This is a short article about the history of one of the simplest and oldest printing techniques in the world, the Screen Printing. Perhaps because of its simplicity it was able to evolve to complex processes without losing the option of its original mode, thus also becoming the most versatile and fascinating printing technique ever.
Screen printing originates from the stencil technique – the reproduction of a symbol or character by applying ink through a cutout or hollow shape and has its origins in ancient times, between 30,000 and 9,000 years before the Common Era.
They used an elaborate stencil technique to adorn their tombs.
They used the stencil in sketching the painting of tiles.
From this technique was derived much later an essentially simple printing process with a long and complex history in both art and industry – the Silk Screen – which instead of a hollowed out shape uses a screen/fabric for that very purpose – the screen is kept open in the areas where the ink must pass through and is blocked or covered in the reverse areas.
Centuries later, this process would also give rise to the term Serigraphy. As a stencil technique using a screen, the origin of Silk Screen is generally credited to China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE). Other Asian countries, such as Japan, would later add innovations to the process by alternating between blocked screen areas and hand-applied ink.
They created the paper stencil in 200 CE, about a century after its invention.
They perfected a method of cutting several stencils at once by stacking pieces of mulberry bark and carving them with a sharp knife.
Despite its long history and familiarity in the East, this printing process was only introduced to the West in the 18th century and was not popular due to the difficulty in obtaining the silk (for making the screen), and only found viability in the 19th century, until Samuel Simon, creating an innovation in the process, patented his method in England in 1907, applying it to luxury decorative wall coverings; sometimes on silk, sometimes on linen, paper, and other elegant and delicate materials.
In 1907, in England (Manchester), Samuel Simon added to the primordial process a glue system that covered the pores of the fibers, creating a fixed stencil; the ink was then pressed through the free pores using a stiff brush. In 1915, in the United States (San Francisco), Roy Beck, Edward Owens and Jacob Steinman created and patented the way to print multiple colors on the same screen, which came to be known as the Selectasine method (the name of the company that had introduced the screen printing in the industrial environment). [Silk Screen printing press patent example, 1960]
In early 1910, with the influence of photography, the Silk Screen began another phase, experimenting with the chemical and photosensitive processes of photographic developing to obtain the stencil, promising a significant revolution, both technical and conceptual, although it took several years for the innovations involved to be accepted. Roy Beck, Charles Peters and Edward Owen are considered the forerunners of a myriad of screen sensitization processes, in refinement to nowadays.
By the end of the 19th century, with the discovery of nylon, most of the screens used in the United States were already synthetically manufactured, so the term Print Screen became part of the way.
However, a series of patents involving silk, registered between 1899 and 1914, leads one to believe that the popularity of the traditional Silk Screen endured until a good part of the 20th century, especially in Europe.
In 1940, the American National Serigraphy Society was founded and decided, for the first time, to use the term Serigraphy to establish the difference between artistic and industrial application (Print Screen). The term came from the Latin sericum (silk) and the Greek graphien (drawing or writing). This distinction led to the development of the well-known American Pop Art movement led by the famous artist Andy Warhol, which consequently ensured the recognition of screen printing as a legitimate artistic technique, which until then suffered from the prejudice of “minor art” associated with commerce and advertising. The Pop Art movement also led to the total release of the technical secrets of the process, kept for nearly a century of research and evolution.
Screen printing continues its adaptation to technological advances throughout the 21st century, integrating itself into the digital era with DTG (Direct To Garment) and DTS (Direct To Screen) in the industrial area, while maintaining another traditional universe adapted to the skills of artists and craftsmen. This inexhaustible versatility of silkscreen printing, at times sophisticated involving the most advanced equipment, at times handcrafted dispensing with any type of machine, makes it the most complete and fascinating printing technique.
Screen printing on canvas / Dimensions 200 X 370 cm / Author – Andy Warhol, 1963
One of the most expensive screen prints in the world is by the author Andy Warhol, «Eight Elvises», acquired in private sale, in 2008, by an anonymous person. The price was $100 million, the current owner and whereabouts of the work being unknown, which has not been seen in public since 1960.
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