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The Art of Screen Printing T-shirts


The screen printing of T-shirts is both a science and an art – just ask the experts at OneHourTee and other companies. It requires skill, as well as finesse. It also demands that attention be paid to detail. When we are shopping for the right t-shirt, or looking for someone to provide us with that perfect product, it always pays to understand exactly what is required of someone or some company that does screen printing.

What Is Screen Printing?

Screen printing, or serigraphy, is a process through which an object – often fabric, but also paper, metal, china or plastic– is decorated with graphics, a logo, or printing. It accomplishes this by pressing ink through a woven screen or mesh. Areas of the screen are blocked off using a stencil. This allows the application of different colored thick ink to penetrate the material. The result is an image or wording that has a raised appearance.

Screen Printing – A Brief History

When screen printing T-shirts, a company is providing you with the most common method used to date to produce work on a commercial basis. Yet, surprisingly, the technique is not new. It dates back more than two centuries, specifically to China, where they created a screen using human hair and a wooden frame. The stencil comprising the design consisted of leaves.

The Japanese made an improvement on this method by replacing hair with woven silk from silk worms. This resulted in the name by which we know it today: silk screening. However, printing T-shirts was not part of this process until the 20th century, when Samuel Simon of Manchester England (1907) registered the first commercial patent for the process. His work, together with that of San Francisco’s John Pilsworth, laid the basics for what was to become a thriving industry.

Pilsworth invented the Selectasine method. This allowed several different colors to be utilized. The method contributed much to the Art Deco period of the early 20th century. Without his contribution, we would never have had that famous “Uncle Sam Wants YOU” poster of WWI. The method is also responsible for the existence of colorful movie posters from the period, and for the lettering on Tanks and other army vehicles during WWII. In fact, the personnel for D-Day adopted silk screen printing. T-shirts worn by the GI’s bore the words “U.S. Army Property.”

Screen Printing T-Shirts Today

Since then, the process has evolved, with more technology for creating newer methods to perform this old skill. Plastisol, discovered in 1959, added a new and more durable and pliable ink. It became one in a series of trendy inks that have come in and out of fashion, particularly when it comes to screen printing T-shirts. We may opt for metallic ink, consider a certain image or logo our favorite, and change our minds about whether this or that design sends an appropriate message. Yet, we no longer marvel about how technology has changed the process so that it no longer resembles its origins. Still, the overall intent and technique remains the same. The more we change, the more the procedure adapts to produce what it was intended to do in the first place: create and recreate a design for us to appreciate, discuss, and reflect upon.