Block books were typically printed as folios, with two pages printed on one full sheet of paper which was then folded once for binding. Several such leaves would be inserted inside another to form a gathering of leaves, one or more of which would be sewn together to form the complete book.
The earlier block books were printed on only one side of the paper (anopistographic), using a brown or grey, water based ink. It is believed they were printed by rubbing pressure, rather than a printing press. The nature of the ink and/or the printing process did not permit printing on both sides of the paper - damage would result from rubbing the surface of the first side to be printed in order to print the second. When bound together, the one sided sheets produced two pages of images and text, followed by two blank pages. The blank pages were ordinarily pasted together, so as to produce a book without blanks - the Chinese had reached the same solution to the problem. In the 1470s, an oil based ink was introduced permitting printing on both sides of the paper (opistographic) using a regular printing press.
Block books often were printed using a single wood block that carried two pages of text and images, or by individual blocks with a single page of text and image. The illustrations commonly were colored by hand.
The use of woodcut blocks to print block books had been used by the Chinese and other East Asian cultures for centuries to print books, but it is generally believed that the European development of the technique was not directly inspired by Asian examples, but instead grew out of the single woodcut, which itself developed from block-printing on textiles.
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