Print That Won't Dye

Why is screen printing, silkscreening and letterpress so popular?
What is it about print? Surely we should all be living in a Blade Runner world by now yet the only blades I see are squeegees.
Poster for Bloomington Print Collective by Izzy Jarvis,2011

Socially Attractive and Personality Driven. The craft movement has been gaining  popularity for past few years through the combination of social media and digital cottage industries as well as social scene craft nights and shared studio spaces dedicated to print. The fine art / design / illustration crossover has blossomed within university courses that allow for hybrid courses and the extension into print studio / gallery / art spaces. Design, illustration and print has been brought further into the fold of commercial art leading to the cult of the graphic design celebrity or 'one man brand'. 
The Economy Fad:  Desire for Individuality. Part of the craft explosion, ad agencies adopt a printed or childlike aesthetic which is shorthand for 'We're one of you. We're quirky enough to hire artists, also, please note we are sensible with cash' :The more fingerprints on the page the more friendly the brand. 
Also we're all obsessed with nostalgia, anything that involves graft, recycling, digging your own potatoes whilst wearing a tin helmet wins.
I suspect however that screen printing is popular because it's lots and lots of fun.
I asked a few print agitators what they thought...

Print Club London
'Expose your work to a world outside of the creative sector, It's really key in expanding what we all do." Kate Newbold, Director Print Club London.'
"When we founded Print Club London 5 years ago there were no other silk screen printing studios like ours, most people used college facilities or small beds in their houses, all very low-fi. But we thought that with the growing interest in the craft movement people would want/need space to print their own work and indeed they did. What emerged was the HUGE number of people wanting to learn silk screen printing. That the courses we run are hugely popular is testament not only to the popularity of silk screen printing as a product to be sold, but also that it is a process that is continuing to grow. I always imagined at some point we would stop selling workshops and the craze would die down but it hasn't. We also have a gallery on brick lane and such as been the demand for bigger facilities at PCL that we have now opened up a newly built unit in our warehouse for desk designers called Millers Junction. We see young graduates thinking about design as a business. Be good at design but also be better at selling your own brand and marketing yourself. Expose your work to a world outside of the creative sector which is really key in expanding what we all do."
'I think the overall outcome from the current wave of 'graphic design celebrities' is ultimately a positive one" Caspar Williamson, author of  Reinventing Screenprinting' 
"It is easier to sell artwork if it is marketed. I think a lot of people have seen the way artists such as Banksy have skyrocketed-- £50 screeenprints suddenly appearing for £10,000 in auction and the buzz that is created around artists and designers that become the 'it girls/boys' of the art world. Lots of auction houses, art fairs and art agents have seen this happen and are on the hunt for 'the next big thing' constantly. However I think the overall outcome from the current wave of 'graphic design celebrities' is ultimately a positive one, as it pushes people to be come up with continually more creative and original work if you don't want to simply be written of as a rip-off or copy-cat."
Dan Mather
'Experimentation is vital to the development of a solid portfolio, understanding and confidence in the process of silkscreen.'
"Developing my practice of the screen print process is not an individual accomplishment. Working in a shared studio not only offers a insight into the approaches of other printers but offers a chance of learning, critiquing, support and encouragement (and jealousy). When printing in a shared studio, for me, there is a noticeable difference between those who are designers printing for themselves and those more on the side of commercial printing. Experimentation is vital to the development of a solid portfolio, understanding and confidence in the the process of silkscreen. A sense of ownership is a part of a design and print occupation."
Dan Mather, still from film 2012
'Brands disappear overnight, record labels shut down as quickly as they start up, pop up shops and exhibitions are more popular than starting up a gallery long-term and working at a reputation because so many of these things are too inaccessible'
"With the prominence of social networking and the constant sharing of work and ideas which are then blogged and tweeted about, even the tiniest letterpress or screen printing studio in the middle of nowhere can now receive an extraordinary amount of attention in comparison to previous generations. I guess it's also fuelled by the state of the economy - as things get worse, people return to DIY and there's definitely been a zine revival... but also, small, independent businesses don't need to go to a big printer for a big order of merchandise. There are many T-shirt or record labels that put out 3 items and then merge or disappear into the unknown. I suppose the 'pop up' trend may just be a symptom of the general lack of permanence across the board."
Jennifer Mehigan,illustration and Found Images,2011

Brands disappear overnight, record labels shut down as quickly as they start up, pop up shops and exhibitions are more popular than starting up a gallery long-term and working at a reputation because so many of these things are too inaccessible. Ideas and brands don't plan for a legacy as much, I guess, and I think this is also largely related to the social media idea. The whole formal system idea to being an artist or a designer is changing, we are cutting a lot of the middle men cut out and I'm a fan.
'There is a huge opportunity for handmade products to include these [digital] interactions' Co-owner, Ink Meets Paper, Daniel Nadeau
"I think consumers are getting more and more comfortable with digital interactions. There is a huge opportunity for handmade products to include these interactions, but the challenge is to use technology in a way that authentically complements their handcrafted nature. Developers spend all of their time shaping and crafting code, just as a woodworker spends all his time shaping and crafting wood. I think we are just now becoming comfortable enough with technology in our daily lives to start exploring the dialog that exists between the physical and digital."
Ink Meets paper, QR Business Card, 2011
Once people are comfortable with that dialog, really cool opportunities arise. We are already working on geo-location features to point the viewer towards the nearest retailer, as well as sharing details of the card easily through social networks. I've been asked several times if we'll always use QR codes for our card backs. I always joke with Allison that in 5 years we're going to have to learn how to incorporate microchips into the paper. Technology moves fast, but it's constantly giving us more ways to authenticate the products we create. It can be overwhelming though, considering all of the nuances of these interactions. Sometimes it would be nice to just print cards, but when you see that dialog click and watch the viewer take that step to learn more about what they bought or received, it's all worth it.
'Consumers have lost faith I guess and the hand rendered / craft approach emotes nostalgia'
Kate Gibb, Hand 5, 2011
"I do feel that part of the success of the hand rendered approach also has to do with our current and past financial climate of the last few years.  Not just an aesthetic change in culture and creative trends. Consumers have lost faith I guess and the hand rendered / craft approach emotes nostalgia, feels familiar and subtly instils a kind of trust from a product."
'Letterpress and other traditional printing techniques are manual processes that perfectly coexist with digital graphic design' Christian Majonek 
Gebirge, Christian Majonek

"I began my graphic design studies at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig, in October
of 2009. This school is one of only a handful of schools in Germany where you can find
traditional studios for manual typesetting, wood cutting, screen printing, lithography, etc.
The school offers classes where students are able to study these old traditions, their origin and history. This is not only extremely interesting but also helped me find my
own personal art. Letterpress and other traditional printing techniques are manual
processes that perfectly coexist with digital graphic design. In my opinion, the two can
also inspire and profit from one another." 
Carey Ellis
'The smaller, more individual designers are keeping the traditions alive'
"Fashion, like any other art from will move with the times and reflect new technologies including the rise in digital print. Traditional screen printing goes hand in hand with fashion, and anyone involved with the industry will instantly see the unique craftsmanship that goes with screen printing that cannot be fulfilled by digital. I work with both techniques, but have more of an attachment to my work that i produce using screens because of the handmade element.
Carey Ellis, Sway, BA Textile Design Degree Show 2011
I think many designers today use digital print as it is great for mass production, but the smaller more individual designers are keeping the traditions alive and ensuring that screen printing is still fashionable. With the economic climate, the fashion conscious will be buying less and instead getting more one off special timeless pieces, which will help those designers who screen print as the item will be not only more unique, it will be special."
Trillusion - Final Major Project from Carey Ellis on Vimeo.

Is this a fair summary?
What do you think the current excitement over print is down to?


  1. A good digital printing perfectly captures the colour and balances the tone of the image.

  2. Many thanks for making the sincere effort to explain this. I feel fairly strong about it and would like to read more. If it's OK, as you find out more in depth knowledge, would you mind writing more posts similar to this one with more information? Las vegas Color | vegas print collateral

    1. Hi Mark, many thanks for your comment, it's great to hear that you enjoyed reading it, you've given me the energy to go further into this again soon, watch out for more :)

  3. I've heard all over the place that "print is dead" but I certainly think otherwise. Sure it's awesome that you can look up and ready any book anywhere with a tablet or a computer. But there is some sort of essence that can't replace a good book.

    1. Hi Slarty, very true. All the senses can, and should be, engaged.

  4. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often. עיצוב לוגו

    1. Thank you, that's great to hear, I'm not writing so much on here at the moment but I'd recommend Elephant Magazine for the kind of stuff you seem to like

  5. Do you subscribe to any other websites about this? I'm struggling to find other reputable sources like yourself

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  6. Hi, and many thanks for the kind words - I write for Elephant magazine (print - great read) , Archinect (about the people behind buildings) and I'm writing a book at the moment about the mess up between creativity and life - due out by Laurence King publish in 2018. As for places to go for stuff, I go and look and talk to as many people as possible - I write because I can't find what I want to read - go write some stuff and send me the link!