Today, screen printing
is a popular tool used by companies for anything from promotional mugs to movie posters to graphic t-shirts, but its history is as rich as the pallet of colors used by modern screen printers. The inception of screen printing dates back thousands for years.
By cutting shapes into banana leaves and pressing dye into the cut-out portions, early Polynesian Island natives were able to produce some of the first screen prints. This process transferred the stenciled design onto a bark cloth. This is the basic premise of screen printing - forcing dye through a stencil to create a design. Early forms of stenciling (using blowpipes to apply the colorant) were also found in the caves of Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain.
At the time of the Sung Dynasty (A.D. 960 -1280), the Japanese were using stencils to produce intricate designs. In order to keep smaller, loose pieces of a stencil in place, Japanese printers used human hair as a "tie." Human hair was strong enough to secure the free parts and thin enough to allow ink to pass around them and onto the desired medium.
In the middle ages, similar stenciling was used for mass production, such as the production of the Hoyle playing card.
In the 1700s, western culture caught onto screen printing. In England, screen printing was used for wall designs, like wall paper in upper-class homes. At first, Englanders were using "ties," but intricate designs necessitated a change. Silk replaced human hair, which allowed for more intricate and uniform prints. This is also where the name silk screen printing derived, although silk is rarely used anymore; man-made plastics or metal are the preferred materials for modern screen printers.
In 1907, Samuel Simon of Manchester, England patented the first industrial screen printing process. His process paved the way for modern screen printers, which used woven silk instead of "ties" to hold the stencil in place. Detailed designs were glued to the mesh fabric.
In 1914, San Franciscan John Pilsworth, patented a multicolor screen printing process.
During World War I, from 1914-1918, screen printing was used extensively for recruiting, such as the ubiquitous "Uncle Sam wants you," posters. Screen printing was ideal for high-quality, high-volume signage. Screen printing remains a staple in promotions and advertising.
In the 1920s, screen printing was used by a number of graphic artists of the Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements. They referred to the process as serigraphy.
In the UK in the late 40s and early 50s, Francis and Dorothy Carr are sometimes attributed as the first artists to use screen printing as a fine art in its own right. In the 1960s, Pop Art was popularized by the likes of Andy Warhol, Rauschenberg and Hamilton, which furthered the movement of screen printing as an art form.
Graphic (and art) screen printing is still widely used in mass media but also in an underground do-it-yourself screen printing subculture. This is due to its low cost and ability to print on a variety of media.
Some say, however, that screen printing is a dying art, soon to be replaced with other forms of image transfer, such as modern industrial printers. I guess, we shall squeegee.
Labels: custom screen printing, history of screen printing, screen printing