Screen-printing first appeared in a recognizable form in China during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE). Japan and other Asian countries adopted this method of printing and advanced the craft using it in conjunction with block printing and paints.
Screen-printing was introduced to Western Europe from Asia sometime in the late 1700s, but did not gain large acceptance or use in Europe until silk mesh was more available for trade from the east and a profitable outlet for the medium discovered.
Screen-printing was first patented in England by Samuel Simon in 1907. It was originally used as a popular method to print expensive wall paper, printed on linen, silk, and other fine fabrics. Western screen printers developed reclusive, defensive and exclusionary business policies intended to keep secret their workshops’ knowledge and techniques.
Early in the 1910s, several printers experimenting with photo-reactive chemicals used the well-known actinic light activated cross linking or hardening traits of potassium, sodium or ammonium bichromate chemicals with glues and gelatin compounds. Roy Beck, Charles Peter and Edward Owens studied and experimented with chromic acid salt sensitized emulsions for photo-reactive stencils. This trio of developers would prove to revolutionize the commercial screen printing industry by introducing photo-imaged stencils to the industry, though the acceptance of this method would take many years. Commercial screen printing now uses sensitizers far safer and less toxic than bichromates, currently there are large selections of pre-sensitized and "user mixed" sensitized emulsion chemicals for creating photo-reactive stencils.
Originally a profitable industrial technology, screen printing was eventually adopted by artists as an expressive and conveniently repeatable medium for duplication well before the 1900s. It is currently popular both in fine arts and in commercial printing, where it is commonly used to print images on T-shirts, hats, CDs, DVDs, ceramics, glass, polyethylene, polypropylene, paper, metals, and wood.
A group of artists who later formed the National Serigraphic Society coined the word Serigraphy in the 1930s to differentiate the artistic application of screen printing from the industrial use of the process. "Serigraphy" is a combination word from the Latin word "Seri" (silk) and the Greek word "graphein" (to write or draw).
In resent history, credit is generally given to the artist Andy Warhol for popularizing screen printing identified as serigraphy, in the United States. Warhol is particularly identified with his 1962 depiction of actress Marilyn Monroe screen printed in garish colors.
American entrepreneur, artist and inventor Michael Vasilantone would develop and patent a rotary multicolor garment screen printing machine in 1960. The original rotary machine was manufactured to print logos and team information on bowling garments but soon directed to the new fad of printing on t-shirts. The Vasilantone patent was soon licensed by multiple manufacturers, the resulting production and boom in printed t-shirts made the rotary garment screen printing machine the most popular device for screen printing in the industry. Screen printing on garments currently accounts for over half of the screen printing activity in the United States.
Graphic screenprinting is widely used today to create many mass or large batch produced graphics, such as posters or display stands. Full color prints can be created by printing in CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black (‘key’)). Screenprinting is often preferred over other processes such as dye sublimation or inkjet printing because of its low cost and ability to print on many types of media.