Wearable Modern Art! A History of Print on Demand Shirt

The print-on-demand industry has come a long way from its ancient origins to today. Before, printing on fabric was laborious and expensive. Later on, when sailors started to wear t-shirts as undergarments, they became a casual top for both sexes.

Tees became an avenue of expression through t-shirt printing. Printed tees were first sold in malls, events, or distributed for a movement. From woodblocks to the digital printer, let’s have a closer look at how this trend began.

Earlier Incarnation

The earliest known printing over fabric was in ancient China. Wooden blocks with carved designs were dipped in ink. The image was pressed on the material, known as Woodblock printing.

In the Song dynasty, a form of screen printing or stenciling was invented. This method is now known as silkscreening and used all over Asia. A few centuries later, it spread in Europe but only became popular around 1700.

Even woodblock printing started much later in 1100, but the ink tended to wash out in the water. The French developed washable inks from India that made fabric printing famous.

The Dawn of Modern Shirt Printing

Since the invention of t-shirts, the industry has picked up a new medium of expression. First it was worn as an undergarment by sailors, but the tropical weather made it a casual top after a few decades. With the right weather, t-shirts became a summer top for all ages, and it spawned modern printing in 1950. 

Some started to advertise with printed shirts at local resorts and tourist destinations in Miami. Screen printing was the most common method, as it was easy and made shirt production faster, allowing sellers to keep up with the demands. Screen printed shirts became famous and even went into popular magazines like Vogue.

Development of New Inks 

In 1959, the development of stretchy ink made it possible to build more creative designs. Water-based inks were mostly used in printing at that time. They have a slow drying time, and it takes time for shirts to be printed between. With the development of PVC-based plastisol inks came a breakthrough. Plastisol creates much more stable bonds with the fabric when it dries.

Culture That Created Demand

In the 1960s, modern artists Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol had famous works. Screen printing has become the preferred method at the time of pop culture art. It was also the era where music had a great influence. Screen-printed event shirts and band shirts sold like pancakes in the events. Later these shirts took off as a fashion trend.

Designs from soda brands to Disney characters were printed alike on shirts. Printed shirts with cartoon characters became a trend among kids. Teens loved their band and pro wrestling shirts, while young adults preferred statement shirts and jerseys.

Modern Printing Innovations

Gone are the days of carved wood dipped in ink. In the past, silk screen printing required a specific skill. Placing the stencil on the garment required steady hands. Now comes the age of computers. Silk screening is still existing to this day. But the age of digitization has moved graphic art to a whole new level. 

The development of Direct To Garment printing has made printing easier. Photorealistic images, vibrant colors, fabric, and inks leap into the 21st century. Other methods like heat transfers also become a niche. Current innovations inspire many to create one-of-a-kind works.

Becoming Environment Friendly

The print-on-demand industry has come a long way. But it came with a price. Plastisol produces waste that is harmful to the environment. Developing links that are not harmful to the environment is a challenge but not a new idea.

Water-based inks are making a comeback, as they are much easier to break down. In contrast, plastisol needs harmful chemicals to degrade over time. Though it has its own pros, the color is not as vivid as its plastic counterpart.

Where Are We Now?

Computer Aided Design software supports graphic artists in transferring their work. From the digital screen to garments, automation assists mass production. Many DIY kits and instructional videos are available online for making custom shirts. These things motivate people to make their custom shirts at home.

The industry is booming, and the demand is on the rise. From music festivals, rock concerts to sports events, print on demand is all over the place.

The Future

Most print on demand companies cater for events, music festivals, and professional sports. Graphic artists now have more avenues to present their work. They can post their work online and connect with print companies anytime. New fabrics and inks are also being developed to be more ethical and safe for the environment.

If you want to start a print-on-demand shop, Printailor is all you need. It is dedicated to pushing for a “green economy” and letting you focus more on your creativity. Sign up and start your own design today!

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