The History of Silk Screen Printing

By Christopher Godwin

Silkscreen printing is a technique in which artists can create images on a variety of materials by using a stencil and a woven mesh net to block ink. This type of printing has a history dating back to the 15th century. It is still used by people today, though with some major differences.

Origins

Silkscreen printing has its origins in early prints, woodcuts and block prints of the Chinese during the Song Dynasty (960 A.D.-1279 A.D.) and by the Japanese in the 15th and 16th centuries, where stencils were commonly used on cotton and silk for clothing and decorative purposes. However, the silkscreening process we know and are used to do is generally credited to English and American artists in the early-1900s.

Early Pioneers

Samuel Simon of Manchester, England is said to have taken out the first patents related to the modern process of screen printing in 1907. Using sheets of silk and cotton stretched over wooden frames, Simon and William Morris placed single-colored, hand-painted stencils on top of the material to create a design. In 1914, John Pilsworth of the United States took out a patent for multi-colored screen printing. Commercial screen printing became very popular around the time of World War I; it was most commonly used for printing flags and advertising banners that were placed in fledgling retail stores.

Technique

During the screenprinting process, ink is pushed through a screen onto the chosen material, which has been partly sealed, either through manual means or by a photo-mechanical process whereby the area meant to be printed receives ink. For every color intended to be applied, a separate screen has to be used with a different area blocked out each time. The artists must then wait for the ink to dry. This process is sometimes helped along with the use of an electric fan before they can apply the next color.

Uses

Silkscreen printing is used for a variety of purposes, both artistic and commercial. Artists have been using the process since the early -1930s. Promotional materials such as posters and stickers are commonly made using the silkscreen process because of the fairly low cost involved. Silk screens are generally thought to be more artistic than commercial printing, as they are done mostly by hand. Many clothing companies silkscreen products such as T-shirts, sweatshirts and baseball caps. Printing companies often still use the silkscreen process to make signage and banners for other businesses.

Famous Artists

Pop artists and creators of Op art during the 1960s and 1970s such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Victor Vasarely and Robert Rauschenberg helped to make screen printing into a new art form that has held its own and rightly earned a place in contemporary art history. Silkscreen printing remains popular for emerging artists working in a variety of styles.

About the Author

Christopher Godwin is a freelance writer from Los Angeles. He spent his formative years as a chef and bartender crafting signature dishes and cocktails as the head of an upscale catering firm. He has since ventured into sharing original creations and expertise with the public. Godwin has published poetry, fiction and nonfiction in publications like "Spork Magazine," "Cold Mountain Review" and "From Abalone To Zest."