Screen printing has been used to make custom printed T-shirts and garments for nearly two thousand years. The technique was created in China where they stretched human hair across a wooden frame to form a primitive screen. They then attached a stencil design made of leaves or grass to form different shapes.
The technique was soon adopted by the Japanese who added silk to the screens. Woven silk and lacquers gave artisans the ability to create far more intricate designs. Stencils made of silk mesh became so popular and prevalent that the process was later known as silk printing or silk screening.
The technique was finally patented in 1907 by a printer named Samuel Simon. The Industrial Revolution made it profitable to produce custom printed T-shirts on a large scale. But the designs were still considered pedestrian.
It was not until the First World War that a designer introduced a new technique that would change the face of the industry forever. John Pilsworth, a printer from San Francisco, developed the famous Selectasine Method, which allowed multi-color printing on the same screen. The technique was instantly accepted as a cheap and reliable way to print multi-color signs and posters using the same screen. Where are we now?
Creating custom printed T-shirts still relies on the screen, but the materials have changed quite a bit. First they used hair, then silk, now they use polymer meshes. The main difference is the intricacy of the fabric and the ease with which it can be cleaned. Polymer meshes are a cinch to clean and are far more durable than the earlier materials.
Even in the computer age a screen printing machine must contain the same basic equipment. For starters, all machines must have a screen or stencil for transferring an image or design onto custom printed T-shirts. The printer must also have a squeegee and some kind of ink.
The process is as simple as it has ever been. The printer uses a squeegee to apply the ink to the screen and then he stamps it directly to custom printed T-shirts. The garment needs a few hours to dry before it is shipped or worn.
What material to use? Cotton, polyester, silk, or paper all can be printed on. Posters, t-shirts, flyers, signs, or billboards can all be created using screen printing. In short, any surface that can be stretched and can absorb ink is a material that is right for screen printing.
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