Behind the Scenes: How Block Printing Works

We officially have our mini etching press back in action. YAY! I decided to get back in the swing of things with a playful printed banner woodcut. 

Woodcuts have a long a history. The technique began in Japan and was used on fabrics long before it was used on paper. All relief prints are made by inking a raised surface and pressing paper against it to create an image. Some methods of relief printing you're probably already familiar with are rubber stamps and the famous potato print.

I printed these banners on a traditional etching press using black ink. I did a short time lapse of each step in the process for those of you wondering how block printing works! Scroll on down!


The first step for making a woodcut or block print is to draw out what you want your image to look like. You'll draw it in reverse - your print will be a mirror image. (Just like a rubber stamp!) Once your image is drawn out you can start carving your block. I use NIJI knives. I've tested out more expensive sets, but I keep coming back to these trusty favorites. 


Step two is the inking process! After you've cut your design, you head over to the inking table. An inking slab is made of glass. We use an old thick piece found in the throw away pile at an interior design shop! We edged it in duct tape so no sharp edges. You roll out an oil based ink onto the block with a hard roller, called a brayer. This is my favorite part! You never really know what your print will look like until you ink it up for the first time! 


Step three is putting this bad boy through the press. We lay the block first, then the paper for printing. In this case we used a rice paper called masa. We usually cover this with a sheet of newsprint and then roll down the printing blankets. The blankets are made of wool in different thicknesses. The blankets ensure that the pressure is distributed evenly. After rolling it through the press, you "pull" your print off the block. The moment of truth! 

Annd. There you have it! That's how block printing works when using a traditional etching press.

I'm thinking of throwing these little guys in the Etsy shop. What do you think?