Woodblock printing is a technique for printing text, images or patterns used widely throughout East Asia and originating in China in antiquity as a method of printing on textiles and later paper. As a method of printing on cloth, the earliest surviving examples from China date to before 220 AD. Wikipedia
I wish I had the time and expertise to create woodblock prints the traditional way – by carving out designs and using ink to stamp the pattern on paper or fabric. However, I do not have that sort of time (or expertise, or patience really) to produce authentic woodblock prints so over the years I have learned a few techniques to get that same aesthetic working on a digital platform.
My prints start with a hand drawn or painted motif – usually a floral. In the past, I used a variety of filters to get a woodblock look. The easiest way was to use Corel Painter’s woodcut filter. Here are some of the results I’ve had with that technique:
They look awesome when you play with the erosion time but there’s one drawback to that technique. In order to turn the pattern into a seamless repeat design, I have to then spend a few hours matching up my edges because the woodcut filter does the entire image rather than just the transparent layers. Here’s an example of what happens when you apply the filter to one transparent motif (or 5 as you can clearly see in the image):
The woodcut effect comes out as a solid block of black and then I have to remove the black which also removes those gorgeous lines that I want to border the motif. Don’t get me wrong, I still love that aspect of Painter, but I wanted a few more techniques to add to my arsenal to produce different looks that still mimic a woodblock print.
Enter the image trace feature in Adobe Illustrator. The first time I tried it I thought “Aha! I’ve found the answer!” My motifs came out with those irregular lines outlining them and I could easily change the color in Photoshop to get just the tone I wanted. By adjusting the method of image trace I can get cleaner lines or just an outline – which might be a nice overlay to a colored motif. Here’s an example of a design I’m currently working on with that technique:
This is a simple element that I will use in a new collection I’m developing and I like the organic quality to the lines. The original of this branch was actually created digitally and I think that adding the lines over the original image could give that cool woodblock look, but as often happens when I’m just playing, I fell down the digital rabbit hole and tried another method without finishing this one.
Keeping that idea of organic lines outlining a motif in mind, I then tried layering a different filter – this time from Alien Skin Snap Art 4. It kept the motif on a transparent layer without a large rectangle bordering them:
I like the look of this, but it really needs some more of the fancy lines I get with Corel and it needs to have the look of one color being layered on top of the next that comes with a real woodblock print. I think I’m getting closer to my goal, but right now I’m trying a fourth technique for a collection inspired by Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. I’ll post more about that as I complete the collection this month.
If you’d like more posts like this one, please leave me a comment so I know what you’re interested in learning about. I love sharing this stuff and I can be much more detailed about my process if you’d like.