Screen Printing, Huntsville AL :The Art, The History, and The Science

Screen Printing, Huntsville AL :The Art, The History, and The Science

Printed Tees have been a solid mainstay in American fashion for over 60 years and it is not going away any time soon. It seems like every day printed tees are being utilized and expanded on by both mainstream society and their counter-cultural neighbors. Practically everyone, young and old, rich or poor have a love for this type of garment. But where did it all start? Is the technology all that new? And how does it work, anyway?

Those questions will be answered today, as we investigate both cool facts and interesting circumstances that surround the screen printing process and the Tees that came out of it.

The Chinese Roots of Screen Printing

Believe it or not, the act of screen printing existed long before the invention of the t-shirt. It is older than sliced bread, or even the first printing press. That is because the screen printing process was done on precious Chinese silk. The first stencils were created during 500 CE but it wasn’t until the Song dynasty (960CE–1279CE) that the screen printing process was mastered.

Aside: The Song Dynasty was a time when China had reunified after a warring period. The Song Dynasty was a time of long term peace and economic prosperity, giving scholars, artisans, and nobles the luxury of exploring the arts.

Other Asian countries that were from the surrounding areas took notice and fell in love with it. So much so that they tried to copy the process for themselves. Thanks to various language barriers and guesswork, neighboring countries, like Korea and Japan, wound up creating their own techniques unique to their respective nations.

Eventually, screen-printed alongside regular silk were so highly prized that commercial trading routes were dedicated to the distribution of this rare Chinese silk, along with spices from India and gold from Africa known today as the Silk Road. This route started from the coital islands surrounding China and ended in the northeastern parts of Africa. This created the first major cultural melting pot in the known world, known as the Hellenistic era.

The Western World and Screen Printing

 While these Chinese silks were considered valuable in Western Europe, it wasn’t seen as much of a novelty until the 1700s. This was most likely because most of Western Europe was too busy struggling with the constant warfare between nations, starvation, raids and the black plague to be economically invested in things like luxury items or printing as an artistic technique.

When Europe was more economically stable, however, that changed with the widespread popularity of playing cards and decorative wall paper. Stencils that would have been commonly used in silkscreen printing were utilized to create decorative patterns during the Victorian Era and were in vogue for both the rich and the growing middle class in the next two centuries.

Signs and Screen Printing, Huntsville, AL

 However, screen-printing itself wasn’t popularized until the 20th century, when a sign painter named Samuel Simon bought the first patent for the screen printing process in Europe. He admired the ancient Chinese silk and wanted to utilize it in his own art, so he replicated the process and patented it for himself.

While this was enough to keep him financially stable, Samuel did more than just keep the technique for himself. He taught other sign makers how the process could make their work.

Over time, it grew in enough popularity to inspire the art nouveau movement in the 1920’s. Then, enterprising American, Jon Pilsworth, expanded on the idea by layering multiple colors over text. Eventually, the technique was utilized for WW1 posters and other forms of visual media.

Screen-Printing became an industry during and after WW2, a time when propaganda reigned supreme and every piece of military equipment needed to be labeled as property of the US Army. Parachutes, vehicles, helmets, anything that had a hard surface needed something printed on it. And these prints ranged from utilitarian use to purely decorative.

It was so easy to replicate and was so popular that after WW2 screen printing was commercialized for public use. And that is how we have the printed Tee today.

 The Process of Screen Printing

 Knowing how screen printing came to be is fine, but how does it work? There are quite a few screen printing techniques all over the world, and most of them range by skill level, and what sort of equipment can be used. Luckily, just about anyone can do it if you have a thin mesh stretched over wood, a pattern, emulsion, ink, and access to a bright light in a pitch black room. How you get the supplies depends on where you get it. They have kits with everything in it in craft stores, and there are places where you can get several different items if you are only lacking a thing or two.

There is also a litany of tutorials both video and illustrated about how to do your own screen print that can do the process. They can do far more justice than I would about the subject, but I will mention the process briefly here.

Screen printing relies on a process called photographic emulsion, a process in which You use light to expose an image onto the mesh screen to make a stencil. The photo emulsion hardens where light hits it and will wash away where light doesn’t hit it (leaving an image behind). From there, the entire area will block ink from passing through in the printing process except for the image that was burned into the mesh by the previous exposure.


 Screen Printing, its history and its mechanisms are a fascinating process. One that is taken for granted whenever we pull on our favorite printed tee and go out for the day.  So, if you are in the Huntsville, Al area and you want to look more into it, or just get some shirts printed for an event, talk to the guys at Entrusted Tees!

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