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Documenting the Screen Scene

(August 2013) posted on Wed Sep 04, 2013

Not too many manufacturing processes last 100 years in this fast-paced and ever evolving world.

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By Andy MacDougall

Connecting thousands of bits of information into a well written narrative is a challenge, but Lengwiler, a teacher of screen printing, has made sense of it all by painting a clear picture of what came before, and how screen printing arrived just as the American advertising industry began. One drove the other. Some of the chapters include 19th and 20th century stenciling techniques, Origins of the Process in the USA, How it Spread from the USA to Europe, Technical Developments, World War II, Specialty Applications, and a List of Patents. Richard S. Field, retired professor at Yale and a noted author of many books on art and biographies of artists writes “ ….what a wonderful, much needed, and long overdue book this is….”

Signs of the Times and Screen Printing (then known as Screen Process) were both early chroniclers of its growth, and the book has lots of old ads and pictures. One name readers will still recognize is Nazdar, one of the industry sponsors who have helped to make the project a reality. The book was made possible with the early encouragement and support of Christophe Tobler, CEO of Sefar, and the late Richard Eisenbeiss and his son David from Kiwo/Ulano, Mike Fox from Nazdar, Rich Hoffman from M&R, Ryan Moor from Ryonet, SGIA, and a number of other companies. Members of the ASPT also stepped up to help make the book a reality.

The Selectasine Process, a patented version of screen printing, was the first to come with instruction books, supplies, and even automated presses back in the 1920s. Through aggressive salesmanship to printers, sign shops, and manufacturing companies, the knowledge spread. Due to low startup costs compared to other printing processes, plus adaptability to an ever widening range of substrates and products, screen printing caught on. Selectasine eventually fell by the wayside, but not before the process had been adapted worldwide, all in a few short years. Many of the families that helped Lengwiler in his research found old photos and diaries and made them available for inclusion in the book. In some cases, Guido was able to provide descendants new information about their relatives

It’s these connections being lost to the past that spurred the author to start his research in 1998. As a young screen printer in Switzerland, Lengwiler worked for a man who had worked for Hans Casper Ulrich in the 1940s, and told screen-printing stories from the good old days. Ulrich, an artist and trained lithographer, had gone to the USA in the 1920s on behalf of the Swiss bolting-cloth industry—the members of which wanted to know why a small group of artists, sign shops, and manufacturers in the USA were buying up ever increasing amounts of their silk fabrics. Ulrich learned the basics from the Americans, kept copious notes, then brought the process back to Europe and continued to refine it, and then spread it through supply company Serico, which is still in business today.

Today’s industries built around large-format signage and garment screen printing, along with other businesses using the process to make consumer goods, including high-tech manufacturing sectors like solar and fuel cells, electronic products, automotive, medical, glass and ceramic—did we miss anyone? Probably. The list is ever expanding, and Lengwiler has rescued this forgotten and rapidly disappearing history of the birth of the printing process we all use today.


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