Materials and Technologies

Woodblock Printing

The invention of printing can be directly connected to Buddhism and the need to reproduce religious texts and simple pictures of the Buddha. This demand greatly influenced the development of printing technology. Text reproduction began with stamping and rubbing, which led directly to block printing.

Wood is widely used to produce woodblocks, which are carved in negative relief and intended for printing images, texts, prayer flags, initiation cards, and images used as charms in amulets (fig. 1). Printings from such blocks can also be used to mass produce important visual compositions for series of paintings, canonical texts, and collected works of famous teachers, as well as prayer flags (fig. 2).

The Chinese craftsmen were the first to use this process to print texts, beginning sometime before the seventh century, and Tibetans adopted the block printing technology as early as the twelfth century.

The video below shows present-day craftsmen making woodblocks at the Degé printing house.

Fig. 1.

The Rubin Museum of Art, "Carving Wood Blocks at the Degé Printing House," YouTube, January 19, 2023, 14:00,

Fig. 2.

A segment from Art religieux du Bhoutan (Religious Arts of Bhutan), the film by Marie-Noëlle Frei-Pont. Filmed on an 8mm film, 1974 to 1982. With kind permission of Marie-Noëlle Frei-Pont & Society Switzerland-Bhutan. The Rubin Museum of Art, "Art religieux du Bhoutan (Religious Arts of Bhutan) - Prayer Flag Printing," YouTube, July 6, 2023, 3:55,

Objects in the Exhibition
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Art Making

Art making in Himalayan and Tibetan regions is largely religious in nature and takes a wide range of forms—from painting to lost-wax metal casting.

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