Brief History of Printed T Shirts

Published: 18th December 2009
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The T-shirt is a very versatile piece of clothing. T-shirts have been on the scene since the late 1800s. They were frequently worn by those in the mining industry, because they were more comfortable to wear in a hot environment. These original garments were available with and without buttons.

T-shirts officially got their name in the 1920s. It was during that time that the word 'T-shirt' was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. By 1939, these shirts were issued as standard US military underwear and were manufactured without buttons.

Interestingly enough, the first printed t-shirt thought to be worn publicly was displayed on the cover of LIFE magazine in 1942. It made reference to the Air Force Gunnery School, which was located in Las Vegas Nevada.

However, printed T-shirts were formally introduced in the late 1950s/early 1960s. Some of the first printed t's featured the names of notable resorts and well-known character figures. For example, Mickey Mouse t-shirts flew off the shelves. During this time, both screen printing and tie dyeing methods realized steady gains in popularity.

Due, in part, to this popularity variations of the standard t-shirt were introduced. This included muscle shirts, tank tops and v-necks. Much more recently, 'tall t-shirts' which are garments stemming from the hip hop craze have entered the mix.

T-shirts depicting more artful designs were made available in the late 60s. These styles were very popular among rock music fans and those with strong political views, especially those that pertained to the Grateful Dead, Che Guevara and marijuana use.

At that point, other rock bands and even sports teams decided to take the risk and use the t-shirt as a promotional tool. It was an excellent choice for most, who found themselves making good money selling these shirts to their fans.

Many notable T-shirt styles were produced in the 70s and are still a huge part of pop culture, today. These styles include: bright yellow happy face t-shirts, Rolling Stone t-shirts complete with the tongue sticking out gesture made famous by Mick Jagger and the iconic 'I love (heart) New York' t-shirt.

The New York logo was created by Milton Glaser who, at the time, had no idea how popular this simple logo would become. Interestingly, Mr. Glaser created his famous logo free of charge, to help promote tourism in the city of New York. It has since been copied hundreds of times, promoting all sorts of locations, hobbies, organizations and causes.

Virtually any design can be printed on a t-shirt. Not only can designs be printed on the front and back of the shirt, they can be printed on the sleeves as well.

The process involves using a squeegee to push Plastisol ink through a screen. The screen must be prepared before any printing can take place. This is achieved by coating the screen with a thick emulsion and allowing it to dry.

(Plastisol ink is individually formulated to work well with a wide variety of fabrics, so that every garment produced will be top quality.)

Once the screen is completely dry it (along with the image to be printed) are placed on a light table and exposed to high intensity light. This actually burns the image into the screen.

Next, the emulsion solution is rinsed away with a pressure washer, leaving only the design on the screen. The actual printing process then begins.

Typically, most t-shirt printing companies automate printing for large orders and manually process smaller orders. In regard to design, they work with clients until they are 100% satisfied with the image that will be transferred to their garments of choice. Of course, these clients have the option of supplying their own design, as well.

It is less expensive to have a design printed on a light colored t-shirt than on a dark one. This is because dark colored garments require a base coat of white ink, before any additional inks can be applied. This is to prevent colors from blending together. Another reason for the extra expense is that it costs t-shirt manufacturers more to produce dark colored clothing.

With proper care, a screen printed t-shirt will last for years. There are even instances where the design outlasts the actual shirt. Typically, machine washing and then tumble drying the shirt (inside out on low temperature) works best.

This overview on the history of printed tees is provided by Germany's Tojam, a company which is known locally as a t shirt druck. Contact them if you are interested in printing tshirts for promotion or any other purposes.

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