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A Look in the Rearview Mirror

(February 2015) posted on Tue Feb 24, 2015

Screen printing was born, then it exploded, and now it is being displaced. Or is it?


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By Andy MacDougall

It seems a bit crazy, writing these words before the New Year, to think that by the time you read them you’ll be well into 2015. But columnists have editors, and editors have deadlines, so I’m playing along and pretending it’s the future now even though it’s the past. A good start for this month’s topic, because I want to revisit the past and look to the future. (Confused? I know I am.)

100 years ago: Screen printing emerges as a distinct printing technology, offering an alternative to one-at-a-time handmade display signage and lithography, the leading automated full-color printing technology of the time. (If that sounds a lot like a description of digital’s attributes, you’re absolutely correct. The history of printing is one of specific methods being replaced by the next, better, and faster one. Fortunately for screen printing, and unlike other methods like etching, woodblock, letterpress, and lithography, screen printing was never limited to just imaging paper. )



80 years ago: Paul Eisler starts playing around with printed circuits, sparking a revolution in the emerging consumer electronics industry that would really start to kick in 30 or 40 years later. Was it disruptive technology? You bet. Look up proximity fuses and who won World War II. If you’re reading this on a computer screen, iPad, or smartphone, say a word of thanks to Paul Eisler and screen printing, because his invention helped make these devices possible.

55 years ago: The T-shirt printing business emerges and really takes off with the introduction of the multicolor rotary T-shirt press. Printing images on underwear – this is an industry? Absolutely. Combined with printing on yard goods and clothing manufacturing, it’s worth approximately $1 trillion worldwide, according to a 2013 InfoTrends report. (Incidentally, that study tagged wide-format digital printing at $10.3 billion, or 1.5 percent of the textile market. But hey, it’s growing!)

35 years ago: I started screen printing. (Technically speaking, it was really 44 years ago, in high school, but I only did it once and didn’t inhale.) My real introduction, as part of my job as advertising manager for a chain of automotive stores, was making show cards with McGraw indirect film, washed out in the ladies’ bathroom sink. That purple stuff got under my skin, and I’ve never really washed my hands of screen printing, like thousands of others.


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