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, and woodblock printing remained the most common East Asian method of printing books and other texts, as well as images, until the 19th century. Ukiyo-e is the best known type of Japanese woodblock art print. Most European uses of the technique for printing images on paper are covered by the art term woodcut, except for the block-books produced mainly in the 15th century.
Prior to the invention of woodblock printing, seals and stamps were used for making impressions. The oldest of these seals come from Mesopotamia and Egypt. The use of round “cylinder seals” for rolling an impress onto clay tablets goes back to early Mesopotamian civilization before 3000 BC, where they are the most common works of art to survive, and feature complex and beautiful images. A few much larger brick (e.g. 13×13 cm) stamps for marking clay bricks survive from Akkad from around 2270 BC. There are also Roman lead pipe inscriptions of some length that were stamped, and amulet MS 5236 may be a unique surviving gold foil sheet stamped with an amulet text in the 6th century BC. However none of these used ink, which is necessary for printing (on a proper definition), but stamped marks into relatively soft materials. In both China and Egypt, the use of small stamps for seals preceded the use of larger blocks. In Europe and India, the printing of cloth certainly preceded the printing of paper or papyrus; this was probably also the case in China. The process is essentially the same—in Europe special presentation impressions of prints were often printed on silk until at least the 17th century.