Ever wondered how textile printing began? In this article, we will be taking a dive into the past and exploring how uniform textile printing and personalisation were first invented.
3500 to 1300 BC: hand-block textile printing
First practised within India and China, the first printing method dates back centuries ago. It is a technique that involves carving wooden blocks, dipping them in natural dyes, and then pressing them onto fabric. These carved patterns included paisley motifs and geometric shapes.
Hand-block textile printing has been used around the world for centuries and continues to be practised today. In ancient times, it was often used to create religious garments such as saris or prayer mats. It was also used to decorate walls and floors, as well as furniture, bedspreads, and other upholstery items. Traditional hand-block textiles often featured bold colours such as reds and blues, although some modern designs incorporated more muted colours.
Today, hand-block textile printing remains an important part of many traditional cultures around the world. In India, it is still widely practised by artisans who specialize in creating colourful fabrics for clothing and home décor items. Many hand-block textiles are produced with natural dyes made from flowers, leaves, or bark, creating beautiful prints with subtle variations in colour intensity that cannot be replicated with synthetic dyes. Additionally, the vegetable dyes used in hand-block printing help make fabrics more durable as they resist fading over time.
1770: Copper roll fabric printing
Following the widespread rollout of uniforms in 1220, copper roll fabric printing was invented. This method was performed in a similar way to hand-block textile printing but allowed for a much faster printing rate, allowing the demand for uniforms to be met.
Once again developed within China, It was brought to Europe during the Renaissance period, where it quickly gained popularity as a means to create beautiful and intricate designs on fabrics.
The process involves coating cloth with a mixture of gum Arabic and other ingredients, followed by pressing an engraved copper plate onto the surface with a rolling pin. This transfers the design from the plate onto the cloth and created patterns that were often highly detailed and complex.
The copper roll technique is one of the most versatile methods for producing printed fabrics because it can produce almost any type of pattern, including geometric designs, figures, animals, religious symbols, and abstract shapes. It also allowed for multiple colours to be combined in a single print, allowing for a wide range of vibrant hues.
In more recent times, copper roll fabric printing remains popular due to its durability and ability to be easily adapted to modern production processes. In addition to clothing items such as shirts, skirts, and trousers which are traditionally decorated with this technique, it is also widely used on household linens such as curtains and tablecloths. Copper roll fabric prints can even be seen adorning luxury items such as handbags and leather jackets!
Popularised in the 1960s: Screen printing
Screen printing first appeared in a recognisable form in China during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD). It was then adapted by other Asian countries like Japan where it was developed into newer methods to ensure high-quality designs but with low cost and ease.
It involves pressing a mesh screen into ink or paint and then onto a medium such as fabric, paper, or plastic. The screen is first blocked off with a stencil to form an image or pattern which will be printed out. The result is an image with high precision and detail, but limited colour options.
Whereas, this method didn’t become widespread and popular until the 1960s when it was used by famous artists such as Andy Warhol. This is due to advances in technology allowing for greater control over print quality, opening up new possibilities for artists. New materials were developed, such as synthetic fabrics, synthetic paints, and dyes, which enabled more elaborate designs with multiple colours without sacrificing quality. Screen printing became popular with poster makers, who could produce vibrant works of art using this technique.
Today, screen printing continues to be widely used in both commercial applications (textiles) and artistic endeavours (posters). It has become increasingly popular amongst hobbyists who wish to create their own prints at home—allowing them to add personal touches while achieving professional results. Screen printers can now take advantage of digital technologies such as computers, digital presses, and automated equipment—which makes it easier than ever before to create complex prints on a variety of surfaces.
1963: Rotary screen printing
In 1963 a breakthrough in textile printing resulted in the invention of rotary screen printing – the unique properties of this printing method included its round, seamless screen which was used instead of a flat one. The use of this circular screen allowed for larger textiles to be printed on at a faster rate – perfect for high batches of corporate uniforms.
The process is based on using a rotating cylinder-shaped screen that has been coated with emulsion onto which an image is printed.
Today, rotary screen printing is still widely used across many different industries as an efficient way to create high-quality prints quickly and easily. It also offers creative freedom for designers when working with large-scale projects due to its ability to quickly replicate complex designs without compromising accuracy or quality.
Additionally, advances in technology have made it possible to automate much of the process through computerised machines that can further streamline production times and costs.
1980: Digital textile printing
Digital textile printing is the latest innovation in textile printing and is slowly making its entry into the textile industry.
Although this doesn’t apply to large bulks of uniforms with the same logo and printed design – A considerable amount of money and time goes into screen and rotary printing, due to new designs having to be engraved for each design and colour.
In order to make this process cheaper and faster for those needing different prints on each piece of clothing, digital textile printing was created.
With digital textile printing, no screen is needed. Instead, print heads scan over the fabric (scanning prints) or are placed on the whole width of the fabric (single-pass printers). A design is then uploaded onto the computer and processed, after this image has loaded, it is immediately printed onto the textile. Due to the low changing costs, this is method is ideal for smaller batches with lots of different designs.
Which printing method is best for workwear?
Screen printing is still the most widely used method of printing for customised t-shirts and other branded workwear due to it providing a vibrant, detailed design – it is also cheap when ordered in large masses. If you are looking for screen-printed workwear, contact our helpful experts at PPG Workwear today.