The Age of Screen Printing

Printed t-shirts have been a common form of self-expression for more than 60 years. From witty sayings to popular brand logos, printed t-shirts are used to convey who we are, where we’ve been, and what we stand for; but where did the idea come from to turn a piece of clothing into walking a billboard?

One of the earliest recorded images of a printed t-shirt appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine in the early 1940’s, about 40 years after the introduction of the t-shirt. By the early 1950’s multiple companies near Miami, FL had started printing t-shirts as way to promote local resorts and popular tourist destinations and by the 1960’s screen-printed t-shirts had taken the form of individual expression that they remain true to this day.


Adapted from early forms of stenciling (stencil printing), evidence of early garment printing can be traced back hundreds of years prior to the invention of the t-shirt. Evolving around Asia and eventually spreading through Europe in the late 1700’s, early garment printing was a tedious process that involved creating stencils by hand and crafting screens made of silk to imprint ink onto the surface of cloth or paper. Due to the expense and limited availability of silk, this form of printing was a service reserved for the wealthy.

Early forms of garment printing used natural dyes and inks to transfer images onto cloth or paper, but it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that printers began experimenting with different compounds and chemicals to create a more consistent and quality process of printing. As printing processes continued to improve, so did the materials. In 1959 a new ink suspension known as Plastisol was created. Plastisol provided a more durable, consistent result than water-based inks and became the leading choice for textile and garment screen printing.

What originally started as a slow, manual routine has since evolved into a fast, efficient process. Screen printed t-shirts and apparel are often created in bulk using various types of rotary screen presses. Rotary presses have a screen for each color that will be used for a particular garment; i.e. a 4-screen press can accommodate a 4-color design. Presses are available in manual configurations or automatic configurations. Manual presses require an operator to physically load ink and force it through each press with a squeegee; high-end automatic presses are capable of performing these tasks on their own with larger models capable of producing more than 1,000 shirts per hour. 

At Tom’s T’s, we pride ourselves on producing quality, custom t-shirts and apparel at our Sturgis screen printing facility. With over 10,000 square feet of production space and state of the art equipment, we have the ability and the experience to put our screen printing services to work for you. Our experienced and creative staff can help you with the design, layout, and production of your order to fulfill your custom screen printing needs. To learn more about our custom screen printing services, give our shop a call at 1-800-865-9995 or visit us online at

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