Creating Block Prints

How are block prints made? What materials are used? I’ll try to give some idea of how I go about the process of creating a block print from the beginning to the finished print.


Block prints are also known as “relief prints”. A good description is given in John R. Biggs’ book Woodcuts:

“Relief prints are made from blocks in which the white parts of the design are cut away as valleys below the surface, leaving the design as plateaux to receive the ink, which is transferred to paper by means of pressure”


I start with a drawing that specifies the placement and shape of the objects in the composition. This is then copied onto tracing paper with a very soft (dark) pencil.

The tracing paper is turned upside down and the image is transferred by pressure to the suface of the block. The block is made of either linoleum or a newer rubbery material made of vinyl. The picture above is the vinyl material about 3/8 inch thick.

Once the drawing is transferred to the block, the cutting can begin. You can see from the picture above that everything that will NOT be printed is cut away (the white areas). The remaining black areas will be inked and will create the final printed image.

Several tools are used in cutting; knives and gouges of different sizes and shapes as shown above.

When the cutting is complete, a roller or brayer is used to roll on a layer of ink. The ink is rolled out to the correct consistency on a large piece of plexiglas.

The ink sticks to the raised areas of the surface (uncut areas). See why it’s called a relief print now?

At this point a piece of paper (Japanese paper made from Kozo fibres) is placed on top of the inked block and a wooden spoon is used to apply pressure by hand. The pressure of the spoon forces the ink onto the paper.

When I feel that the transfer of the ink to the paper is complete, I slowly pull the paper off of the block.

As you can see, the image is reversed when it’s printed. That, in a nutshell, is the process. If you have any questions, e-mail me. I’ll be glad to answer as best I can.

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