Andy Worhol’s 1962 serigraphic print of Marilyn Monroe – perhaps the best known screen print of the 20th Century.
The art of screen sprinting is very widely used and has been for many centuries. Today, screen printing is mostly applied in the textile industries for adding the decorative touches to fabric. Screen printed banners, table linens, and clothing are extremely popular because of its applications towards the personalization of creative designs. In fact, with the help of the internet and its ability to connect artists and designers to both small and large-scale screen printers, it is possible for any individual to see his or her artistic designs applied to textiles. T-shirts are an especially popular medium for screen printing. However, businesses also use the process to add logos and images to banners, flags, and linens for the sake of advertising and personalizing these same products for their places of operations. And, while screen printing is now widely used for a large variety of reasons, the art of screen printing has a long and interesting history.
According to Wikipedia, “screen printing is a printing technique that uses a woven mesh to support an ink-blocking stencil. The attached stencil forms open areas of mesh that transfer ink or other printable materials which can be pressed through the mesh as a sharp-edged image onto a substrate. A roller or squeegee is moved across the screen stencil, forcing or pumping ink past the threads of the woven mesh in the open areas.” The designs that an artist wishes to apply to any given medium is cut out of a stencil. However, if you are an artist that doesn’t have any experience with stencil-cutting, it is possible to simply pass on your design to a professional screen printer and have the stencil made and subsequently printed on a variety of mediums. Now that the world wide web has made global communication simple, these types of collaborations are much more prolific resulting in an upsurge in screen printed textiles and other mediums.
Screen printing is also known as silk screening. This is because the mesh used to support the design stencils was traditionally made from silk. However, today the mesh that is used is more commonly constructed from synthetic fibers (especially polyester). Because silk was the first composite for the screen mesh, the art originated in the far East where silk was first manufactured. More specifically, the first applications of silk screenings were thought to have come from China between the years of 960 and 1279 AD during the Song Dynasty. In fact, many Asian countries have been using silk screening and other forms of stencil printing for over a thousand years. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that the process was put into common use in the West. This is primarily due to the fact that silk was such a rare commodity in Europe until the trade routes to the East had become more established.
It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the first screen printing method was patented. An English man named Samuel Simon obtained this patent in 1907. Simon’s method was used mostly on fabric mediums. Screen printed table linens, flags, and garments became big business in the early 20th century. Simon and his colleagues developed specialized screen printing processes that were highly secreted for the sake of protecting their profitable businesses. Shortly after Simon’s patent was established a great deal of new processes were developed in an effort to compete in the textile design business. In the 1910’s, several people (most notably Edward Owens and Charles Peter) began to experiment with photo-reactive screen printing. By fine-tuning various chemical combinations these screen printing pioneers were able to establish stencils from photograph images. This allowed for a far more detailed final product. Today, it is possible for any laymen to develop screen printing stencils from any picture or photograph. In fact, screen printing has become a popular art-form for many non-professional designers.
In the 1960’s, Andy Warhol exemplified a distinction between industrial screen printing and screen printing for the sake of artistic production. The latter process is known as “serigraphy.” Perhaps the most famous form of serigraphy was produced by Warhol in 1962 with his multi-colored screen printed representation of Marilyn Monroe. The association of artistic individualism underscored by Warhol contributes to the underground screen printing culture of today. Because of the available screen printing technology individuals can make textiles with designs that can’t be found on any other product. This is especially true in the underground fashion culture. The screen printed t-shirt is a quintessential look that suggests counterculture fashion. Homemade textiles featuring rock band logos, pop-culture images, or original art are very popular items. They project a kind of “retro” imagery reminiscent of Warhol’s 1960s era of individualized counterculture art.
Today there are several technologies for screen printing that allow for production on both large and small scales. The introduction of the rotary printer in the late 20th century provided the means for anyone with interest to partake in screen printing. Rotary screen printing is the most widely used method today. While screen printers have encountered competition with the advent of digital printing, it remains a very efficient and cost-effective way to print designs on a wide variety of products. Furthermore, silk screening doesn’t require a flat surface for printing. This makes it a very versatile production process. Industrial applications of screen printing makes it possible to stencil logos on anything from skateboards to balloons. Still, textiles are the most common medium for screen printing as it allows for very fast production of a multitude of designs for clothing, linens, and banners. Any product that requires an individual design such as a company logo or political motto is the perfect medium for screen printing. Moreover, with the easy availability of screen printing services, it is possible for any sized business to create banners, shirts, or tablecloths bearing their personalized designs. This makes screen printed linens a wise investment for anyone wishing to set up a booth at a trade show or decorate a home or place of business with any design they wish. In the world of business, this provides a great way to advertise by creating a medium displaying any desired message without having to purchase space on a billboard, newspaper, magazine, or web page.