Fine Print  
Ceramic in-glass printing offers architects and designers endless customizable interior and exterior options.  
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Why Fabricators Should Give Digital  
Direct-to-Glass Printing a Closer Look  
b y K a t h e r i n e C o i g  
hink about this: ten years ago, the world was introduced to the  
first iPhone; a device so small, yet so capable, that it’s changed  
the way people communicate, buy and sell, browse the internet  
and even take pictures. With that in perspective, consider the  
technological advancements that have taken place in the glass  
and glazing industry over the last decade, specifically with digi-  
tal direct-to-glass printing.  
Advancements in this type of technology have brought the visions of archi-  
tects and building owners to fruition through high-resolution imagery, pho-  
tographs and graphics, all on glass. One advancement in particular has made  
these images more sustainable—digital ceramic in-glass printing. It’s easily a  
million-dollar investment, but given its capabilities, it may just be the next big  
thing in glass.  
T
Making the Decision  
Located in Whitinsville, Mass.,Woonsocket Glass houses a ceramic in-glass  
printer that it purchased a little over a year ago. It was the exact question of  
What’s going to be the next big thing in glass?”that made the company decide  
to invest in the machine.  
We started considering buying one in 2015,” says Josh Foster, general sales  
manager at Woonsocket.“We always sit back and ask ourselves,‘What’s going  
to be the next big thing?’and we felt as though this was right in line.We wanted  
to be able to hit the ground running when the demand grows.”  
President Chip Rogers says the decision was also consumer-driven after hav-  
ing repeat requests they couldn’t fulfill with the equipment they had at the time.  
gradual fade that goes out toward the bottom,” he says.“We knew we couldn’t  
do it without a ceramic printer.”  
There were certain things that people always asked us if we could do, like a  
According to Foster, knowing ceramic printing could replace sandblasting  
was also a major incentive during the decision process.“The printer imitates  
acid etching. Sandblasting can be a pain when it comes to cleaning, but with  
etch ink,it’s easy to clean,it doesn’t leave fingerprints,and it’s two times faster,”  
he explains.  
Despite its pros,one major con weighed heavily on their minds before decid-  
ing to proceed with the purchase—the printer’s hefty price tag.“The only hesi-  
tation I had was cost,”explains Rogers.“It’s very expensive to get into this field.”  
One of those expenses, he adds, is that any mishaps, no matter how small, can  
ruin the entire lite.“Even if there’s a tiny piece of dust that falls on to it, the tem-  
pering will burn it and put a hole right in the design.You’ll have to start all over,”  
he says.“It requires a really good washer,and it’s not something the average glass  
shop can handle. It’s about a $1 million investment to do it right.”  
And doing it right requires more than just a good a washer; you also have to  
consider the employees who will maintain the machine. In Woonsocket’s case,  
the company had to hire two additional people to operate it.“My main concern  
was the speed of it, from an operations standpoint,”Foster explains.“This ma-  
chine is only as good as the person who is operating it.”  
continued on page 62  
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May 2017 | USGlass, Metal & Glazing  
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Fconitninueed fromPpargein61 t  
ally only suitable for inside applications,  
or else they have to be laminated.”  
With digital ceramic in-glass print-  
ing, the frit ink is absorbed into the  
glass during tempering. This, says  
Rogers, is where it really out-competes  
UV printing. The ceramic ink is made  
of glass beads and, once the ink is put  
onto the glass, those beads melt and  
merge with the pigments and solvents  
and are melded into the glass. The re-  
sults? A high-definition image that’s as  
durable as ceramic tile.  
What to Consider  
There’s a lot to consider when it  
comes to this kind of investment. Fab-  
Woonsocket Glass recently purchased a ceramic in-glass printer, which is ricators are aware of the technology,  
operated by specially trained employees.  
but it’s not as common to those outside  
of the glass industry. So before you  
What Sets it Apart  
looking in 2015 at one of the tradeshows, make the jump, Foster warns, make  
There are only a few companies they showed us how to operate it, and sure you have a selling strategy and be  
that manufacture this type of printer, they could provide us with the training prepared to make a pitch.  
so when it came down to purchasing, and support we would need,” says Fos-  
“One of the most important things  
Woonsocket opted for one of the most ter.“The other printers that were there we learned is having a plan in place to  
prominent suppliers. “When we were were mostly UV printers, which are re- target markets; that was really key, and  
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figuring out how to sell it.Your imagina-  
tion is this machine’s limits—and that’s  
Hashing Out the Deirtecat-toi-lgslass digital great,but when you’re dealing with peo-  
ple in the industry, creating ways to sell  
the product and turning people’s minds  
printing isn’t new  
but, with the strides  
the technology has made  
over the years, more ar-  
chitects are turning to it  
to meet design needs.  
over from silkscreens or UV printing  
to ceramic—it can be difficult,” Foster  
says. “You really have to give them the  
reasons why it’s more expensive, and  
you have to make the sale much more  
involved to prove that they’re paying  
that much more for its quality.”  
D
Not only does the glass  
offer durability, but it also  
offers customization.  
And fabricators have  
more than one way of ful-  
filling these demands.  
In addition to ceramic  
printing, UV printing can also control sunlight, address security and privacy  
concerns, and provide architects and designers unlimited custom creations.  
The main difference? UV ink is not quite as durable as ceramic frit ink,  
according to Chip Rogers, president of Woonsocket Glass, so it’s not as  
suitable for exterior applications. However, if it’s just for interior purposes,  
UV ink can be just as effective aesthetically, and the process is just as quick  
as ceramic.  
Aside from knowing how to sell the  
glass, changes within the fabrication  
facility to accommodate the printer are  
also necessary. Woonsocket moved into  
a new building, but that was also due to  
buying other large equipment in addi-  
tion to the printer. However, Rogers still  
offers his best advice: build a clean room  
and make sure the vendor that’s build-  
ing it knows what your expectations are.  
Rogers and Foster also say the ma-  
chine requires a long learning curve.  
continued on page 65  
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Fconitninueed fromPpargein63 t  
The initial assembly took the company Growing Awareness  
pushing the limit on backpainted ar-  
Although ceramic in-glass printing chitectural glass.”  
While it’s still primarily archi-  
three to four weeks with an additional  
two to three weeks of training for the hasn’t boomed in the design commu-  
operators, which was provided by the nity just yet since the technology is tect-driven, Foster says there’s also a  
equipment manufacturer.“We’ve had it still relatively unknown, Rogers says reach out to other consumer groups  
for over a year now, and we’re just start- architects are usually drawn to it once such as restaurant designers for logos  
ing to get our hands on it with really they see what the printer is capable of and railing companies due to its fade  
knowing the ins and outs of the ma- producing.“People don’t realize how ex- and pattern capabilities. “One of the  
chine,” Foster says.“It’s not your typical citing it is; they’re just not familiar with unique advantages to digital printing,  
straight-line machine; it’s not that at all. it,” he explains.“It’s so new; they haven’t unlike traditional processes, is that a  
This machine was probably the most discovered how beautiful it is.Architects lot of applications were limited to large  
intense machine to learn and operate.”  
Despite the long turn-around time, ‘What’s that?’”  
Rogers says it was well worth the in- From a customizable standpoint, he is going to open up incredibly. The op-  
see our samples and say in amazement, companies; it was cost-prohibited,” he  
says. “This is where ceramic printing  
vestment.“It’s not a science, it’s an art,” says, it’s an architect’s design dream. portunities that this could present for  
he says.“It’s got a long learning curve, “These printers allow you to create retail companies is incredible.” n  
but the results make it worth it.”  
something that could technically never  
As for a return on investment, Rogers be replicated,” he adds. “You can also  
says it just depends on the jobs you’re print legibly on either side of the glass  
getting.“It can be slow as the word gets without the other design interfering.  
out, or you may hit it right out the first The opportunities are endless.”  
K a t h e r i n e C o i g  
is the assistant editor  
of USGlass magazine.  
She may be reached at  
kcoig@glass.com.  
day with a high-rise,” he explains. “Or,  
Adding to Rogers’ statement, Foster  
it could be in a matter of months if you says,“You can pretty much design and  
land construction projects. But with create anything you want with this ma-  
smaller projects,it’s just one bit at a time.” chine, even anti-slip surfaces. It’s really  
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