Printing on fabric has a long history, with archeological evidence from ancient India, Egypt and Greece. The line of development from the earliest printed textiles through to modern methods involves science, technology, politics, exploration and trade.
Origins of Textile Printing
The earliest printed fabrics and textile printing technology arose in India. According to experts at the Musee de l'Impression sur Etoffes (The Museum of Printed Textiles) in Mulhouse, France, Indian printing, dyeing and colour fixing processes were passed through generations of craftspeople from as early as 2000BC.
Textile Printing in Europe
Indian fabrics, brought to Europe by East India Company merchant traders in the 17th century, were instantly popular. In 1640, Armenian merchants brought Indian techniques to France and by 1670 "Indian" calicoes were being printed in England. Opposition from woollen and silk makers kept the European industry small until it exploded in the 18th century.
In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution and the birth of the Machine Age resulted in roller printing and the production of printed textiles on a large scale. Discoveries in chemistry led to the development of synthetic dyes. By 1902, about 700 colours were available for printing on fabric.
Screen printing of textiles developed in the 1930s, followed by high-temperature transfer printing in the 1980s. Today, modern textile printing uses computer-controlled lasers and high-pressure jets to inject dye directly into the fabric without the need for blocks or printing presses.
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