Woodblock printing is a technique for printing text, images or patterns that was used widely throughout East Asia. It originated in China in antiquity as a method of printing on textiles and later on paper. As a method of printing on cloth, the earliest surviving examples from China date to before 220 A.D. and examples from Roman Egypt date to the fourth century. In East Asia
The intricate frontispiece of the Diamond Sutra from Tang Dynasty China, 868 A.D. (British Library) Main article: History of printing in East Asia
The earliest surviving woodblock printed fragments are from China and are of silk printed with flowers in three colours from the Han Dynasty (before 220 A.D.), and the earliest example of woodblock printing on paper appeared in the mid-seventh century in China.
By the ninth century printing on paper had taken off, and the first extant complete printed book containing its date is the Diamond Sutra (British Library) of 868. By the tenth century, 400,000 copies of some sutras and pictures were printed and the Confucian classics were in print. A skilled printer could print up to 2,000 double-page sheets per day.
Printing spread early to Korea and Japan, who also used Chinese logograms, but the techniques also were used in Turpan and Vietnam using a number of other scripts. Unlike the diffusion of paper, however, printing techniques never spread to the Islamic world. In the Middle East
Woodblock printing on cloth appeared in Roman Egypt by the fourth century. Block printing, called tarsh in Arabic was developed in Arabic Egypt during the ninth-tenth centuries, mostly for prayers and amulets. There is some evidence to suggest that these print blocks were made from non-wood materials, possibly tin, lead, or clay. The techniques employed are uncertain, however, and they appear to have had very little influence outside of the Muslim world. Though Europe adopted woodblock printing from the Muslim world, initially...