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Screen Printing's Story Is Finally Told

(April 2014) posted on Thu May 29, 2014

A new book traces the origins of screen printing to the US at the dawn of the 20th century, and follows the process as it flourished and spread across the world through World War II.

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Velvetone: The First Graphics Screen Printer?
Around 1912 in San Francisco, a handful of pioneers adapted the pennant-printing process to image signs, posters, and more. Chief among these innovators was the Brant & Garner Company [8], in the earliest known photo showing the screen-printing process. Later known as the Velvetone Poster Co., the company was an innovator in developing advertising displays [9] and other printed products, as showcased in early exhibitions of screen-printed products [10]. The company remained an innovator into the 1970s and was finally liquidated in 1991.

Selectasine: Printing Pioneers Turned Patent Enforcers
Founded to compete with Brant & Garner in 1915, Selectasine was initially a printing pioneer, producing the first large-format multisheet screen-printed poster [11] in 1916, and the booklet cover of a 1917 advertising fair in San Francisco [12]. But the company saw a bigger opportunity to patent a single-screen version of the new printing process [13], selling licenses to printing businesses around the world. Selectasine also marketed some of the first screen-printing presses [14], including the first automatic cylinder presses in 1924 [15]. With the advent of hand-cut stencil films, the process and its patents were obsolete by the mid 1930s.

Growth During the Great Depression
Screen printing grew dramatically during the Great Depression, thanks in part to the US government’s Works Projects Administration (WPA). Government-run printing plants [16] produced over 300,000 posters [17] over an 18-month period. Fine-art serigraphy [18] also grew during this period as government contracts were awarded to thousands of artists across the country.

New Applications
Due to its versatility, screen printing was rapidly adapted to a host of other applications including enamel signage [19], glass cups and bottles [20], textiles [21], and decals [22].

Screen Printing During World War II
Screen printing was used extensively by the military during World War II [23] to produce propaganda posters [24], first-aid kits, decals for aircraft, and the first printed circuits [25]. The government also gave thousands of military personnel the training they would need to join the rapidly growing industry after the war [26]. A soldier works from a print shop in newly liberated France near the end of the war [27].


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