The History Of T Shirt Printing | Custom Embroidery - Screen Printing & Promotional Products Oregon

The History Of T Shirt Printing

Did you know that the printed t-shirt that’s casually lying around in your cupboard has a
history of its own?

Fun fact: This popular garment, that’s considered the epitome of casualness, was initially
meant to be an undergarment.


How It All Began

While the t-shirts were introduced in the 1800s due to the Industrial Revolution, they became
popular among the masses only after the soldiers started to wear their allotted t-shirts at
home after World War II. Textile printing, on the other hand, has a much longer history than
the apparel itself. Despite some disagreement about the exact time the practice began, it is
unanimously agreed that China is the birthplace of printing, somewhere between AD 221
and the Song Dynasty!

The early printing method involved placing silk between stencils made from tough,
waterproof paper. The stencils were then glued together, and paint could flow through the
exposed silk, creating a printed design.

Though screen printing had become quite widespread across the whole of Asia during the
Middle Ages, it was in the early 1900s that the process spread across Europe and later,
around the 1950s, started to become popular across the globe.


The era of custom t-shirt printing

Then came the early 1960s. In Miami, several resorts began printing their names and promotional characters onto T-shirts as an advertisement. Soon after, solid shirts with contrasting collar and sleeve bands, popularly called the ringer T-shirts, came onto the scene. Other types of printed shirts, especially tie-dyes, became wildly popular. Swirling multi-colored designs, happy faces, and the iconic I heart NY were some of the printing designs that gained massive popularity during those times.


Rotary screen printing machines

Around the time when the printed T-shirts were gaining popularity, the rotary multi color garment screen printing machine was developed and quickly became the most popular method for printing designs. The device owes its popularity to its mass-production feature, which helped it keep up with the rising demand for printed t-shirts. Originally developed by Michael Vasilantone, an American entrepreneur, developer, and artist, these machines are frequently used today.


Plastisol ink- another game-changer

The development of Plastisol ink was another game-changer for the industry. Before Plastisol, up until the 1960s, water-based ink was the only option available for t-shirt printing. The new Plastisol ink consists of two main ingredients: a PVC resin white powder and a clear liquid called a plasticizer. This ink requires high temperatures (300-330 degrees Fahrenheit) to cure or dry, similar to the dye sublimation method.

Later in the 1950s, when Tropix Togs, one of the printing companies, held the original license to print Walt Disney characters, people began to realize the profit they could generate by leveraging the high demands for graphic t-shirts. This realization led to a series of innovations to the print field, including the birth of screen printing, and helped the t-shirt industry shape into what it is today.


Medium for message

The decade of the 70s proved to be a turning point for printed t-shirts. Until now, the t-shirts were only printed for the sake of funkiness, but thanks to the surfacing of the punk movement made t-shirts a powerful platform for sending across powerful messages. 

T-shirts are here to stay. Not only are they quintessential garments worn around the world, but their unique ability to convey powerful messages also makes them a favorite of everyone. While the industry of custom embroidery is becoming more robust with each passing day, it won’t be wrong to say that the universal popularity and staying power of printed t-shirts have stayed the same. The same goes for screen printing. Despite being a technique that’s more than 2000 years old, thanks to its adaptability, screen printing, regardless of the presence of digital printing, can survive the grill even in 2021.


Do you have a message that you want to send across?


Contact us! At Brands and Logos, we screen print super crisp messages across t-shirts that your clients will surely love wearing and talking about.