Roto Screenprinting

Have you ever wondered what the difference between hand screen printed fabric and commercially produced fabric is? Both say “Screen printed” but they’re not the same! What is roto printing?

Hoe’s six-cylinder rotary press from the 1860s. The printing plates are located on the large cylinder in the middle. N. Orr – History of the Processes of Manufacture 1864
Goss quadruple straightline printing press, 1905 Unknown (Life time: Unknown.) – Original publication: Probably a company illustration that was reprinted in the daily Los Angeles Herald. Immediate source: Library of Congress Drawing of a Goss quadruple straightline printing press

The history of screen printing, or silk screen printing actually dates back to the Song Dynasty in China (960-1270 AD) when silk was used prior to the invention of polymer mesh. Skip forward 700 years or so, and the industrialized machinery you see above was invented for mass production of textiles and wallpapers (as well as newspapers, books, and other types of printed materials.)

Rotary printing serves as a way to produce a maximum amount of yardage at one time. It’s set up time is lengthy, and the machinery required is costly. That is why most handmade papers are not of the same caliber. Check out some of the images here:

Steakfast-and-Barracks-July-2014-Rotary-Screen-Printing-v2-web Steakfast-and-Barracks-July-2014-Rotary-Screen-Printing-web

These are images of fabric being “screen” printed with round screens that rotate continuously, being inked from a well of ink (seen at the side, those blue boxes) automatically. 6 colors are printing at the same time! WOW!

Steakfast-and-Barracks-July-2014-Craig-describing-the-process-web Steakfast-and-Barracks-July-2014-flat-bed-screen-printing-run-final-print-web

As you can see, this yields a massive roll of material and is operated by the machine and not the human being. This is how fabric for mass market is made! This is how wallpaper is made too. Anything you find at Target, etc. was made this way, and most likely it was done overseas.

So, there is something wonderful to this: It’s perfect. Nearly perfect. The prints line up and are made fast and easy. I can respect that or even envy the job of the guy who pushes the button and watches the machine do it’s work. But, our process is so different.

As you saw in my last post, there are people hand registering every single print on one tiny little table, one color at a time. It can take a week to create 100 rolls of a 5 color print. This guy just made 1,000 rolls in a blink of an eye.

So, while we are also screen printing wall coverings, you can see that this is a totally different ball game. Write with your questions so I can expand this article. And enjoy this awesome video of one of our hero’s to see another way to screen print textiles on a larger scale:

Roto Screenprinting

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