Batik is one of the most signature example of traditional Indonesian garments. This iconic fabric has become more and more popular worldwide, used to create shirts, dresses, and even household accessories. However, not a lot of people know how to spot a genuine handmade batik.
The traditional process takes a lot of time, attention to detail, and an incredibly talented artist. Yet with the rise of popularity also comes the rise of imitation batik, sometimes known as printed batik.
When people say they want to buy batik, often they want the real deal, or batik tulis. So, how can you determine if a piece of batik fabric is the genuine handmade thing, or just a printed version?
What is Batik?
First, you should know that genuine batik is made using wax-resist dye. Originating from Java, batik involves drawing patterns of dots and lines of the resist wax using a spouted instrument. This pen-like instrument is called a canting. Other than this method, some batik is also made by stamping the resist onto the fabric using a copper stamp, which is called a cap.
The first method produces what we know as batik tulis, while the latter batik cap. Both of these are genuine and authentically made batik. Complicated patterns with multiple colours will take more time to design and create. However, the appeal of real batik is truly one of its kind!
Printed Batik vs Genuine Batik Tulis: What’s the Difference?
Unfortunately, a new form of batik has taken to the market in addition to batik tulis and batik cap: the printed one. This mass printing technique uses a generic printing ink to simulate the patterns of traditional batik. Thanks to these massive machines, producers can make printed batik much faster and in bulk.
This means that printed batik is not only less expensive, they often boast a wider range of colours and repetitive patterns. While this kind of batik may be fine to purchase occasionally, you should not mistake them for genuine batik. They can look just as pretty from afar, but a closer look will tell you that they are mass produced, not individually made.
Batik tulis, which literally means ‘written’ in Indonesian, preserves the authentic charm of a hand-drawn fabric. It is generally more organic, has the unique smell of wax, more vibrant in colours, and feels different to the touch. Of course, it is much more expensive and coveted. Yet it is usually more durable and long-lasting too.
How to Spot A Genuine Handmade Batik
We’ve now covered the basics of what batik is, the three main types of batik, and what makes printed batik different. The real question remains: how can you spot a genuine handmade batik? Good news, as there are some easy signs you can look out for to avoid buying the ‘fake’ printed batik. Here they are!
1. Is it Reversible?
One of the simplest ways a person can determine the authenticity of a piece of batik is by checking both sides. Batik tulis is reversible, and this is part of its appeal, which means either side of the fabric will display the same vibrant patterns.
In making batik tulis, wax is applied to both sides and treated in a way that there is practically no “front” or “back” side. The colour is consistent on either side because the fabric is dyed and submerged in a vat of dye. As a result, you can wear a batik sarong inside out and no one can tell the difference!
On the other hand, printed batik only goes through a textile printer on one side. This leaves the other side significantly faded with only muted shadows of the printed ink.
2. Genuine Batik is not Perfectly Symmetrical
When trying to check if your batik is made using the traditional process or modern mass printing, pay attention to its pattern. Remember that batik tulis is made entirely by hand. From pencil drawing the pattern to tracing it with a canting, someone handcrafts the lines of wax resist on the fabric.
Naturally, these kinds of batik will never be perfect or completely symmetrical. High levels of accuracy are practically impossible because the human hand is, well, human. For example, see if there are inconsistent elements like different sized dots or lines. No matter how talented the artisan is, you can still notice the hand-drawn quality of it.
It is a different story with printed batik. They are made by machines, and as you can expect, the patterns will be identically repeated throughout. If the batik is consistent, uniform, and essentially perfect, it is unmistakably printed.
3. Natural Colours
Another visual cue to look out for is its colours. Traditional techniques for batik tulis and batik cap use hot liquid was, which originates from sixth-century Java. These dyes are made from natural elements like leaves and flowers, producing mostly earthy tones. We are talking about deep browns and organic greens.
As you might imagine, this is not the case with printed batik. These machines use chemical dyes and artificially made colours, allowing them to create a range of vibrant and “unnatural” colours.
So, a genuine handmade batik would be one that is deeper and richer in colour, not bright and flashy. Printed batik will also not fade with washing, while handmade batik may fade with each wash. However, this will give them a uniquely worn and vintage quality that is actually beautiful!
4. It Looks ‘Organic’
Similar to the previous and more physical signs, handmade batik will feel and look more ‘organic’. What we mean is that you can sense the very particular charm on a genuine batik as you would with any handcrafted art piece.
This is because everything about real batik speaks to the traditional Indonesian culture. From the naturally sourced dyes, hand-drawn patterns inspired by authentic designs, and the painstakingly difficult process.
When you observe a genuine batik tulis, for instance, you can almost imagine the artisan’s hand drawing each stroke on the fabric with a canting. Some lines are thick, others thin. Some are faded, some more bold. There are specks of wax residues. Dots are misaligned. It is not perfect. But you can feel the detailed action translate into the final result.
5. Genuine Batik Uses Wax
One of the definitions of batik is that it is made using a unique colouring process, with wax-resist to create the colours. If a patterned piece of fabric does not use wax to make, then it is not batik. Simple as that. While most still refer to the printed variety as printed batik, they technically cannot be considered as a batik.
Those patterns may look just as pretty and ‘traditional’, but they are by no means authentic. You can spot a genuine handmade batik if the colour seems more natural and the overall atmosphere of it is less perfect. Plus, it is often worthwhile to ask the seller about the village the fabric comes from. Real batik are often the crafts of local communities.
6. It Smells Like Burnt Candle
Printed batik smells just like any other printed fabric. Textiles made using mass printing techniques may retain a kind of metallic or alcoholic smell. It’s a testament of their industrial background.
Meanwhile, that is not how genuine batik will smell! You can sense the aroma of burnt wax that is earthy and even sweet, if the process uses beeswax. This smell is especially distinct with freshly made batik, although note that it will fade once you wash them.
Relating to smell, real batik will also have a more distinctive texture. Printed batik, on the other hand, is generally softer and more ‘lifeless’.
7. Design Variety
Finally, there is one more indicator that could tell you if a store is selling printed or handmade batik. Look at their stocks and variety. Printed batik tends to have multiple stocks of the same design with various colour options. This is possible because all they need to do is swap out the dyes in the printing machine.
But handmade batik is more unique and usually very limited. You can usually only find a couple pieces of the same design. Even then, they are not entirely identical and will still have minor differences too. The colour and design options for genuine handmade batik are much more exclusive.
Great, so What Now?
The tradition of Batik in Indonesia has been recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. We have explored some ways you can spot a genuine handmade batik. That is not to say that printed batik is any less beautiful or “invalid”, as this process has allowed the unique heritage to enter the international world.
However, there is still a certain charm to handmade batik that you will never be able to get with a machine-printed one. It is still preferable as they are authentic, more long-lasting, and can help the wearer appear more professional too.
There are certainly many popular brands selling printed batik today, which is fine for everyday home wear or accessories. But if you are looking for a genuine handmade batik to step up your wardrobe game, then Laxmi Tailors may be the right stop for you.
Laxmi Tailors collaborates with local artisans to produce high-quality batik using the traditional wax-resistant hand-dyed process. Choose the silk material to showcase the premium sense of Indonesian fashion and command the room with your new confidence. Alternatively, the high thread count cotton provides the ultimate comfort and class.
All in all, genuine batik clothing is something every man needs in their closet!