Volume 50, Issue 5 - May 2015

GANA Perspectives

More Ways than One
Decorative Glass Trends in Imagery Creations

by Erin Roberts

You know the phrase, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”? This colloquialism is frequently used by a former boss of mine. He’s the kind of guy full of inappropriate jokes and his own repertoire of sayings, so I could never be sure whether the whole “skinning of cats” was his own or a commonplace expression.

Thanks to Google, I determined that this somewhat gruesome phrase is widely used indeed and, fortunately, doesn’t seem to stem from a vast population of people actually finding ways to skin a cat. Additionally, there are some handy (PETA-friendly) alternatives: “there’s more than one way to peel an orange” or “there’s more than one way to bake a cake.”

Whichever phrase you use, the expression is intended simply to exemplify that there’s more than one way to approach a task. As we look at trends in decorative glass products, this expression has never been more appropriate—particularly in the area of glass printing and digital art. From direct-to-glass digital printing, silkscreening and decal transfers, there’s no shortage of options for bringing incredible glass design concepts to life.

Below, you’ll find an introduction to several digital art options as well as suggestions for use and specification tips. The content is just a sampling of information provided by the Glass Association of North America’s (GANA) decorative division’s presentation, “An Introduction to Decorative Glass.” The course provides an overview of the various types of decorative glass, application possibilities and tips for specifying the various options. The division is currently exploring revisions that will reflect growing trends and the wide variety of decorative glass options. The content will eventually be separated into several different presentations.


The international terminal at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport features digitally printed glass fabricated by Goldray Industries.

Direct-to-Glass Digital Printing

Digital printing directly to the glass is a relatively recent technology which allows you to add colorful images directly onto the glass via a digital printing process. This process is similar to a desktop printer, but rather than printing on a pliable sheet of paper, a large-format flatbed printer is used to transfer the image directly onto each lite of glass. Direct-to-glass digital printing is an excellent process to use for high-detail or multi-color images, short-run projects or applications in which each panel is a different image.

Direct-to-glass digital printing can be utilized in many interior applications as well as exterior if the coating is not on the outermost surface and exposed to the environment. This product is typically used in projects where screen preparation and set-up fees are cost-prohibitive. Short-run and multi-color images are ideally suited to this process. Interior applications include office partitions, furniture, signage, entry and shower doors, and custom appliances. Some examples of exterior applications are decorated insulating glass units, facades, artwork, signage and transit shelters.

To print directly onto glass digitally, the lite is first registered on the flat-bed printer and an image is selected from the attached graphic computer. The colors are chosen by the operator, and the print heads then move back and forth over the glass depositing inks onto the surface. After printing, the inks need to be cured. There are two main types of inks used in this process: UV, which are cured in UV light, and ceramic, which are dried and fused onto the surface during the heat-treating process. At this point, the glass may also be backpainted, silvered, laminated and/or insulated.

Some considerations when specifying direct-to-glass digital printing are durability from ultraviolet light and abrasion resistance of the inks, the opacity or translucency of the image, any special maintenance instructions, as well as the repetitiveness of the pattern.

Silkscreened or
Screen-Printed Glass


Silkscreened or screenprinted glass is created by applying inks to the glass surface through a screen-printing process. The ink can be applied in a solid coverage or a decorative pattern. Silkscreened glass is available in various colors, patterns and translucencies, even metallics.

The many characteristics of silkscreened glass make it a versatile product for numerous applications including spandrel, signage and countless interior applications. It’s cost-effective, low-maintenance and highly durable.
This type of glass is made by applying inks directly to the surface using a screenprinting process similar to what is done to print on t-shirts. The print may be a solid coverage or virtually any pattern.

These products are suitable for both vision and spandrel areas; however, some coatings are not suitable for an exterior application and should be limited to the interior of a building. Many silkscreened products can be used in an exterior application if the coating is not on the outermost surface and exposed to the environment. The type of pattern and resolution should also be considered. Some coatings are available in standard colors, while others are available in custom colors that may provide a closer match to the design.

Decal Transfer

Another way to apply a ceramic frit image onto glass is through a decal transfer. This process involves applying a ceramic decal which is permanently fused by heat-treating the glass. This process can provide fine halftone detail, consistent light registration and multi-color images.

This product can be used for many interior applications as well as exterior if the coating is not on the No. 1 surface and exposed to the environment. If your application requires the coating to be on Surface 1, please consult with your decorative glass manufacturer. This process is best for highly customized or short-run projects or where each glass panel has a different design such as signage, railings, shower enclosures or corporate feature walls.

Decal transfers can be used in many applications such as retail, hospitality, corporate offices or donor boards. This process is a cost-effective way of adding decorative components to the glass in applications where you have only a few pieces or where a design runs across many panels. This is also an excellent product for custom or multi-colored images.

To learn more about the processes used to create these incredible glass products and varied options for applying these design elements, visit www.decorativeglazing.com, the official website of the GANA decorative division. There you’ll find a gallery of ideas, a glossary of terms and other great technical resources.


the author

Erin Roberts is the director of marketing and communications for the Glass Association of North America in Topeka, Kan.


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