Modern History of Screen Printing

Screen printing is a technique where a mesh is used to transfer a design, using ink, onto another surface. These days the surfaces are items of clothing such as a T Shirt.

Believe it or not the first instance of screen printing was during the Song dynasty in ancient China roughly 1,000 years ago. As it became more and more popular in Asian culture it began to be introduced to Europe some time during the 18th century.

World famous artist Andy Warhol popularised screen printing along with Michael Caza, you may be familiar with one of their works known as the Marilyn Diptych. This brought the individuality and what could be achieved using screen printing – however it was not Warhol nor Caza that really got the ball rolling when it comes to mass produced and cheap screen printing techniques that we are familiar with today, that accolade goes to Michael Vasilantone.

Modern day screen printing was given life by American entrepreneur Michael Vasilantone when he started to use, develop and sell a rotary multicolour garment screen printing machine in 1960. The first use of this machine was to print logos on bowling garments.

Vasilantone patented his machine in 1969 and was used as the basis of Marc Tartaglia’s silk screening device which applies multi coloured designs on the plurality of textile fabrics, prior to polyester mesh silk meshes were commonly used.

Although technology today makes it cheap and fast to screen print it is still essentially Vasilantone and Tartaglia’s techniques which are used – even here!

How does screen printing work?

Essentially, screen printing is the use of a stencil inside of a ‘screen’ where the parts of the screen are blocked off where the user does not want the ink to go.

A squeegee is then used to push the ink down to the substrate (T shirt) in proportion to how much the mesh allows it to. To simplify the explanation here is an infographic explaining the process.

How_to_Screen_Print_Squeegee_&_Ink

By Scrud123 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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