Nearly 2000 years ago, the Chinese used, what is considered to be, the earliest application of Screen Printing. This involved creating a screen, by stretching human hair across a wooden frame, and creating stencils out of leaves, which were then attached.
The Japanese later adopted and adapted the screen printing technique, by making their mesh out of woven silk, and stencils from lacquers. This use of silk to make the mesh, is where the alternative name “silk screening”, was born.
In the late 18th century, screen printing was introduced to Western Europe, but did not garner much acceptance of use in art and garment design, until the silk mesh used in Japan, was more readily available from the east, via trade.
In the early 1900s, several screen printers were experimenting with photo- reactive chemicals. This time of experimentation and innovation, led to a trio of developers, Roy Beck, Charles Peter and Edward Owens, discovering and introducing photo image stencils to the industry. However, the acceptance of this method took many years to occur.
In the 1930s, a group of artists, soon to form the National Serigraphic Society, coined the term “Serigraphy”, which was used to differentiate the artistic use of screen printing, from the industrial use of the process in garment making.
Andy Warhol is often credited for making screen printing popular as an artistic technique. He is particular famous for his 1962 ode to the filmstar, Marilyn Monroe, screen-printed, using garish colours.
Sister Mary Corita Kent, garnered international fame, for her vibrant, rainbow-coloured screen prints, throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Her pieces included political and religious messages.
In 1960, an American artist, inventor, and entrepreneur, Michael Vasilantone, developed, and sold, a rotary, Multicolour garment screen printing machine. This invention was created with the use in mind of printing logo and team information on bowling outfits, however, its use was soon monopolised for the fad of screen printed t shirts. The patent for this was licensed by various manufacturers, the boom in printed t shirts made this rotary garment machine, the most popular device of choice in the screen printing business.
Contemporary Screen printing methods use a “screen”, made from a mesh stencil, for each colour needed. Screens are lined up and printed on test sheets beforehand, to make sure that the colours will line up correctly when it comes to printing on the garment. Various inks are then pushed through the screens, each colour at a time, onto the material. Lastly, the apparel is run through a large dryer, to cure the inks so that they set.
Today, Screen printing is considered the industry bread and butter, in achieving high quality apparel. Because of this, most t shirts, boasting graphic designs, have been made using screen printing. This technique gives clothes a bold aesthetic, yet is cost effective to create.
The Printers National Environmental Assistance Centre, argues that, out of all the printing processes, Screen printing is the most versatile. Indeed, the rudimentary screen printing materials needed, are very affordable and easily available. Screen printing is used in subcultures via graffiti, and is seen on flyers, movie posters, advertising, and artwork. Screen printing is still considered a very modern cultural aesthetic.