Volume 44, Issue 5 - May 2009

Decorative Discussions

Pressing Forward
Screenprinting Can Be True Art on Glass
by Kris Vockler

The act of pressing ink through a mesh screen is an old process, with speculation that the practice goes as far back in history as fourth-century India. As a result, screenprinting machinery and products have been a major part of the decorative glazing industry for many years. Today we see screenprinting on glass for decorative purposes as well as a way to offer specific energy values in shading coefficients.

Things to Know
When it comes to printing inks, ceramic enamel has been the mainstay. Many other options are available, however, as screenprintable organic inks, silicone inks and ceramics, which are applied to transfer paper and then applied to glass, are becoming more prevalent. 

But even if the same ink has been used for a hundred years, it still pays to know as much as possible about it. Having a relationship with your ink manufacturer is very important, as he knows the product. 

The many options for glass and screenprinting today are staggering, but this application method can also provide some moments of pain. The screenprinting process incorporates many facets of operation, as today’s method (much like in the past) is truly a mix of art and science. Thanks to the evolution of screenprinting technologies much of the art portion of the process can be tweaked with machinery settings and computer programs.

While screenprinting isn’t the easiest process, talented operators know how to calm the beast and minimize flaws or other issues that could arise during the process. Common questions to ask include:
• Is the ink water-based or water solvent and is the screen emulsion set for the right ink?
• Is the screen mounted on the frame with the correct tension evenly across the frame?
• Is the squeegee hard enough for the job (measured in durometers)? Does it have a sharp edge? Does it move at the correct speed?
• Does the squeegee need to back flood the screen before the glass is removed?
• How will the ink’s viscosity affect the print process?

Having an experienced screenprint operator can be a tremendous benefit.

Call to Action
Screenprinting is a pivotal part of future growth in this industry. In fact, the prevalence of screenprinting is one reason the Glass Association of North America (GANA) created its Decorative Division. This growth has also kept the division’s Printing on Glass Task Group very active in recent months. 

The task group consists of fabricators, ink suppliers, equipment manufacturers and screen makers, and is focused on helping fabricators achieve consistent quality in their products. From creating guides about printing on glass to proper ways to evaluate the quality of printed glass, this task group is key to helping bring this medium into the future.

Final Thoughts
We in the glass industry are lucky that the tools used in screenprinting on glass have such a long history, making them proven media that will last a long time. As the technology grows we lose a little bit of that hands-on, artistic knowledge that lends a big hand to screenprinting’s success. In the end, creativity from the architecture and design community can continue to drive its popularity.

Kris Vockler is vice president of ICD High Performance Coatings in Vancouver, Wash., and chair of the GANA Decorative Division. Ms. Vockler’s opinions are solely her own and not necessarily those of this magazine. 

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