Some Decorative Glass Fabricators Find Interlayers
Best for High-Resolution Images
by Megan Headley
When it comes to decorative glass options, end-users are finding
that the sky is the limit. However, fabricators are more likely to pick
and choose the options that they find offer the biggest bang for their
investment bucks while meeting market demand. Although a growing number
of companies are opting today to print images direct-to-glass (see
page 28), others see printed interlayers as having quality advantages
that can’t quite be matched by other processes.
Liquidoranges Studio LLC in Sharon, Mass., touts its decorative glass
products as “fine art” in glass. The company uses a laser-exposed film
interlayer within its laminated glass, which it says offers “flawless,
continuous tone, ultra-high resolution quality.”
According to Reese Schroeder, president of Liquidoranges, that level of
quality simply isn’t possible when printing direct-to-glass.
According to Schroeder, “RGB provides maximum color saturation and is
natural for translucent imagery, versus CMYK, which is designed for printing
on paper and has inherent compromises. Ink-based printing is typically
CMYK. Our interlayer is designed for maximum projective quality, where
light passing through our glass projects the color within the glass accurately
across spaces and onto surfaces.”
Robert Carlson, mechanical engineer with Tristar Glass in Tulsa, Okla.,
says that this transparency is a quality of printed laminated interlayers
that direct printing just can’t match.
“To me, the big advantage of glass is its transparency. That’s what sets
it apart from all the other media out there,” Carlson points out. “With
direct-to-glass printing, if you want to be able to see through the image
you have to pixelate the image you’re printing. There aren’t transparent
If you’re going to the trouble of creating a detailed image on glass,
as compared to on a wall, your art should harness the transparency of
this medium. “Getting that transparency is one of the benefits of printing
on the transparent film and laminating it in the glass,” Carlson says.
“When light passes through the transparent print, it actually casts that
color of light down on the ground. It’s like stained glass: when light
comes through stained glass you see the blues and yellows and reds of
the image casting those colored shadows on the ground. It’s the same thing
with the transparent images of the laminated glass.”
Karen Elkin, president of Classic Glass Inc. in Bladensburg, Md., adds
that the transparency allows the product to be edge-lit for beautiful
"To me the big advantage
of glass is its transparency. That’s what sets it apart from all the other
media out there. With direct printing to glass, if you want to be able
to see through the image you have to pixelate the image that you’re printing.
There aren’t transparent ceramic inks." —Robert Carlson, Tristar
Classic Glass’ laminated glass features a polyester film
printed by Australia-based Montage Graphic. Elkin also has found that
printed interlayers offer extremely high resolution, clarity and translucency
that she has never seen with printed graphics and/or images.
Of course, there also are certain properties inherent to laminated glass
that add to the benefits (if also the cost) of this decorative option.
“A smooth glass finish on both sides means that it can be installed as
a room divider and will look the same from both sides,” Elkin points out.
Carlson adds that laminating an image protects it better than surface
printing. “Whenever you’re laminating something that image is encapsulated
in the laminate, so you can’t really get at it whereas if you’re printing
on glass somebody could potentially scratch the ceramic frit,” he says.
“Somebody would have to attack it pretty hard, but they might be more
inclined to scratch at a fritted surface than a smooth glass surface.”
In addition, laminated glass itself offers protection that other products
“We subscribe to laminated safety glass as a better architectural solution
for most applications, as it provides greater protection from injury under
catastrophic failure, as well as acoustical properties important to hard
surface interiors,” Schroeder says.
Versus Direct Printing
Liquidoranges has had little call to consider direct-to-glass printing,
which, Schroeder acknowledges, does have its positive attributes. “We
have not considered migrating to that process,” he says. “Our clients
regularly comment on the unbelievable quality we achieve in glass, compared
to printed PVB or other technologies. For us, it is critically important
to preserve the light quality passing through our glass, and we believe
inks, dyes and ceramics risk altering that transparency.”
He explains that the advantage of working with a printed interlayer is
the opportunity it affords for mixing “opacity with transparency, including
white over clear.” According to Schroeder, “We cannot do that with our
technology without a great deal of highly skilled artistry hand work in
the clean room.”
James Thornburg, product manager for Columbus, Ohio-based Trudeco, the
decorative glass arm of Trulite, agrees that interlayers lend themselves
to high-quality imaging. “[Trudeco’s] Visual HD is a proprietary process
we developed over six years ago. It produces one of the highest DPI in
the industry, and I am certain we would not have been able to replicate
some of our completed installations using digitally printed ceramic frit.
In fact, Visual HD was born out of a need for higher quality resolution
in laminated glass. When the technology first emerged on the scene we
were not pleased with the results, so our design team collaborated with
industry experts to develop a process that would surpass anything in production,”
“That being said,” he notes, “I know we have some wonderfully complex
installations taking place using [direct-to-glass printing] that would
be difficult to replicate using Visual HD.”
For example, Thornburg says that monolithic printing is an obvious advantage
to the direct-to-glass process that cannot be replicated using digitally
Schroeder notes that his company had performed initial research at its
startup, examining the use of digital printing as well as PVB printing
solutions. “At the time, in our opinion, neither technology came close
to the quality of color, depth, transparency and projective aspect we
achieve with our interlayer process,” he says. “If we were to reconsider
direct printing, we would need extensive testing for side-by-side comparison
Likewise, Carlson had joined Tristar right as the company was investing
in an autoclave lamination system.
“We tried 16 different film types, seven different printers and five different
kinds of laminate until we found a combination that would hold up for
the long term, wouldn’t fade over time, had great adhesion and was a reliable
product that we could produce on a consistent basis.” Five years ago,
direct-to-glass printing was still a new phenomenon and a big investment.
Even today, he points out, “To go down the direct-to-print glass road,
you can’t just buy a printer.” In addition to big equipment costs, Carlson
points out that direct-to-glass printing typically requires a full-time
graphics employee to work with the technology.
“The first direct-to-glass printer I saw … was in a room and they had
this great set up and a graphics person who would take the images that
they got in and would color shift the image so that when the inks fired,
they would shift to be the color that they were supposed to be.
“I know there’s some color shifting there, so you really have to have
somebody who understands how to put this ink down and how to compose those
files, etc.,” Carlson continues. “That’s a significant investment and
not necessarily an easy person to find. And if you do find that person
you don’t want them sitting around until you get work; you want them to
be constantly experimenting or constantly using the machine. If you’re
only turning this machine on once a month basically every time you go
to turn it on it’s going to be a new learning curve.”
Schroeder agrees that the investment required today for direct-to-glass
printing makes it cost-prohibitive for companies considering adding decorative
laminated glass to their inventory as a from-time-to-time artistic option
rather than a full-time, stock dedication.
“Because we are first a decorative glass design studio, we feel that the
enormous investment required to enter into direct printing would radically
alter our business plan,” Schroeder says. “It would demand that we convert
to volume production of ‘anyone and everyone’ else’s artworks in lieu
of our studio efforts. Our company’s role in decorative art glass for
architecture is singularly focused on the principle of integrating art
with architecture. For us, this does not include standardized patterns,
decorations and other graphics in glass.” He notes that the company has
investigated contracting with companies that do have the printing equipment
in-house, but have found their pricing to be prohibitively expensive,
on the order of magnitude of two to four times.
Guiding the Customer
Whatever the decorative option in which fabricators ultimately invest,
one way to achieve a big bang for the buck is to help steer customers
toward the best solution for their project—whether or not that option
is available in your shop.
“Classic Glass has, on occasion, outsourced direct-to-glass printing from
a local company when inexpensive color graphics are desired,” Elkin says.
She has found this process to be relatively inexpensive, “but is really
only useful as one-sided signage (installed with a clear glass front surface)
because the inks are not permanent,” she says.
Sometimes the best solution is simply helping the customer understand
the benefits of each option available to them.
“When you’re putting something in glass you’re always fighting against
vinyl because it’s a readily available option; it’s something that people
know and it’s got the benefit of being temporary,” Carlson says. He shares
that he spends a good deal of time explaining to customers how best to
utilize the qualities that printed interlayers offer.
“I was talking to the Oklahoma City Thunder at one point and they were
asking what image to do … [I explained] that you want to put in glass
something timeless, like your logo, which is not going to change,” Carlson
“When fabricating and designing any highly customizable product, proper
channels of communication are key,” Thornburg agrees. “The glaziers and
fabricators need to understand the design intent, while owners and designers
need to understand the engineering capabilities. Working in harmony, you
can take measures to reduce costs and other headaches. As a result, I
would recommend every designer and specification writer work with a glass
professional to better understand nominal sizing, print capabilities and
production times therein.”
Like any product on the market today, all of these printing processes
have inherent strengths and limitations, Thornburg says. However, working
with an array of decorative options allows for exciting design opportunities.
Each plays a vital role in the industry, but also complement one another
quite well,” Thornburg says.
Project Spotlight: Stamp of Approval
The William H. Gross Stamp Gallery is a new $66 million addition to
the National Postal Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington,
D.C., the world’s largest museum gallery dedicated to philately, the
study of stamps and postal history. While the 12,000-square-foot interior
of the museum displays a number of dynamic exhibits, unique artifacts
and rare stamps, the exterior of the gallery needed its own eye-catching
element to entice visitors and to stand out from other nearby attractions.
The architectural firm of Cho Benn Holback and Associates, decided to
create an exterior wall of 54 illuminated windows portraying reproductions
of individual stamps on display inside. AGC Glass Co. North America
was selected to support the unique design requirements needed to make
this new addition stand out. By combining its Krystal Klear® low-iron
glass and the digital imaging technology utilized to produce Krystal
Images™, the company was able to successfully replicate the original
stamp images with exacting color. AGC worked closely with the design
team to give the stamps the exact color saturation they required.
To help bring each of the 54 stamp reproductions to life, the glass
was used in the exterior windows. The high-resolution print technology
of Krystal Images allowed for images to display up to 1,440 DPI. This
glass was combined with an outboard lite of Energy Select™ 63 low-E
glass to create an energy-efficient insulating glass unit.
The completed project, installed by Ridgeview Glass Inc. based in Upper
Marlboro, Md., features approximately 1,500 square feet of the glass
that provides a striking nighttime glow depicting how the history of
stamps is intertwined with the history of America.
To Each His Own?
"Each technology serves a
unique purpose,” finds James Thornburg, product manager for Trulite
Trudeco in Columbus, Ohio. Trudeco produces a Visual HD printed interlayer
in Columbus, Ohio; the company also employs a digitally printed ceramic
frit technology in Freemont, Calif., and traditional ceramic silkscreen
in several other locations, giving the company a unique perspective
on market demand, client insight and best practices.
Robert Carlson, mechanical engineer with Tristar Glass in Tulsa, Okla.,
agrees that each technology has its own benefits. “I don’t think one
is necessarily better than the other in terms of the overall performance
of the glass,” he says. “They both have their pros and cons and it all
depends on the situation.”
Thornburg explains, “Traditional silkscreen was born out of necessity
to control solar heat gain, but digital ceramic frit and digitally printed
interlayers were developed as a response to the rising sophistication
of the client. Digital ceramic frit spoke to high-volume, exterior installations,
and digitally printed interlayers were mainly reserved for aesthetically
complex, medium-volume, interior installations. Compared to traditional
ceramic frit, both allow for increased control and customization while
utilizing the benefits of rapid prototyping. It’s safe to say all three
technologies have their own merits, but we are beginning to see more
and more requests for customization from the owner, designer and glazier
Megan Headley is special projects editor for USGlass magazine.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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