The History Of T Shirt Screen Printing

T shirt screen printing is actually a young industry. It was only in the 60s that screen printing t shirts with hippie symbols and images became popular. The laid-back comfort of wearing a t shirt coupled with the avant-garde designs appealed to the free-spiritedness of the hippie generation. Even the origins of the t shirt and the screen printing process reflect the revolutionary nature of the hippies.

T shirt screen printing in action.

T shirt screen printing in action.

Manual Screen Printing As An Art

While the process of screen printing may be old with printers in ancient China doing it manually using a silk mesh, screen printing as an artistic medium did not become popular until the 1930s in the US when artists began to use the process in creating their artworks. This type of screen printing, referred to as “Serigraphy” to distinguish between the artistic applications of screen printing from the industrial use of the process, was further popularized by Andy Warhol, who used it in his famous 1962 work depicting Marilyn Monroe in garish colors.


From the manual process of t shirt screen printing to the latest process.

Using A T Shirt Screen Printing Machine

Screen printing has many variations in spellings and terms, but the most commonly associated with the process is silk screen printing. Although printers in China used to make screen printing meshes with silk, today’s screen printing meshes are made with polyester, which is far cheaper and easily available from suppliers. Not only that, the ink used in t shirt screen printing is now more durable and less toxic compared to previous inks. They are also available in various shades and tints. This multicolor capability extends the types of designs that screen printing on t shirts can produce.

The practice of manual screen printing on t shirts was a trade known and practiced only by the artisans of the industry. However, massive production of screen-printed t shirts was only made possible when Michael Vasilantone invented the rotary screen printing machine. He originally invented the multicolor screen printing machine for use on bowling garments. However, it was not long before garment manufacturers used the machine for manual screen printing on t shirts because it made commercial production faster.

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Sample product of a t shirt screen printing.

The Commerce Of T Shirt Screen Printing

Screen printing on t shirts was first used for commercial purposes before artists began using the process to create art on t shirts. In the 1950s, companies began screen printing t-shirts with designs and logos of resorts and various characters such as Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Dave Crockett.

The business of t shirt printing became highly profitable when the demand for printed t-shirts rose in the 70s. Designs depicted range from images of peace and freedom to revolutionary personalities such as Che Guevarra as representation of rebellion. Other designs include emblems and motifs of bands like the Grateful Dead and of the marijuana culture. In fact, you can find more ideas on designs like these for t shirt screen printing at

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