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The Earliest Roots of Silk Screen Printing Machine

There is no one early root of Silk Screen Printing Machine. Rather, experts say the process evolved from prehistoric artistic and cloth-decorating technique into the high-tech industry we recognize today. Using stencils to create imagery has been done since man began painting; there is evidence that some prehistoric cave men used stencils to make their rough imagery. In France and Spain, stencils were held against cave walls, and prehistoric paints were blown through a straw-like device to form images that have lasted for centuries. The same technique has long been used throughout the Pacific Islands for decorating cloth and clothing; modern batik prints and Hawaiian shirts both have their roots in this type of apparel decorating.

Most historians agree that the first time screens were used to decorate fabrics was in Japan and China in the first and second century. In China, delicate screens were woven from silk, and in Japan, they were woven of human hair. Images in waterproof waxed paper were sandwiched between layers of the mesh to block out the desired designs, and stiff-bristled brushes were used to force ink through the screens.

Screen printing made its way to Europe in the 17th or 18th century. There, screen printing and stenciling were used to make common items such as playing cards. They also were used to make elaborate wallpapers and décor for extremely wealthy upper classes. The process became more common as silk became more readily available from China, but it remained an art used to decorate fabrics, décor and other items for the upper classes; it was a far cry from the mass-production, readily available printing we know today.

At the same time screen printing was being introduced to Europe and the American colonies, flocking — a process still used today — was used to add interesting textured designs to wallpapers and fabrics. Stencils were used to apply adhesive in a specific pattern to a substrate, and wood dust or other material was sprinkled onto the adhesive to produce a lasting textural design. In fact, some examples of American colonial flocking still can be found in museums and early colonial homes.

In the late 1880s in Europe, the process truly began to take shape. Often to recreate handwriting, stencils were etched into wax paper and secured between screens. Just as it’s done today, rubber squeegees or rollers were used to force ink through these handwriting stencils to producethe final image. This technique was used in the United Kingdom under the name Cyclostyle and in the United States under the name Mimeograph.

While all of these technologies and techniques undoubtedly inspired modern-day screen printing, it wouldn’t be until the early 20th century that modern day process would truly be “invented.” And once it was invented and embraced as a decorating technique, it would go through a cycle of innovation to become the industry it is today.