9 Nov 2017

The History of Screen Printing - part 1

A little piece of Screen printing history right here in Dublin

Screen printing originated way back in 2007 in Dublin 3’s North Strand by a wise old man named Vincent Byrne. Although unkempt and extremely odd in his way, this dishevelled old bat pioneered in the method of screen printing. Ok, I may have been bending the truth a little there. The statement about Vinny's (Managing director of Dublin’s T Shirt Company) appearance and personality are 100% factual and although he has pioneered to perfect the skill of screen printing (and done a pretty good job to be fair), he didn’t invent the concept. That accolade can go to the Chinese, where forms of screen printing using stencils were seen as early as the 10th century. The orient really did lead the way in this artistic expression of print craftsmanship.

Chinese screen printing "The Chinese - A great bunch of lads"

Bear in mind this was about 400 years before Guttenberg operated the first printing press in Europe. It seems he’s been getting a little too much credit if you ask me. Well perhaps not, since the Europeans didn't cotton on (that’s a play on words for you linguists) to screen printing techniques until the 18th century it appears. This was dependent on silk screen mesh becoming more widely available internationally. They were probably busy up until this point colonising tribes that they deemed less developed than themselves, ahh the sweet irony.

Anyway, the screenprinting penny had finally dropped for the west.

Screen Printing in the 1900’s - Movin on up now!

What really led to the advancement of screen printing was the breakthroughs made by Roy Beck, Charles Peter and Edward Owens who between them experimented with chromic acid salt sensitized emulsions for photo-reactive stencils. This would prove to be the foundation of modern photoreactive based screen printing stencils as we know it today. What they didn't know back then was how lethal the toxin based emulsion that they were using for stencil burning was. But after wiping out half the screen printing workforce around Europe screen printing gurus started to realise that the cause of their employee's ill health might not have been the black plague which had been doing the rounds in Europe, for about the 1000 years previous.

Screen printing emulsion effects Lunchbreak at an early screenprinting workshop

“Screen printing is arguably the most versatile of all printing processes”. So says the Printers National Environmental Assistance Centre. Process materials and equipment have been easily attainable, manufactured and improvisable and over the years this enabled screen printing to be an adopted printing method for clothing, posters, flyers album covers and any underground production that you can think of. This is where it got its cool image and the fact that you don't need loads of cash to produce your own printed gear helps. Don't get any ideas now about doing this on your own, T-Shirt Company are still your go-to guys.