• This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn more.

Where did screen printing come from?


Screen printing: The place is ancient China – the land that had paper money, printed books and toilet paper, among other things, before anybody else (seriously, look it up; they invented pretty much everything). It is also supposed to be the birth place of the screen printing technique. Of course, next to the compass and gunpowder, screen printing seems pretty rudimentary, but still, it is considered a great invention.
The early stages of screen printing can be traced back through many cultures, but the first signs of its modern counterpart were during China’s Song dynasty (960 – 1279 A.D). While Europeans where going through the dark ages, the ancient Chinese people discovered that holding a silk mash on a wooden frame, with strategic holes on them and applying ink on it left a really nice-looking effect on the fabric underneath.
Interesting fact: before silk, the material used to create the masks was human hair.
After China, other Asian countries like Japan quickly adopted the method. It took more time to spread elsewhere though – it only reached Europe during the late 18[sup]th[/sup] century and it didn’t gain popularity until even later, when the silk mesh trade between east and west became more prominent. Fedex took way longer to deliver back then.
In 1907 an English man called Samuel Simon from Manchester patented screen printing in his home country. Afraid that the competition might steal his wallpaper printing technique, Samuel applied what seemed like Cold War methods to keep it a secret.

Artists didn’t see the value of screen printing until the 1930’s when some started experimenting. It was an one of them who ignited the next boom in screen printing’s history. You might have heard of him, his name was Andy Warhol. His famous Marilyn Monroe portrait was done using the technique. Also in the 60’s, an American entrepreneur called Michael Vasilantone (I hope you have as much fun reading that as I had writing it) patented the rotary multicolour garment screen printing machine and it quickly became a hit: until this day it accounts for over half of the screen printing activity in the US.
Screen printing might be the oldest of its printing technique sisters, but it still remains, to this day, one of the most beloved because of its approachability, relative inexpensiveness and versatility.