wood block stamps

by Grace Bonney

when i was in college and first discovered printmaking, i decided to throw myself into the history of the artform with a somewhat obsessive dedication. i checked out every book i could find in w&m‘s library and found myself bugging my printmaking teachers for little tidbits about the history of the actual plates and technology that went into modern printmaking. as much as i loved the newer techniques for printmaking, i found myself repeatedly drawn to ancient wood block techniques.

while studying abroad in london the summer between my junior and senior year, i splurged on what looked like an entire pallet of wood block stamps from india. in a terrible twist of fate my suitcase couldn’t hold them all so i ended up having to give them away to my roommates. it killed me because, despite being told their actual purpose, i was pretty sure they all thought they were weird chunks of wood to be used as doorstops in their dorms. so whenever i see a beautiful wood block stamp i feel the urge to buy them all, hoarders-style, and keep them safe in my house (and away from college doors). thankfully you can find these woodblock stamps all over these days, but i was really happy to see such a fun collection of them over at a trade for trade, a fair trade e-shop carrying everything from craft supplies and jewelry to home decor and stationery. these blocks range from $7-$27 each and are so much fun to use. if you’ve never tried block printing i highly suggest finding a brightly colored paint and giving it a shot- even if it doesn’t turn out perfectly the quality of the print is so unique it’s worth a try. click here to check out a trade for trade’s full collection of wood block stamps online. thanks, kendra!

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  • And what is so nice about relief style printing is it is easy (well slightly muscle building) to do at home. I am a printmaking major too, and although I love intaglio, woodcuts are what I have done since working without my own press.

  • I love these too!
    (note: To print on fabric, lay down a pad of paper or newsprint first, then smooth the fabric on top. Use a rubber mallet to tap the block once for a clear imprint)

  • Thank you so much for this post. I have been looking EVERYWHERE for wood block stamps. I’ve got some curtains that need customizing!

  • Hi! I bought one of these stamps here in Madrid, but I don’t know what kind of painting i should use! Any help? I can’t wait to use it! Thanks.

  • Hi Lupe! You can just use regular fabric paint. In India they make sure it isn’t too “goopy,” so if it comes really thick (like acrylics sometimes do) I would dilute it with water so it doesn’t clog up the stamp. If you have more questions feel free to shoot me an email at kendra (at) atradeforatrade (dot) com and I’ll do my best to answer them. Happy printing!

  • I love the little elephant too. But regardless, thanks for featuring these stamps and Kendra, thanks for chiming in. It seems like there’s not a lot of information on block printing out on the internet but I’m fascinated with it. (Or I’m just not looking in the right spots, in which case someone please let me know where to find out more info on this.)

  • if you ever visit Tucson during the Gem and Mineral show, you’ll find lots of vendors have them. i picked some up at the last show. i was going to give some as gifts, but decided to keep them all :)

  • Love this post! I just returned from India and I noted some modern homes and hotel use the antique wood blocks as door handles. Beautiful!




    You are killing me with good links this morning. Hehe.

    I am a print artist too, and am currently obsessed with printing fabric by hand, and printing old book pages (on lino). I have an ancient pear-wood Indian block that is quite large that I inherited from my mum, and haven’t used it yet. I have a feeling once I do try using it, I will need more of these beauties….hehe……

    Really enjoyed it!

    PS: Here is some of my current (ok, obsessive) work: http://www.etsy.com/listing/50743200/botanical-leaves-print-vintage-book-page


  • I have looked and looked for any info about wood block printing. I have been unable for find any kind of instructions using vintage wood blocks. Everything you find is using modern-day, rubber wood blocks.

    I saw one You Tube video showing someone in India using what appeared to be a giant ink pad and they were pounding the wood block into it and them pounding it onto the fabric. But no info on whether it was a fabric dye or what.

    I’d love to try using my wood stamps. I recently purchased some fabric dye and fabric paint but have yet to try it. I also bought some thin medium dense foam pads in which to lay my fabric on as I stamp it.

    I’m flying blind, however, since you can’t find a thing about this process anywhere! If anyone has ever tried it or has any info at all, I’d KILL to know! (Well, maybe not kill but I have spent hours researching this and have come up empty handed every time!).

    Feel free to email me at: dedra (at) studio193.com.

    Thanks so much!


  • I’ve already emailed with Dedra, but for anyone else interested – a “How to Use a Wood Block Stamp” tutorial will go out with our August newsletter. It will answer questions about fabric, paint and process.

  • Hello, I have a set of wooden block stamps and was hoping you might know something about these. They are called “ALPHONYMS ALPHABET DESIGNS 1978 ROBERT BLOOMBERG”. The F is a flower, the Z is a zipper, the J is jacks, the H is a house and so on. Would very much like to know what these are. Have searched online and have come up with zero. Thank you, DAVE

  • Hi Kendra
    I would like to know if it is better using a brayer or sponge for block printing. I noticed with sponges, it tends to clog up some areas of print block. Does the ink need to be flattened out on a glass surface before using.

  • I’m with Jacqueline. I fell in love with these stamps just bought a set at a Himalayan Fair. I want to make cards, giftwrap, etc. I went out and bought some ColorBox pigment stamp pads, but the image I’m getting is very faint. Do you have any suggestions about working with these stamps on paper? Thanks so much!

  • Would you please post a link to the tutorial (mentioned above) on using wooden blocks?

    I want to embellish my upcycled designs with stamps

    Thank you! Michelle

  • hi- i have a question and perhaps you could help
    im trying to use wood blocks on a cupboard. The outer surface is laminate particle board. Do you think i can use wood blocks on it?
    Will it work at all?

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