FESPA History

When and Why was FESPA formed

The foundation of FESPA and its development throughout the years

It was during the formative General Assembly in 1962 that the French Printers Association decided to create FESPA with seven European Associations. Since its inception over 60 years ago, FESPA has continued to grow and expand by:

The Convention in Copenhagen, Denmark 9-14 May 1961

This is one of the most important dates in the History of FESPA, for it was here that the decision was taken to form an independent Federation of European Screen Printing Associations and extracts from the speeches that were made at the time give a clear picture of the intentions and motivation behind this decision. The Convention organised by the Danish Association under the chairmanship of Bjarne Dahl, attracted over 300 delegates, many of whom came with their wives. Not only were all the West European countries represented, but also from outside Europe, the USA, Canada and Argentina.

The following extracts from the welcome speech given by Bjarne Dahl, President of the Danish Screen-printing Association, clearly show the importance of this Convention from which FESPA was born: "During the infancy of screen-printing there was no co-operation of any kind and those who had in one way or another managed to obtain some knowledge in the techniques guarded this knowledge jealousy, nevertheless screen-printing spread from one country to another, even though certain technical secrets were only provided after payment of high Licence fees.

Suppliers of screen-printing materials soon realised that their turnover depended on the numbers using this process and some took upon themselves the task of teaching the techniques, for which they demanded in return sole supplier rights. This was one of the reasons why, in some countries, users decided to form trade organisations to watch over the interests of the trade and to organise uniform and proper training.

Nevertheless we owe our suppliers a great deal and the impressive exhibition which is being held here and also our technical meetings, prove that our suppliers believe in the great and growing future of screen-printing. Due to the great increase in travel since the last war, screen printers from around the world have been making personal contacts and exchanging experience and ideas. Today in Copenhagen is a great meeting opportunity for us all at this Fifth European SPPA Convention."

The reasons for an independent FESPA were explained by Bob Levisson, at that time the European President of the SPPA, in an article which he wrote in Screen Printing & Display News in April 1961. These are some of the relevant extracts: "One of the main objects of the European Chapter was the organisation of screen printers' conventions in Europe.

However, it soon became clear that these conventions could not be restricted solely to members of this European Chapter, other members of our trade wanted to take part and were naturally welcome to join us. This development made us think. We concluded that for the individual screen printer, in whichever European country he lived, his own national organisation was naturally more important than the SPPA.

A second conclusion was the urgency for translations of technical articles from the English text in which they were written. The conclusion is that every screen printer should first and foremost belong to his own national organisation. The various European organisations should then come together (while retaining their full national independence) to form a European Federation of Screen Printers Associations. This Federation should be affiliated to the American SPPA and those individuals who wish to continue to belong to the SPPA should continue to do so. This newly created Federation will be far better placed to organise European Conventions and through their own associations to act as a distribution centre for technical information to all screen printers in Europe."

The Copenhagen Convention not only laid the foundations for FESPA, it also set a standard for future congresses and exhibitions. The programme was excellent. The lectures given by an international panel of speakers covered subjects which would still be relevant today.

The exhibition was well supported by manufacturers and suppliers some of which have become leaders in the international market for screen-printing machinery and supplies. On an historical note, It was at this Convention that the first Svecia semi-automatic printer and the McCormick Super Cylinder machine were first demonstrated, developments which were to revolutionise the productivity of screen-printing. A very full and attractive social programme broke down the barriers of language and created friendships and co-operation which have been a hallmark of FESPA ever since.

The foundation of FESPA in Hamburg, September 1962

Following the Copenhagen Convention a Steering Committee was set up and made rapid progress in drafting rules and objectives of the new organisation. There had been some differences of opinion as to whether membership should be through individuals or national associations. The British association DPSPA strongly represented through a delegation headed by Roy Foster and Ashford Down their view that this was to be essentially a Federation of National Associations, that only one association should represent each country and that Individual Membership would only be permitted when no national association exists.

There was also a consensus that the new organisation was not to be dependant on, or in any way under the control of, the American SPPA. Again this point was accepted, but to this day, representation of FESPA on the International Board of the American Association (SGIA) continues. For many years also the President of the American Association attended FESPA meetings, but without a vote.

Not all of the former members of the SPPA European Chapter accepted these changes and some, like Paul Sprinzel who had been very active in the Chapter, never joined their national association and continued as Individual Members of the SPPA. There are many screen printers in Europe with membership of both their national association and the current SGIA.

R Levisson (Netherlands) was appointed the first President with E Baron (France) J Floyd (UK) and E Meissner (Germany) as Vice Presidents. The founding associations were represented by Bob Levisson (Netherlands) John Floyd and Roy Foster (UK), Poldi Domberger and Eddy Meissner (Germany), E Baron and Michel Caza (France) Bjšrg Hemberg (Sweden), Bjarne Dahl (Denmark) Christian Brynildsen and Edgar Hartvedt (Norway), Carlo Frassinelli (Italy). The first General Secretary was N Schenkman (Netherlands)

The Federation was constituted as an Association under Dutch law and its address was that of the Dutch Printing Association the KVGO.

The objectives of the Federation were described as the 'sharing of knowledge of screen-printing, the establishment of close cooperation between screen-printers and suppliers and promotion of screen-printing in Europe' These have remained unchanged to the present day. The FESPA Council comprised delegates of the affiliated national associations with one voting delegate for each hundred members. The Council normally met once each year. The day to day administration was the responsibility of the 'Bureau' which comprised the Chairman, three Vice Chairmen and the General Secretary.

Problems of the Early Years

There were many difficulties in these early years. At that time English was not universally adopted for the meetings and many of the delegates spoke and understood English very little. In con-sequence the meetings were often very lengthy with constant interpretation becoming necessary through Bob Levisson and the Secretary Miss Becky de Die who were both multi lingual.

The different national cultures and attitudes were sometimes hard to understand and accept. At different times both the British and French associations threatened to withdraw from FESPA because they saw little benefit and the cost of membership fees was considered excessive. It was only through Bob Levisson's skilful leadership that FESPA continued to develop and prosper.

1962 - 1975 Development of FESPA Activities

It is remarkable that with a budget of no more than 40,000 Dutch Florins each year, so much was achieved, principally through the personal efforts of individual members of the Bureau and Council. The spreading of technical and commercial information and the development of business and social contacts between members of the various national associations were priorities and achieved in the following ways:

* International Technical Seminars were held every two years moving from country to country with simultaneous translation into three or four languages. Study Tours were organised with visits to screen printers and manufacturers again moving from country to country. These proved exceptionally valuable and were well supported. The high standards of factory cleanliness, achieved notably in the Scandinavian countries, were an 'eye opener' to many of the visitors whose own standards fell far below this level. There was a remarkable willingness to disclose technical and commercial information in this way which undoubtedly was one of the most important factors in the rapid development of screen-printing.

* The FESPA Membership Directory, which contained the addresses of all members of the FESPA associations, was an important source of information to enable screen printers in Europe to contact one another and this was used extensively. Frequently on business or holiday visits members took the opportunity to develop business contacts which in many cases resulted in very valuable exchange of technical information. The Directory was financed from advertising and was updated year by year until the early 1980's when it was discontinued.

* A Directory of Screen-printing Terms was a project headed by Bjarne Dahl from Denmark. Many hours were spent agonising over the correct translation into the languages of English, German, French, Dutch and Italian of technical terms in screen-printing. However this work was eventually worthwhile, for as a result, a Directory was produced of Screen-printing Terms with a cross reference between the five languages and was finally published in 1968. More recently the Directory has been updated and improved by ESMA and national associations have extended this to include for example the languages of Spanish and Hungarian.

FESPA Exhibitions

Paris 1963 was chosen as the venue for FESPA's first exhibition organised by the French Association. There was much activity at this time amongst machinery manufacturers in developing new screen-printing machinery which would give greater productivity and more consistent registration. Fine art and serigraphy continued to be a strong interest and visitors were delighted to come away from the exhibition with poster samples of this work.

Zurich 1966 was the next event and FESPA exhibitions were already becoming larger and more international. Each day of the exhibition was accompanied by a well attended Technical Conference. The Olympia exhibition halls in London became the venue for FESPA 1968. For the first time this was organised by a professional company Batiste and not by the national association.

Once again the exhibition stands were becoming bigger and the first floor of the exhibition halls was devoted to screen printers predominantly from the UK which gave an impressive display of screen printed work. There was much interest with the four colour half tone work which was starting to be developed by one or two companies... a new development for screen-printing! There was some amusement when FESPA's German President Eddy Meissner 'took the salute' before the very British 'Brigade of Guards' who counter marched as the principal entertainment event!

At FESPA 1970 in Hamburg and again at FESPA 1973 in Amsterdam the exhibition continued to grow and to attract an increasing number of delegates not only from Europe, but also now from the USA, Japan, Australia and South Africa.

Milan 1975 was nearly a disaster. Following its policy of moving the exhibitions from country to country around Europe, the FESPA Bureau had agreed to go to Milan for its next exhibition. There were serious problems. Despite the major contribution which Italy's representative Carlo Frassinelli had made personally, he was not supported by a cohesive association and it became evident that there would be no local support in the organisation from this source.

Many German manufacturers and suppliers, saw little value in an exhibition sited in Italy where the markets were dominated by strong Italian manufacturing companies and initially many refused to participate. Eventually there was a compromise, but it resulted in a much smaller presence from some German and Swiss companies than in the past. To solve the organisation problem, Harold Schneider, Batiste Publications, who had planned so successfully the 1968 exhibition in London, volunteered to take over the responsibility and Milan was more successful than had been expected in the number of exhibitors which it finally attracted.

However visitor attendance was poor due to an airline strike and also national strikes within Italy at that time which severely affected catering within the hotels. At only 48 hours notice guests for the Gala Dinner had to be transported by coaches 30 kilo-meters into Switzerland in order for this event to continue... a triumph for Harold Schneider's organising skills! Nevertheless Milan 1975 resulted in a very different policy for future FESPA exhibitions.

1975 - 1990 Years of steady progress

Under the strong presidency of Eddy Meissner from 1968 to 1975 assisted by the excellent secretarial and diplomatic skills of Becky de Die, the General Secretary, FESPA had matured into a professional federation with a major event in the form of a congress, study tour or exhibition held each year. However, the problems of the Milan 1975 exhibition, resulted in much criticism from exhibitors and at a well attended and stormy meeting of the suppliers the following year, FESPA was strongly advised to discontinue its policy of moving the exhibition to locations in Europe which could not have their full support and also to move to a frequency of every four years in order to achieve a two-year time gap between FESPA and DRUPA. With the agreement of the FESPA Board, a Suppliers Committee was set up under the chairmanship of Tom Kirk (Sericol) who was later succeeded by Walter Frick (Marabu).

This committee worked closely with FESPA in the planning of future exhibitions and played a major part in the formation of ESMA in 1990. It was agreed that the next FESPA exhibition would return to Amsterdam which had proved very successful in the year 1973 and this led to four successive exhibitions in that city in 1979, 1984, 1988 and 1992.

Amsterdam was popular both with exhibitors and visitors because of the attractions of the city and of the bulb fields in the Netherlands in the spring time, when these exhibitions were held. Also the efficiency and language skills of the Dutch people were an important factor. There was strong support from the Dutch Screen-printing Association with a special exhibition committee chaired by Ivo Back (FESPA President 1979 - 1984), which was meticulous in its planning. During this time period exhibitor stand space grew from 9,000m2 to over 20,000m2 and visitors from 15,000 to 25,000. The FESPA exhibition had now fully achieved its claim to be the largest and most important international event for screen-printing.

However other FESPA events started to decline. Technical seminars during a FESPA exhibition were discontinued in order to ensure that visitors concentrated on the exhibition stands. Also with the growth of technical knowledge and the increasing number of seminars organised on a national level, the attendances at international seminar events were less. The last of these was held in Italy in 1987 at Santa Margarita, Italy. For similar reasons study tours were less attended. A number of the larger screen-printing companies made their own arrangements to visit selected companies with personal visits and also member associations organised study tours on a national basis. Nevertheless a final FESPA study tour organised by Michael Domberger during his term of office as President under the title 'The Wider Horizons of Screen-printing' took delegates to some of the niche applications of screen-printing in Switzerland, for example the decoration of confectionery and the printing of Swatch Watches. This was a great success.

Within the FESPA organisation there was a problem with the future of the secretariat, principally due to lack of funds. Becky de Die, who had served FESPA so well for nearly 15 years as General Secretary, died in 1977. She was succeeded briefly by Jan van de Hšrst and then in 1978 by Bob de Ruijter, at that time Secretary to the screen-printing section of the Dutch Master Printers the KVGO. Soon however FESPA was faced with the decision of the KVGO, that it could no longer continue to subsidise the cost of a FESPA secretariat as it had done in the past. Various solutions were discussed and one by one rejected.

Finally in April 1981, agreement was reached to move the secretariat to London to the International Master Printers Association (IMPA) where there was a professional organisation headed by Geoffrey Wilson with excellent language skills and experience of working for the Master Printers Associations in Europe.

This proved to be an excellent and comparatively low cost solution. The new secretariat organised successfully a number of events and assisted with the preparations for FESPA '84 in Amsterdam. However in 1984 the IMPA office was moved to Brussels where it became Intergraf with responsibilities to represent its members in the EU. Although Intergraf continued to serve FESPA's secretarial needs, the availability of staff dedicated to these needs was considerably reduced and costs in Brussels were much higher than in London.

By 1989 available FESPA funds only permitted a very limited time to be purchased from Intergraf and this was not sufficient to fulfil a full programme of FESPA activities including the editorship of the FESPA magazine which had been introduced that year. When it was learned that Derek Down, a long serving member on the FESPA Board, would be leaving the industry following a takeover of his parent company, he was approached by Michael Domberger to take over the position as FESPA General Secretary and following agreement by the FESPA General Assembly, he accepted the position and the FESPA documents and files were moved from Brussels to a new office in Reigate, Surrey in December 1989.

1990 - 2002 New challenges... New opportunities

With the appointment at the beginning of 1990, for the first time, of a full time FESPA Secretariat staffed by Derek Down (General Secretary) and Joy Allson, it became possible to develop new programmes. One of these was the FESPA magazine which had been initiated in 1989 by Michael Domberger with the vision that each FESPA member would have his own copy which would tell him what was happening in other associations in addition to FESPA activities. Derek Down accepted the editorship as one of his many tasks. The magazine was published twice each year in the languages of English, German and French (to which Spanish was later added).

Advertising revenue was not sufficient to cover the costs of producing the magazine and up to 1993 each edition showed a substantial loss. To solve this problem Nigel Steffens was recruited to join the Secretariat as Advertising Manager in January 1993 and was successful in bringing the magazine into profit. His responsibilities were increased to include the organisation of seminars and 'Mini FESPAs'. In January 2000, as part of Derek Down's phased retirement plan, Nigel Steffens was appointed General Secretary to replace him on the understanding that Derek Down would continue with a number of FESPA duties including the editorship of the magazine up to December 2002.

The Annual Secretaries Meeting

At the FESPA General Assembly in 1989 there had been strong representations from Scandinavian countries to have a greater involvement in FESPA. In response to this, the General Secretary organised from 1990 annual meetings of association secretaries. These meetings have been very valuable in establishing a close co-operation between member associations and in submitting important issues for the attention of the FESPA Board and General Assembly.

ESMA the European Screen Printing Manufacturers Association

This organisation was founded in the summer of 1990 initially with the objective of being an entirely independent organisation dealing with important aspects common to European screen-printing manufacturers and suppliers. However under the leadership of Walter Frick, Marabu, at that time Chairman of the Suppliers Committee, it was agreed that ESMA whilst being an independent organisation, would become a member of FESPA with a non-voting attendance at FESPA Board meetings and full voting membership at the FESPA General Assembly. In order to further assist communication between FESPA and ESMA, Derek Down accepted the additional responsibility of ESMA General Secretary. The resulting support provided to FESPA for the magazine, 'Mini FESPA's', Seminars and the FESPA Exhibition has greatly added to the success of these activities.

East European Membership

The lifting of the 'Iron Curtain of Communism' in the autumn of 1989 provided for the first time free communication with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Screen-printing had continued quite actively under the communist regime, principally in textiles and in industries such as glass manufacture, ceramics and electronics. West European suppliers of screen-printing products dealt always through government agencies as their customers. There was a new interest in these countries to experience the potential which they saw in Western Europe especially in advertising products. Czechoslovakia who had for a short time been members in the late1960's prior to communist domination, were the first to re-join FESPA followed by Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia (Moscow), Croatia, Slovenia, Yugoslavia and Turkey. The Czechoslovakia membership was subsequently divided into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics. In this way membership of FESPA increased over a period of twelve years from 14 to 26 nations and this now stands at 27 with Baltic United States being the most recently recruited member in 2005.

FESPA provided direct help to these new members through a series of 'Mini-FESPA's'. A concept proposed by Michael Domberger and successfully adopted by Presidents Lascelle Barrow and Michel Caza. They comprised product information stands and a two-day seminar in the countries of Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovenia. ESMA strongly supported these events which assisted their members’ representation in these countries. These programmes brought financial and membership benefits to the countries where these events were held. Further assistance by FESPA was given for training, a priority requirement for East European countries by financing trainers from Western Europe to hold training seminars.

The Digital Challenge

The 1990's were a period in which digital technology has revolutionised the world in so many ways. For the printing industry this was seen initially in the pre-press where artwork was now coming almost exclusively in a digital format. At the FESPA '96 exhibition FESPA held two days of seminars presenting to screen printers the challenges and opportunities of digital technology. In the next four years this was followed by a series of seminars which were designed to ensure that screen printers were well prepared for the inevitable changes to come.

FESPA Exhibitions

Following yet another successful FESPA exhibition in Amsterdam in 1992, FESPA had expected to return once again to Amsterdam in 1996, using the services of an independent organiser. However no agreement could be reached on this point with the RAI organisation in Amsterdam and it was decided in consequence to move the exhibition to Lyon, France with the advantage of attracting new visitors from the rapidly developing markets of screen-printing in France, Spain and Portugal. Despite initial concern from exhibitors, this proved to be a very successful event with a high visitor attendance and much interest taken in the digital companies who were exhibiting at FESPA for the first time.

At the exhibitions which followed Munich 1999, Madrid 2002, Munich again in 2005 and Berlin in 2007, the percentage of exhibition space taken by digital companies has continued to grow on each occasion and this trend is expected to continue in the future.

Now FESPA has become an international exhibition organiser following the launch of a show in India in 2005, repeated in 2007 with a third FESPA show taking place in 2009. In 2008 we also launched a show in Bangkok - FESPA Asia Pacific. The year 2008 also saw the first FESPA show take place in Mexico with a follow up show in August 2009. These are in addition to the first dedicated FESPA Digital Exhibition (held in Amsterdam in 2006) with another taking place in Geneva in 2008 and a third in Amsterdam in 2009. 

In concluding this brief History of FESPA it is remarkable to see how a strong and influential organisation has grown from small beginnings. This is due to the vision and initiative of the early 'founding fathers' which has been continued through successive periods of presidency. The contribution of the national associations and ESMA should also not be underestimated, for the support and interest shown by these organisations has ensured that the FESPA Board always remains alert to create new initiatives in order to further the objectives of FESPA.


FESPA Presidents 1962 - 2002
R Levisson (Netherlands) 1962 - 1968
E Meissner (Germany) 1968 - 1975
W Rayment (UK) 1975 - 1979
I Back (Netherlands) 1979 - 1984
D Down (UK) 1984 - 1988
M Domberger (Germany) 1988 - 1992
L Barrow (UK) 1992 - 1996
M Caza (France) 1996 - 1999
C van den Berg (Netherlands) 1999 - 2000
M Caza (France) 2000 - 2002
Ricardo Rodriguez Delgado (Spain) 2002 - 2005
Hellmuth Frey (Germany) 2005 - 2007
Anders Nilsson (Sweden) 2007 -

FESPA General Secretaries
N Schenkman (Netherlands) 1962 - 1963
B de Die (Netherlands) 1963 - 1977
J van de Hšrst (Netherlands) 1977 - 1978
R de Ruijter (Netherlands) 1978 - 1981
G Wilson (UK / Belgium) 1981 - 1989
D Down (UK) 1989 - 1999
N Steffens (UK) 2000 - 2013

S Holt (UK)  2014 -

Holders of the FESPA Merit Award
awarded for outstanding services to screen-printing or to FESPA
I Back (Netherlands)
W Frick (Germany)
E Hartfeld Johansson (Sweden)
R Levisson (Netherlands)
J Peters (Belgium)
D Down (UK) 
E Hartvedt (Norway)
M Caza (France)

FESPA Exhibitions
1963 Paris
1966 Zurich
1968 London
1970 Hamburg
1973 Amsterdam
1975 Milan
1979 Amsterdam
1984 Amsterdam
1988 Amsterdam
1992 Amsterdam
1996 Lyon
1999 Munich
2002 Madrid
2005 Munich
2007 Berlin 
2010 Munich

2005, 2007 & 2009 FESPA India

2008 & 2009 FESPA Mexico

2006 & 2009 FESPA Digital Amsterdam 
2008 FESPA Digital Geneva
2011 FESPA Digital Hamburg

2008 FESPA Asia Pacific

FESPA World Newsletter

FESPA World Newsletter, offers the latest features, industry news, blogs, press releases and podcasts relevant to the print community. The content covers a wide range of sectors including screen printing, digital printing, textile printing and more. Subscribe here to receive the free monthly newsletter that is available in English, German and Spanish.