The Real History of Screen Printing

It seems that the art of screen printing, or silk screening in some parts of the world, actually originated from China and/or Japan back in the medieval ages of the 900s AD. They didn’t really have anything going on back then so someone actually started making screens using human hair. Yep, now you know why Chinese people kept long hair, for silk screening! Jokes aside, they did use human hair and the inks were extracted from squishing grapes and berries.

Once people started refusing to give up their long black hair, the introduction of silk came in. This was readily available, and the crime rate of ‘hair snatching’ (someone would cut another person’s hair while they were sleeping) soon decreased. Fast forward to the early 1900 and across the pond to Europe, screen printing appeared namely in France for printing abstract patterns. It remained a simple process, using cloth to stretch over a wooden frame to hold stencils for printing. In 1907, a Mr. Samuel Simon from Manchester, England came up with a more stable and versatile way of using silk to make a screen. He later patented the process, saying that his method yield better results. As part of this patent, rubber blades, or what we now know as squeegees, were used to push ink through the silk screen, and so, the modern day silk screen process is born.

history of screen printing

Here in America, silk screening became mainstream during the first World War when it was used for mass printing military flags, posters and banners. Almost anyone who could print up the 2 color flag on a white piece of cloth had a job. Photographic stencils or emulsion was introduced to give the process more flexibility and ease. When the second World War came around in 1942, screeners had to stop using silk because of its use in the war effort.  It was since then replaced by a polyester material that we still use until today.

Of course technology has made things like the automatic press and discharge printing, but for centuries, this art has largely remained the same.

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