Heard of the dual rotary printing press? 

Many people think of screen printing as a 20th-century invention, popularised in the 1960s by pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichenstein. But its history stretches far further – and across continents.  Scholars believe the silk screen was invented in China as long ago as 500 A.D. By the Middle Ages, silk screen printing had become a developed art throughout Asia, later spreading to Europe, where in London in 1907, Samuel Simon received the first patent for silk-screen stencil printing.

Early screen printing industry

Until the early 20th century, screen printing was a laborious process, requiring practitioners to use a brush to manually force ink through the screens. That all changed when the rubber blade, or squeegee, was introduced, allowing the ink to be passed through much more quickly and smoothly. By the 1960s, screen printing was common in art and advertising. But it wasn’t until the end of that decade that screen printing was really made available to the masses – not just on canvas but on clothing too – thanks to the pioneering inventor Michael Vasilantone.

Birth of the dual rotary printing press

Vasilantone and his wife Fannie had opened their textile screen printing business, Vastex, in Philadelphia in 1960, and soon realised that the machinery available to them was neither fast nor effective enough to print t-shirts to the scale or quality to meet customers’ demands. So, Michael began to develop his own machinery. By 1969 he had patented the dual rotary printing press, the four-way stretch hold down (for printing jackets and double-layered fabrics), and the air recirculation system for dryers, among many more innovations.

Vasilantone’s dual rotary printing press revolutionised the industry as we know it today. The machine works by feeding fabric through sets of rotating pallets and print heads, which allows printing to happen much more quickly and cleanly than any other method. 

Vastex goes global

Vastex’s reputation as a leader in the screen printing business grew worldwide in the late 20th century, with the company coming to sell its equipment in more than 50 countries. As well as producing high volume printers for industrial use, Vastex has recently expanded its range of entry level equipment, making screen printing available to far more people worldwide. It even offers screen printing classes at its base in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, as well as online video tutorials for print enthusiasts from beginner to advanced.

Screen printing today

Today, screen printing is one of the most popular ways to add eye-catching, long-lasting designs to clothing. From high street to high fashion, designers are adding bold logos and colourful splashes to t-shirts, sweaters, beanie hats, totes and more. Thanks to Vasiltone’s pioneering machinery, fabrics can be printed quickly in high volumes of tens of thousands. 

At ICON Printing, we are capable of printing up to 75,000 garments every week with the use of both automatic and manual three screen printing machines. Technological innovations in screen printing are allowing us to experiment with designs ranging from subtle scripts to block colours. We’ve produced intricate sketch prints for British design legend Anya Hindmarsh, experimented with glow in the dark paint on t-shirts for London festival Lovebox, and made these complex, multilayered prints for illustrator Maia Magoga. Didn’t they turn out awesome? 

Over centuries, screen printing has been making clothes more colourful — and the possibilities are only becoming more plentiful as technology improves. If you’re dreaming of creating your own merch, launching a sports brand, or even becoming a fully-fledged fashion designer, at ICON Printing, we’ve got the kit and know how to get your screen prints looking pro.

Need fast turnaround screen printing? At ICON Printing we offer fast turnaround printing and embroidery with a wide-ranging catalogue from t-shirts to caps to bagsGet a quote in 2 minutes online.