A Brief History of Textile Printing

Textile printing has been around for centuries. The colors and patterns used once have gone through tremendous evolution – from the primitive woodblock printing, through the more cost-effective roller printing, up until the nowadays screen and digital printing. All periods of textile printing left their mark and shaped the now known to us style and production-methods of printing textile, making it hugely popular and available for the masses. We will now track down to uncover its origins, transformations and purpose throughout the different eras and now. Read on!

The origins

Textile printing is thought to have found its origin in Ancient China, where people began to use woodblocks carved with designs and symbols to decorate fabric and paper. The color would go on the woodblocks and then be pressed to the material to create patterns.

Тhe world’s earliest printed text containing a date of production, AD 868, Source: Wikipedia

Colors and designs were among the most powerful commodities in Ancient China, as they accommodated distinction and recognition in terms of social status, region and dynasty.

Indian textile fragment, found in Fustat, Egypt, circa 1545 – 1645; Source: Wikipedia

The technique spread throughout Asia and Indians, in particular, adopted it in various means for various fabrics and attires. They are still very much fond of it today, and there are many active Indian companies that continue to block-print dozens of garments a day.

Contemporary usage of a traditional woodblock printing technique in India, Source: Culturally Ours

Middle Ages to the Age of Reason

Woodblock printing reached the rest of the continents via trade with the Islamic world. 

In Europe, for example, the method was used primarily for textiles that did not need to be washed, as the dyes tended to liquefy in water easily. From the Middle Ages up to the Renaissance, textile printing was utilized for the creation of religious texts and works of art.

Yet, being a hand labour, this technique was no longer sufficient and economically effective. The amounts produced were not able to satisfy the need on the horizon. That is how the patterned by Thomas Bell process – the roller printing – came into light. The year was 1783, the place was Scotland, and the reason was the necessity to reduce the cost of the earlier copperplate printing. It mimicked the block technique, but the engraved rollers were made of metal instead of wood.

Later on, Richard March Hoe advanced printing techniques by improving the roller machine and inventing the first rotary press.

Hoe’s six-cylinder rotary press from the 1860s; Source: Wikipedia

I They were automated in a gigantic machine that could, unfortunately, print only one color at a time. Woodblocks were used to add up more color to the fabrics.

In time, the machine evolved, enabling the mass production of textiles and preparing the ground for future innovations to come.

Roller-pressed woman’s hooded cape Provence 1785-1820; Source: Wikipedia

The mid-20th century and onwards

The mid-20th century marked the birth of the multicolor printing, which fostered economical printing on a large scale.

Rotary press, 1944, Source: Library of Congress

Fast forward to today, most prints are computer-controlled and machine-made due to the demands for consumer products.

As one already knows, digitalization facilitated the invention of many different printing techniques, such as digital, screen, pad, transfer, and others. We, at Organic Tee Star alone, offer eight.

Contemporary screen-printing in Texas, USA, Source: Porkchop

Textile printing has walked a long way since the first image was woodblock-stamped onto a piece of fabric and has yet many miles to run. 

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