat expensive process. Evidence that printing with wooden blocks was practiced from very early times exists in the discovery of small wooden blocks found in Egypt from IV century A.D. The "Tree of life" motifs show the richest devel-opment on printed cotton fabric with block prints.
Block printing is limited to a certain extent by the fact that it is difficult to produce very fine lines or small dots with sharp outlines except perhaps with a new block. The cutting of very fine lines or dots, on even closely grained wood, is a tedious and difficult operation and even if the crafts-man succeeds in producing a design in his way, the block will be very quickly damaged in use by constant knocking and washing. In order to strengthen the fine lines or dots the craftsman resorts to the methods of cutting the design out of the wood, with an obtuse slot and avoids any formation of perpendicular walls. In this way, design in relief is narrower at the face than at the base and this enables the pattern to withstand the strain and stress of the printing, cleaning and washing operations for longer period.
Blocks are generally made of fairly hard, close grained wood such as sycamore. The size and shape of a block for hand printing vary according to the width and size of the cloth to be printed. Larger the block, the more difficult it is for the printer to adjust his block more accurately.
Block printing was the method of printing employed by Hindus. Very fine artistic work was produced by block printing, which was highly appreciated by Imperial Rome. Enormous trade, in attractive printed calicos was carried on between India and Europe by land through Persia, Asia, Germany and France. Textile printing in India was native invention and thus its advanced state of developments justified the high estimation in which Indian textile prints were held at the beginning of our own era. On historical grounds, it would appear that the Chinese and Hindus were almost equally justified in claiming credit for the invention of block printing. It is on record that letterpress printing from engraved wood blocks was extensively practiced in China nearly two thousand years ago. And further that valuable Indian Fabrics printed in colours were known to and esteemed by the Romans in the days of the Empire.
Calico printing has been in vogue in India and China since time immemorial. Whether India or China was the inventor of this art, is still a matter of dispute, but it can safely be concluded that calico printing is an Indian invention. Some people said that because the Chinese were the first to practice letterpress printing, they would naturally be the first also to practice the textiles printing. But it may be noted that although block printing was extensively employed in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries for the ornamentation and illustration of books and for the reproduction of work of art. As regards India, unfortunately up to the present no record has been discovered indicating the approximate date at which block printing was first practiced in India.
Though it is an old process nowadays again new trend of block printing is in our surroundings. Large numbers of designers, exporters, organizations, research centers and institutions throughout the country are in touch with block printing. Exclusively designed and block printed dress materials, sarees, kurtas, bed sheet, wall hangings, cushion covers, etc. are nowadays regularly displayed in different events and showrooms.
Block printing is nothing but an identification and reflection of traditional textiles of our country. Organization like weaver`s service centre, throughout the country has been playing an important role since 1956, with creations, preservations, research and development works in connection with block printing. Most of the weavers service centers having collections of huge tradition based, historical background based motifs in the form of wooden blocks has done excellent jobs for last 48 years in that field.