You’ve probably purchased dozens of shirts over the years that had great designs printed on the front. Maybe it was that “85 Bears jersey, a remembrance of your trip to Las Vegas, or some witty saying that caught your eye. Whatever the occasion your shirt was imprinted using a process called screenprinting. You’ve heard the term before but did you ever wonder what is all involved in screenprinting a garment? Well, before we get to the nitty gritty of the process let’s look a little history.
Screen printing has its beginnings in China, specifically in the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). This was a prosperous time both culturally and economically. The design was produced on silk that was attached to a wooden frame. It wasn’t until the 18th century that screen printing gained popularity in Europe and Asia when silk became more readily available.
In 1910, through their tireless experimentation of photo reactive chemicals, the trio of Roy Beck, Charles Peter, and Edward Owens revolutionized the process by introducing photo-reactive stencils. Today, thanks to the hard work of these three men, we now have a generous selection of emulsion mixtures for creating the stencils we use to print a design.
During the 1940’s the war effort led to the abandonment of using silk for the making of screens. Polyester material became the mesh of choice. Polyester gave greater stability and endurance and variety of mesh count. Today it is the standard for the screen print industry.
1960 brought another innovation for the printing process when American Entrepreneur Michael Vasilantone developed a rotary, multicolor screen printing machine. He filed for a patent in 1967 and licensed his invention to several equipment manufacturers thus expanding the availability of the rotary printing machine to artisans and commercial printers everywhere.
Thanks to the hard work and determination of many fine people screen printing has become a viable and profitable modern day business. With the advancements in printers, inks, screen preparations, and ovens it is now possible to print 100’s of shirts an hour. To quote the Printers’ National Environmental Assistance Center “Screenprinting is arguably the most versatile of all printing processes”. I agree!