Volume 46, Issue 12 - December 2012

Take a Note
Yes, You Can Write on Glass

by Ellen Rogers

What can you do with architectural glass? Color it? Yes. Laminate it with patterns, prints and textiles? Yes. Print on it? Yes. Fabricate for energy performance, fire-ratings and impact? Yes. Write on it? Hang stuff on it with magnets? Yes and yes.

One product that has emerged and quickly taken off is glass for use as dry-erase boards—which also can be made magnetic.

Clean Slate
Clarus Glassboards in Fort Worth, Texas, is just one company that has emerged in this realm, offering a product range that includes wall-mounted marker boards, mobile glass boards, magnetic marker boards, as well as a variety of entry/signage solutions.

As co-founder Robby Whites, explains, “We built our brand around glass visual displays.”

Whites and his business partner launched Clarus about five years after the hedge fund for which they both worked went out of business.

“We then started looking for ways to basically feed our families,” says Whites, whose father also worked in the glass industry. “We traveled around the world and saw glass wipe boards in other countries and thought it would be a good idea. So, we made one, sold one … and the next thing we knew everyone in that one building wanted one.”

Clarus is not alone. A number of other companies, such as Wolverine Glass Products, in Wyoming, Mich., have also seen the growth and interest in these glass products. Wolverine got involved with a product line about two years ago, a “tri-partnership” with AGC Glass Co. North America and Lenoir Mirror. AGC provides its Krystal Klear glass and Lenoir does the backpainting. Wolverine handles the fabrication of the finished product, which is called Krystal Kolors.

“We fabricate in all sizes, shapes and it’s easily customizable,” says Jay Vaughan, Wolverine vice president.

Wolverine president Mark McGann adds, “It’s just like doing anything with mirror. It can be drilled, shape cut … anything you do with mirror you can do with this glass.”

According to Vaughan and McGann, the customizable features are also making the product an attractive option.

Now You See It, Now You Don’t
While glass marker boards may seem a new concept, glass is—and pretty much always has been—a surface on which one can write and then wipe clean.

“Glass is the ideal surface because it’s non porous,” says Whites, explaining that other white board materials are typically porous so even after they are wiped clean, you can still see the markings.

Vaughan agrees.

“[Traditional] marker boards, you write on them and they are damaged … you have that ghosting. With this product there is a much longer lifespan,” he says. “You could write on it with a grease pencil or a permanent marker and you could still get [the marks] off.”

To give the glass its unique aesthetic, companies apply a variety of colors. This is one way the glass can be used to blend with and complement the surrounding décor.

Whites says the paint his company uses was actually designed for the solar industry to bond in exterior applications where extreme conditions are a concern. He says the process they use provides vibrant, crisp colors.

Vaughan says his company’s product line has a mirror backing, in addition to the color coating. And according to Scott Cardwell, product manager with AGC Glass Co. North America, this product is different compared to some others because of the coating that’s applied, followed by the mirror backing.

“We’re seeing more and more [backpainted products] showing up and some are [being done] as spray paints, etc. that don’t work with glass,” he says.

Aside from color, glass selection is also critical to make sure those colors are as crisp as possible.

“It’s important to [be able to] replicate colors in the most vibrant way possible,” says Whites. “So if a customer gives us a paint chip we want to replicate that in glass,” he says, pointing out the green hue common in silica glass. “So when you’re matching that color, you have to use low-iron and we only use PPG Starphire glass.”

Vaughan agrees about the importance of using low-iron glass; he points out that their product is also made with low-iron glass, Krystal Klear from AGC.

“With this the color transmission is very true and there is no green hue,” says McGann.

In addition, these glass products can also provide safety glazing features. Whites says that while a lot of the products his company makes are monolithic, they can also be laminated, and he adds, “Everything is tempered at a minimum.”

Speaking of the line, Cardwell says generally it’s made with annealed glass, but it can be tempered.

“The glass has the enamel paint and then the second protective paint and then you can apply safety backing to that as well,” he says, explaining the backing is applied upon request.

Recognizing that with these products you are still applying glass to a wall, Cardwell says in his research he found there are not any safety standards that really apply.

“…If [the glass] crashes down someone could get hurt. There is little that relates to this and glass is a new product to that arena,” he says.

Magnetic Attraction
Aside from writing on glass, another feature that has been popular with these products is the ability to also act as a magnetic surface.

“The most prevalent way to do this is to laminate steel to glass,” says Whites, who explains this has to be done carefully due to the bending and bowing in the steel that could occur. “Steel cools at a different rate than glass. So you have to laminate the steel and glass together properly.” Wolverine says their magnetic line is also made by laminating steel to the back of glass.

Architects and designers want to know how the product will look once installed, but glaziers are more interested in how it’s installed. White says his products are supplied and sold as a complete package, hardware and all.

“With our lines we have an integrated [package] that allows the glazier to install it easily,” he says. “Most of ours can be installed in five to ten minutes and that’s because the hardware is integrated into the product. It doesn’t need a lot of labor, and it’s repeatable and simple.”

McGann says his company’s product is installed in the same manner as mirror.

“Glaziers do everything they traditionally do with mirror,” he says. “This is not a new type of material for them. For the glazier it’s just one more niche they can add.”

Forward Thinking
Despite the fact that glass markerboards have been emerging during a time when the economy and construction have been slumping, those involved say business has still been good.

“It’s taken a while to get some traction and we’re just getting going with this. It’s a long term program and we’re in it for the long haul,” says Vaughan, who adds, “we’re not a traditional glass company. We do a lot of custom work that’s different than most fabricators. We try to do niche work and this is one. If we see the opportunity we like to fill the niche.”

As the designers, architects and others in the glass industry continue to search out new opportunities, chances of a bright future for glass markerboards look promising.

That’s a point you can’t just wipe away.

Ellen Rogers is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter @USGlass and like USGlass magazine on Facebook to receive updates.

© Copyright 2011 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.