Screen printing: a brief history

Screen printing: a brief history

Screen Printing: A Brief History


Screen printing primarily originated from China over 10 centuries ago, however, the art form did not reach the western world until the 18th century with its first appearance in Europe. The graphic art form screen printing is identified as today, has had many adaptations, advancements,  and varied applications throughout its history. Let’s explore the history and evolution of screen printing.


Screen Printing: The Origins

Screen printing, in its commonly identified form, is said to date back to the Song Dynasty (920-1279). The process was created as a method of transferring pattern onto fabric and has since been used to apply designs to various mediums. Although, the most basic form of screen printing, a type of stencilling, is suggested to originate from Polynesia where pigment was through banana leaves and to make a printed fabric called Tapa.  However, the screen printing of today evolved from Chinese methods which originally involved a bristled brush pushing ink through a mesh made from tightly woven human hair. But, this troublesome method was tedious thus the invention of the common traditional form known as silkscreen. Silkscreen printing is performed by pushing ink through a silk screen. This process of printing became popular throughout Asia, its biggest appropriation evident in Japan. 


Screen Printing: The Evolution

Screen printing made its way to the western world in the 18th century, then becoming popular in 1907 after a brilliant display of Japanese textiles at a world’s textile fair in England. It’s popularity skyrocketed in the 19th century when trade opened up and silk mesh became more readily available. Silk allowed for quicker production of more elaborate and intricate designs. Following its introduction to England, its most in demand application was in the manufacturing of wall paper.  Following success in the textile industry, the evolution of screen printing jumped with the discovery of photo-reactive materials.  It was discovered that light reacting chemicals could be used to create the patterns on the screens. This new advanced method was extremely advantageous within the advertising industry.  After victory in commercial applications, screen printing was adopted by the arts industry, loved for its ability to not only make bold, graphic artworks but also as a way to reproduce works.   In 1930 the term Serigraphy (seri meaning silk and graphein the write to draw) was coined to describe screen printing onto paper. Serigraphy was popularised by the Pop Art movement and famous artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.


Screen Printing: Today

While other industries have primarily moved onto digital mediums. Screen printing continues to be widespread in the art world.  It has the ability to be used to create and re-create elaborate images or simple bold statements. Screen printing is very evident in urban art communities, used to make posters and t-shirts. Famous applications are prevalent with street artists such as Shepard Fairey, the creator of the Obama “Hope” poster and iconic “Obey” image, displayed on everything from buildings to baseball caps. 


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