Textile printing, the various processes by which fabrics are printed in colored design, is an ancient art. Although the time and place of origin are uncertain, examples of Greek fabrics from the 4th cent. B.C. have been found. India exported block prints to the Mediterranean region in the 5th cent. B.C., and Indian chintz was imported into Europe during the Renaissance and widely imitated. France became a leading center and was noted especially for the toile de Jouy manufactured at Jouy from 1760 to 1811.
Early forms of textile printing are stencil work, highly developed by Japanese artists, and block printing. In the latter method a block of wood, copper, or other material bearing a design in intaglio with the dye paste applied to the surface is pressed on the fabric and struck with a mallet. A separate block is used for each color, and pitch pins at the corners guide the placing of the blocks to assure accurate repeating of the pattern. In cylinder or roller printing, developed c.1785, the fabric is carried on a rotating central cylinder and pressed by a series of rollers each bearing one color. The design is engraved on the copper rollers by hand or machine pressure or etched by pantograph or photoengraving methods; the color paste is applied to the rollers through feed rollers rotating in a color box, the color being scraped off the smooth portion of the rollers with knives.
More recent printing processes include screen printing, a hand method especially suitable for large patterns with soft outlines, in which screens, one for each color, are placed on the fabric and the color paste pressed through by a wooden squeegee; spray printing, in which a spray gun forces the color through a screen; and electrocoating, used to apply a patterned pile. Color may be applied by the various processes directly; by the discharge method, which uses chemicals to destroy a portion of a previously dyed ground; or by the resist, or reserve, method, which prevents the development of a subsequently applied color to a portion of the fabric treated with a chemical or with a mechanical resist.