We first saw the appearance of screen printing between 960 and 1279 A.D., which was in the Song Dynasty of China. It was refined by a range of different Asian countries, including Japan. It wasn’t until the late 1700s that it was introduced in Europe. Even then, it wasn’t particularly popular. It wasn’t until 1907 that the technique started to get popular. At this point, British Samuel Simon patented the technique. He mainly used it to create beautiful silk and linen fabrics, as well as high end wallpaper. It was not something suitable for everyday people, in other words.
A few years later, everything changed again. Photo-reactive chemicals started to be used in printing processes. Three scientists, being Edward Owens, Charles Peter and Roy Beck were the most revolutionary in this. It was their development of photo-imaged stencils that changed the screen printing industry forever. However, just as with the original screen printing system, it took years before it became an accepted method. Nowadays, the sensitizers that are used are a lot less toxic and much safer than the original models. Interestingly, the techniques that were used were kept highly confidential. However, when the technique became truly popular in mainstream society in the 1960s, some more transparency was required. The technique shot to fame thanks to Andy Warhol, who use screen printing to create his iconic Marilyn Monroe image. However, more work needed to be done to improve the technique. The main problem was that it was excruciatingly slow.
Luckily, however, American inventor, artist and entrepreneur Michael Vasilantone got involved in the process. In 1960, he patented a screen printing machine that used rotary multicolor garment. He had designed his machines so that t-shirts, bowling balls and sports equipment could have logos printed on them. His main focus quickly landed on t-shirt printing, which was a huge success straight away. Various manufacturers joined in, licensing the Vasilatone patent. To this day, his machine is the most popular tool in the screen printing industry. Today, around 50% of all screen printing industries print garments, which demonstrates just how important the Vasilatone machine actually is. It is sometimes hard to imagine that something so big had such a humble and secretive beginning in China. Of course, it is certainly a very positive development that the days of screen printing only being available for the powerful and elite are far behind us, and that anybody can now enjoy products created in this method.