Surface Printing | Surface Printing Methods | Printing Block Making

Surface Printing
There are different printing methods to print fabric . Now, I will discuss about surface printing. To print fabric by the method of surface printing, some work are done, such as block making, printing table making, applied color paste on fabric etc.

Block Making
The typical hand block printing had no large, uniform areas of color but was skillfully built up from many small colored areas, because wooden surfaces larger than about 10 mm in width would not give an even print. This had the advantage that a motif such as a flower would have an effect of light and shade obtained from three or four blocks, each printing a different depth of the same color, or a different hue. This obviously meant that a lot of blocks were required, and considerable care was needed in fitting the adjacent parts of the design. If the design had a large repeat there would be a multiplication of the number of blocks because the size of a single block was limited to about 45 cm square and its weight to about 5 kg. Most blocks were much smaller than this, perhaps because many printers were women. 
Figure A. Wood blocks with (a) brass strip and pin inserts, (b) a cast type-metal printing
surface (without pitch pins)
Block making required patience and skill. A fairly hard wood was required, such as pear wood, and four or five layers were usually glued together with the grain running in different directions. The design was traced on to the surface and a fine chisel used to cut away the nonprinting areas to a depth of perhaps 1 cm. To obtain more detail from some blocks, strips and pins of copper or (more usually) brass were hammered into the wood. In the 19th century some blocks were made with the printing surface entirely in brass (Figure A), which gave very delicate prints. Another technique used for complex designs was to prepare a mould, use this to cast the image from molten type metal, fasten the casting to the block, and then grind the surface perfectly flat. When large areas of solid colour were required, the areas within metal or wooden outlines were filled with felt, which would absorb and print the paste uniformly. Finally, each block required corner ‘pitch pins’ which printed small dots; these allowed the succeeding blocks to be correctly positioned by accurately locating the pitch pins above the already printed dots.

A less precise form of block printing is practised in the production of, for example, Africa prints, using large plywood blocks with polyurethane foam printing surfaces.

The Printing Table
A very solid table was needed; it was topped with flat slabs of stone or iron covered with a resilient blanket and a sheet of waterproof material. A back-grey of plain cotton was usually stretched over the table, to absorb any surplus colour. Ideally the back-grey would be gummed to the table and the fabric to be printed could be pinned to it, for tight-fitting patterns.

The Printing Process
Color paste must be applied to the block surface in a controlled manner, and this was achieved by using a ‘sieve’. A small tub was nearly filled with a starch paste and a waterproof fabric, stretched on a frame, rested on the paste. A piece of woolen fabric was stretched on a slightly smaller frame and fastened to make the sieve. The sieve was saturated with color paste and placed on the waterproof fabric. For each impression, the ‘tierer’ (a boy) spread the color paste on the top surface of the woolen sieve with a large brush and the printer charged the block by pressing it on the wool. The block was then carefully positioned on the fabric, using the pitch pins as guides, and struck with a mallet. After printing a table length with the first block, the second was printed and then any others required to complete the design. The fabric was then transferred to a few elevated rollers or rods and allowed to dry, while the next table length was printed.

In 1834 a machine that automatically performed all the actions of block printing was invented by Perrot (it became known as the Perrotine), and achieved some success. It was limited to three colors and a maximum repeat of only 15 cm and its operation could not be truly continuous, but the three colors were printed simultaneously. Storey gives an illustrated account of this machine, and of hand block printing.

Much earlier, attempts had been made to obtain continuous surface printing using wooden rollers, but the difficulty of uniform application of the color to the roller was the common problem. In about 1805, however, a rotating woolen fabric ‘sieve’ was introduced in Accrington, and used successfully thereafter (Figure B) . The other essential step was the preparation of a raised pattern on the roller by inserting copper outline strips and felt, just as in hand block printing. This technique was used until recently for printing furnishing fabrics and for wallpaper, but was never as important as the copper roller method. It had the advantages of requiring low pressure and avoiding the color contamination that occurs on engraved roller machines, because no contact was made with previously printed color, but the cost of roller making was high. Wallpaper printers found that inexpensive rollers could be cast from epoxy polymers and the nonprinting areas were easily cut away, but they did not carry enough color to print most fabrics. 
Figure B. Surface printing machine with woollen fabric sieve
Essentially the same method has been used for printing polymer film, other packaging materials and transfer paper, but is then usually known as flexographic printing. The design is built up on wooden rollers by the application of rubber moldings and the color is applied by uniformly engraved metering rollers. 

About the Editor-in-Chief:

Mazharul Islam Kiron is a textile consultant and researcher on online business promotion. He is working with one European textile machinery company as a country agent. He is also a contributor of Wikipedia.

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