Screen printing is a wide, diverse industry. From its start in the Song Dynasty to its current variations, the trade has taken on a whole new look. But what is screen printing? How has it evolved over hundreds of years? Let’s take a look.
Screen printing originated during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD) in China. The Japanese later cut stencils and screen printed through screens of human hair. In the 18th century, screen printing came to Europe.
Screen printing through a silk screen didn’t catch on until trade with Asia was established. In 1938, a group was formed known as the National Serigraph Society. They coined the word “serigraphy.” Seri means “silk” in Latin, and graphein means “to draw” in Greek. This was a way for the group to set themselves apart. Their work was art, not simply a commercial process.
TURNING ART INTO A T-SHIRT
Since the days of ancient silk screen printing, the art form of screen printing has evolved significantly. It’s still an art form, though, with enough space for artists of all kinds. At its core, screen printing is taking artwork from pretty much anywhere and turning it into a printable, wearable design.
Fun Fact: Andy Warhol used screen printing in the 1960s. Check them out here.
There are so many different forms of artwork out there. From simple logos to photo-realistic images, each piece of art needs to be vectorized, separated, and printed onto a garment for wearable artwork. Printers can take art like Van Gogh’s Starry Night and turn it into a T-shirt design. All you need is the proper tools and some know-how.
The art creation and separation program printers choose depends on the artwork. For photos and prints like Starry Night, software like Adobe® Photoshop works best. For the majority of designs, printers use Adobe® Illustrator. These tools are easily accessible, and there’s tons of free education to learn the tricks of art creation.
Looking for something to really bring your art to life? There are tons of brushes, textures, and art packs to help turn your vision into reality. Whether you’re on the hunt for a spooky font or a bit of texture, there’s something for everyone.
Screen printing is about taking art from concept to wearable art, but it’s also a thriving industry.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
Screen printing has come a long way since its invention. According to IBISWorld, the U.S. screen printing market sits at $8.7 billion USD. In 2021, the research site reported 12,471 individual screen printing shops in the United States. This number increased by 2.2% in 2021.
Many screen print shops got their start because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Take Trey Woodward, owner of Heritage Press. When the pandemic started, he and his wife were in debt payoff mode. Trey lost his job and decided to start screen printing out of his garage.
“I was like, ‘Everybody always needs shirts, so let’s start screen printing,’” Trey said.
Print shops of all sizes have sprung up all over the world. From small shops in a spare bedroom to large shops churning out hundreds of shirts per day, the growth is clear. And with online shopping platforms growing in popularity and ease of use, it’s easier to start a shop. Printers can sell t-shirts on Etsy and even on social media with the rise of in-app shopping experiences.
On top of all that, websites are super easy to create and can be free or very low-cost. All you need to start screen printing is a few pieces of equipment, some supplies, and a vision.
A VARIETY OF OPTIONS
The screen printing industry isn’t just about pushing or pulling ink over a screen. There are tons of other methods to decorate t-shirts. Take vinyl, for instance. Many screen printers start by decorating garments with vinyl before switching to screen printing. Vinyl can be used as a screen printing stencil, too.
Like vinyl transfers, plastisol heat transfers are a great way to print low-quantity orders over a long period of time. Simply create the transfers and save them until the client needs a few more shirts. It’s a simple process that saves tons of time.
Another method of screen printing is Direct-To-Garment printing, also known as DTG. DTG means printing a design directly from a printer to a garment. No screen setup is necessary. DTG printing is great for printing complex artwork and low-quantity jobs. However, this method is expensive to jump into and isn’t a complete substitute for traditional screen printing. It can be a great service to offer and increase the value of your shop.
The screen printing industry has something for everyone. From its roots in ancient China to today’s fast-paced world, there’s been a lot of transformation in the trade. It doesn’t matter where you are or how you start, just that you love what you do and aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty.