The History Of Textile Printing

Printing on clothes did not start recently. Rather, it began centuries ago as you will see in this article I’ll discuss later on. Historical records have it that textile printing started 3rd centuries BC.

The printing techniques used for textile printing have changed over the years. In China, the Woodblock printing method can be seen back to the 3rd to 5th centuries BC.

Textile printing is an ancient art that has been practiced for centuries. Other early examples of textile printing can be found in ancient Egyptian tombs, where dyed linen and wool fabrics were used to decorate the walls. In ancient Greece, brightly colored cotton fabrics were used to adorn the statues of gods and goddesses.

During the Middle Ages, textile printing was used to create religious texts and works of art. In the Renaissance, printing was used to create lavish tapestries and fabrics. During the Industrial Revolution, textile printing became a mass-produced process, and changes in technology and machinery led to new printing techniques and designs.

In the 17th century, Europe starts establishing textile printing factories. In the late 18th century, a new printing technique using multi roller began to emerge in England. Modern silk-screen printing started in the early 20th century. Multi-color rotary screen printing became popular in the mid-20th because it was faster and more economical than other printing methods.

History Of Textile Printing

Today in the modern days, there are many different types of textile printing, each with its own unique benefits and downsides. You can check out 12 of them in Akotaq’s this article.

History of Block Printing & Asian Textile Printing

Asia has a history of textile printing that dates back to the time of Alexander the Great. In 327 BC, the aforementioned great king invaded India and found colorful printed textiles. They were printed with carved wood or rubber stamps that adhered dyed to the fabric. They called this fabric printing method “block printing”.

block of wood

The block of wood had patterns that were carved on it, just like modern rubber stamps. Dye was applied to the patterns and then pressed against the fabric and the imprints adhered to it.

Amazingly, the Chinese were not left behind, because they also did their best to catch up with the Indians, and introduced stencil printing. This technique was passed on to Japan where it was improved. Afterward, this fabric printing continued spreading to East Asia and then across the world and gave birth to batik, tie-dye, and shibori printing methods.

At around this time, the Indians had upped their game in textile printing, and they were able to do very intricate and astounding designs on fabrics. They exported them to other continents in Africa and Europe.

Until today, Batik, which is an Indonesian word is a common term that is used in dyeing fabrics using a resist technique.

Batik is a tested and proven textile printing method that uses wax for dye resistance to block color absorption. With this process, the artistic freedom of designers is significantly increased because they are able to draw patterns before submerging the entire cotton fabric into the dye.

proven textile printing method

Compared to other ancient textile printing methods, Batik was quite preferable because of its durability. Batik method is fade-resistant.

Today, Hand Block Printing or Batik Printing is still enjoying massive popularity, as more and more people are going back to hand-crafted custom garment printing.

Textile Printing in Europe’s History

In the early 17th century East India Company imported printed cotton clothes from India to Europe. At that time, Indian fabric printing was one of the best in the world. With rich colors full and designs that resisted fading, these fabric prints were highly sought-after.

The first printing colorfast printing developed in Europe around 1670. But in France and England, legislation was passed in 1686 and 1700 respectively, prohibiting the import of printed clothes to give a boost to increase the domestic production.

Engraved copperplates were developed in Ireland in 1752, and the technique soon spread to England.

In 1759 a textile printing factory was established by a Swiss guy at Yvelines, France.

Roller printing was first developed in England in the late 18th century around 1790 in northern England.

You can read about: T-Shirt Screen Printing Materials & Checklist For Beginners

History of Screen Printing

When it comes to more modern-like textile printing, there is screen printing was invented during the Song Dynasty in China between 960-1279 AD. This method of textile printing involved gluing a piece of silk in the middle of two pieces of thick paper. The paint penetrates through the silk and prints a design on the fabric.

This method spread across Asia for centuries but never reached Europe until the 1900s. Fortunately, Samuel Simon patented the method which was also picked up by a group of artists and they began trying it out in New York.

Consequently, they perfected it and even founded the Serigraphy Society, previously known as the Screen Group which dealt its the artistic application of T-shirt printing.

Afterward, in the 1960s, the trend continued in Miami, whereby, many resorts in its environs printed names and promotional characters on T-shirts for advertisement. It is from this old technology that modern-day screen printing was developed.

Michael Vasilantone played a major role in ensuring the mass production of screen prints as possible. He and his wife opened Vastex, which is a textile screen printing industry in Philadelphia in 1960.

They got printing orders that included bowling T-shirts. Afterward, the orders multiplied greatly to an extent that Michael found himself suppressed in a tight corner trying to rush to meet the humongous number of orders. That is when he thought of creating his own machinery, and in 1967, he came up with the dual rotary printing press.

The machine he created revolutionized the textile printing industry, significantly shaking it up. His machine could print on fabric much faster and with a lower margin of error.

Modern Digital Textile Printing Update

In modern days digital printing on fabric is in its pick as we all can imagine. A study has shown that every single year now 26 Billion m³ of textile screens are printed. Right now China, EU, India, USA, Turkey, South Korea, Bangladesh, and Vietnam are the top textile printer countries in the world.

Modern Digital Textile Printing

With the advent of the computer and computerized textile printers with direct ink inkjet technology. Large-scale printing is fed by an automated printing press like what you find in medium and large print studios. Here are a few popular printing methods of this 21st century:

  1. Dye Sublimation Printing
  2. DTG
  3. CAD Cut Vinyl Printing
  4. Screen Printing
  5. Plastisol Transfers
  6. Belt Printing
  7. Stencil
  8. Resist Dyeing
  9. Airbrushing Hand Spray
  10. Discharge Printing

The ink that is used to print today is also of good quality and they enable high precision printing. Nowadays, you can have your T-shirt, jersey, and other clothes printed magnificently, and the color is also durable. The print designs remain visible for the entire lifespan of the garment that has been printed.

Through textile printing, today T-shirts and reflector vests are used to advertise and even campaign by politicians, churches, organizations, and businesses. The printed fabric is also used to pass messages of peace, and sensitize or advocate for the stemming of certain vices in the society.

Textile Printing Ink History

Just like how developing the printing machines was faced with challenges, ink also posed significant challenges to the industry. Printers used water-based ink that appeared pale/faded on clothes, not to mention that it also took time to dry. Due to these poor results, it proved that water-based ink was hard to work with and the results were messy.

Surprisingly, plastisol ink was invented and became a game-changer. It was made of PVC particles that were suspended in a plasticizer, and its level of viscosity was higher than that of water. Pouring it into stencils was easier and also stable when drying, not to mention that its adhesion is quite commendable. The results are impressive, especially due to the fact that the imprints are durable.

The qualities of plastisol ink made the whole process quite good and favorable, especially for screen printing. With this ease and efficiency of printing, development was realized in the textile printing industry.

Moreover, in the 1960s, Pop art required band T-shirts to be printed with graphic screen printing. There has been great improvement in the textile screen printing industry over the years. With the evolution of technology, there are breathtaking textile printing advancements.


This is a credible historical account of textile printing that dates back millennia ago. This printing also rhymes very well with the cultural diversity that is spread across the earth.

Every culture has specific art that is printed on the garments that its people wear. All of them are printed on the garments through textile printing.

Suggested Articles

Leave a Comment