Not Just a Pretty Face
Digital Printing Transforms the Fabricated
by Ellen Rogers and Carl Levesque
Sure it’s pretty, but what else does it do? A lot, now that
you mention it.
The digital printing process is bringing a new level of functionality
to glass. It offers the ability to control light and can also address
security and privacy concerns. Simply put, fabricators employing this
equipment can print digital color images on glass quickly.
“Fabricators such as ourselves offering full solutions under one roof
have the added advantage of minimizing product being damaged in transit
between, say, our facility and a third party printer,” says Peter Valley,
who works in strategic consulting in North America for Carey Glass International,
which is headquartered in Tipperary, Ireland, and also has offices in
Carey Glass spent five years and thousands of dollars in research and
development before choosing a digital solution. “[Our CEO] believed there
was a viable market in digital printing and, as it ended up, he came upon
the device at a trade show and purchased the only machine presently in
the British Isles,” says Valley.
Here in the U.S. fabricators are adding digital printing lines at an accelerated
pace. Companies such as GlasSource in Grand Haven, Mich., Hartung Glass
Industries based in Seattle, and Standard Bent Glass in Butler, Pa., are
among those that have all added this process to their decorative glass
Jim Arnold, president of GlasSource, says he and his team have seen these
machines at trade shows over the past few years.
“Although interested in the process and results, we did not see a market
niche to offset the high costs at first,” says Arnold, who adds that eventually
demand developed for certain products. The company began to fill orders
through local UV glass printers, with the majority of those orders being
for graphics or signage.
“This worked okay, but outsourcing was a hassle, and the end result was
quite fragile, so it limited the applications,” says Arnold.
Then came the increase in requests for permanent designs—those that could
be done through silkscreening. Yet the jobs were often too small for the
economics to work, both cost- and time-wise, for that process.
Hartung also noticed the increasing trend. “Decorative glass is one of
[our company’s] strategic initiatives,” says COO Kirk Johnson. “Even though
[we] offer one of the widest selections of decorative glass products on
the West Coast, we see this as a continually growing area.”
Both companies responded by purchasing a digital printer. GlasSource’s
machine was installed in late January, and now the team is experimenting
with production techniques, running samples, doing advanced training with
representatives from their machinery supplier, and fielding inquiries
from interested customers. While samples have already been put to use,
the company plans to start officially generating product from the machine
in May, after a previously planned move to another facility.
The move may have dictated, but allotting time to learn the machine has
turned out to be an important step. “For companies like ours without strong
prior graphics or print backgrounds, there is a good learning curve to
the process,” Arnold explains, “but with the time we have had … we have
been able to really develop our processes [and] to develop a top-quality
product that we feel will be a growing segment for us over the next year.”
Hartung’s machine is scheduled to arrive in mid-2014 at the company’s
Wilsonville, Ore., facility. Johnson’s company made the purchase after
considering not only market demand but what other functions the machine
could effectively take on.
“After researching demand and reviewing our screenprinting capacity and
tracking what portion of screen printing could be converted to digital
printing to make it cost effective for us, the machine ROI’s out fairly
well,” Johnson says.
While such an addition can be lucrative in the end, there are still a
number of considerations for which a fabricator must account.
“One of the main challenges is pricing,” says Valley. “For example, we
did several runs for a perspective client wishing to replace a marble
installation with a marble effect glass. On one run we used the highest
definition possible taking roughly one hour to process. On the second
run we reduced the definition marginally yet achieved a similar coverage
in 16 minutes, only the keenest most particular eye would be able to notice
the differences in output. Yet as you can imagine, the pricing for the
second job would theoretically come in at a quarter of the first. Every
job is unique and offering per square foot estimates or pricing can be
a challenge for us and the client.”
Unique indeed. Digitally printed glass provides architects and designers
the ability to create a one-of-a-kind aesthetic. Take a look at the photo
gallery that follows for a closer look at how companies are using this
exciting new product.
Points to Ponder
If your company has been considering the addition of a digital glass
printing line you’ll want to be sure and do your research before making
any final decisions. Here are a few points to keep in mind before making
your final selection.
• Is it capable of printing reliably and consistently what you hope
or need to print?
• Where do you get consumables, such as ink, and what are
the costs and lead times?
• How long has the machinery supplier or technology been
deployed (i.e. experience)?
• Do you already have staff with graphic arts and design
• What about support equipment and the related expense;
a high quality glass washer, a clean room and a dryer may be required.
For ceramic ink you must also temper in house. Most of these are far more
expensive than the printer itself.
The Colorado Freedom Memorial located in Aurora, Colo., is constructed
of digitally printed glass that reflects Colorado’s mountains and blue
skies. Designed by architect Kristoffer Kenton and fabricated by Owatonna,
Minn.-based Viracon, the wall stands approximately 12-feet tall and 95-feet
wide. Each of the names of the nearly 6,000 Coloradans killed or missing
in action were etched in the glass panels dedicated to the specific war
in which they fought. In the case of the MIAs, their names will be etched
in a special panel of glass.
As the visitor looks at the glass, it will reflect back his/her own image
so that the visitor actually becomes a part of the memorial. The height
of the glass and the reflected surroundings will seem to loom over the
visitor and then fade away—all symbolic of service men and women falling
in action. J.R. Butler Inc. based in Denver, Colo., was the contract glazier.
Fade to Light
The Palo Alto Medical Foundation Sunnyvale Center is a nonprofit healthcare
organization within the San Francisco Bay area. The project features colorful
glass installations fabricated by GGI in Secaucus, N.J., using its Alice
direct-to-glass printing technology. According to information from the
company, architect/designer Larry Kirkland worked with the technology
as it provided a way to gradually fade the custom green leaf design from
a full opacity at the bottom to a more translucent version of the pattern
toward the top. By incorporating the fade into the pattern, the project
was able to achieve more natural sunlight, which led to shadows of the
pattern projected into the building when the sun shines through.
The millions of people traveling through Chicago O’Hare International
Airport can now see and experience the new digitally printed glass elements
used in the renovation of terminal five. Designed by Epstein Architects,
Goldray Industries was charged with digital ceramic printing of almost
4,000 square feet of glass. The detailed graphics were designed by Thirst
Communication Design to convey a story of the traveler’s experience. The
imagery resulted in complex design details that needed a unique solution.
The completed project features a two-story interior curtainwall that blocks
entry to private areas and directs foot traffic to the security checkpoint.
The color bands and geometric shapes of the designed glass were printed
in a gradient to ensure the flow of natural light without diminishing
its privacy function. The wall was installed using clips instead of silicon
to maintain the aesthetic quality of the design, which seamlessly continues
onto the printed glass wall cladding.
“We worked through all the various color and design options until one
met all expectations,” says Greg Saroka, president of Goldray Industries.
A number of contract glaziers worked on this job including Architectural
Glass Works in Tinley Park, Ill. and VEI Supply of Chicago.
Ellen Rogers is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on
Twitter @USGlass and like USGlass on Facebook to receive updates.
Carl Levesque is a contributing writer for USGlass magazine.
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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.