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Screen Printing: Ancient Age to Modern Age


History of Screen Printing

Screen printing has its roots in the ancient art of stenciling in ancient Egypt, as early as 2500 B.C., later in ancient Greece, and circa  900 A.D. in China, when ink was first forced through silk fabric to create images. It was then that ancient artisans first stretched silk fabric across a frame and poured hot beeswax into it. Once the paraffin cooled and hardened, artisans using wooden stylus-type instruments etched designs in it, removing the wax from the lines drawn. Pouring ink in the “silk screen” and gliding a wooden squeegee across the design, the process of silk screening spread throughout Asia as an art medium for decorating paper and wooden panels, although rarely done on textiles or garments, where embroidery prevailed. The inks were made from colorful berries, roots, minerals, and other natural dye sources.

Printed T-Shirts coming off the dryer belt.

Printed T-Shirts coming off the dryer belt.

Screen Printing Art Work

Screen Printing Art Work

Using Multiple Silk Screens

Using multiple silk screens with differentiated art patterns, multi-color designs executed by highly skilled artists were done with an impressive degree of sophistication, including tight registration. It wasn’t until the 1880s, in Lyon, France, that silk screening became a viable commercial process for decorating fabric. It wasn’t until 1907 when Samuel Simon of Manchester England received the first patent awarded for the process of using silk fabric as a printing screen.

The Art of Silk Screening

The art of silk screening evolved in the 20th century into the versatile commercial graphic process that flourished for printing everything from huge billboard panels, posters, circuit board panels, glass and ceramics, vinyl, pressure sensitive materials, and acrylic sheeting, to, of course, garments. But to distinguish the modern, scientific, technological advanced process from its ancestor craft, screen printing has become the preferred term. Through continued  advances in graphic technology, many of screen printing’s non-textile applications have been supplanted by digital printing, a field in the past two decades that has mushroomed to such an extent that it has replaced screen printing as the preferred technology in many commercial and industrial product sectors. At the onset of the 21st Century, though, digital printing came into being as another means to print garments.


About Erik Mickelson

Erik Mickelson is the author of Northwest Custom Apparel's blogs. Erik has been with Northwest Custom Apparel since 1996 after graduating from Washington State University and is the founder of the Apparel Graphic Academy. Trained by the custom graphic apparel industry's best, Mark Venit, Erik brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the Embroidery Adventure blog. As they say, 'Experience is the best teacher.' We are proud to have Erik as part of our team!

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