A Short History of Screen Printing

screen printingWhile many of us would like to give credit to our favorite pop artist Andy Warhol for popularizing screen printing among the creative minded, it was actually a stenciling technique developed over 1000 years ago in the midst of the Song Dynasty, China, which brought about this widespread design creating method. It was the availability of silk in this part of the world which helped the invention of screen printing, as this provided the fine mesh through which ink could be passed in a stencilled pattern. This was some advance on the wooden block stamp method which had been used by more primitive artists. The technique soon spread into the rest of Asia and Japan where it was developed further, but did not reach Europe until the late 1700’s. This may be due to the difficulty of acquiring silk in an age where world travel and cargo transport was not such a widespread trade.

The official application of screen printing in the UK began with a patent made by Samuel Simons in England in 1907, when it became a popular method for producing expensive patterned wall-paper, linens and silks. It began as quite a competitive trade and manufacturing secrets were held tight to the chest. In 1928, Joseph Ulano created a new stenciling method by applying a lacquer soluble material to a removable base, which could be cut into shapes and have the print area removed before being adhered to fine mesh and forming a sharp edged stencil. The advantage of this method is that the artist then has a reusable design which can be quickly replicated across different mediums and in a range of colors. The desire to separate industrial and artistic uses brought about the name “serigraphy” in the 1930’s for the creative side of screen printing (seri being Latin for silk). The artisan technique involves the stretching of a silk screen across a frame, the application of a prepared stencil and then the pressing through of ink or paint with a ‘squeegee’ which creates a smooth block of color on the fabric below, such as canvas or silk.

Clearly a long standing art form, screen printing was undoubtedly thrown into popular culture with Andy Warhol’s 1962 production of Marilyn Monroe. The unique use of bold contrasting colors on a repeated pattern grasped the attention of the public and today the design is used on replica artwork as well as posters and clothing. The rotary garment printing machine, developed fully in Germany in the 1960’s, allowed the mass production of patterned fabrics. Today, the use of screen printing is widely applied to t-shirts, canvas bags, ceramics or posters and has become a popular and economical way to mass produce designs on fabric. As budding artists get to grips with the hands-on technique there is scope for them to put their original artwork onto personal accessories and garments and even begin their own business, using their creative mind and practical talents to develop unique design products for sale online or in store. The appeal of handmade goods has increased and ancient art forms like screen printing could provide that distinctive dose of history which consumers seek.

This article was written by Emily Banham on behalf of Cadisch, a online shop for all the screen printing inks and screen printing products you require.

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