The Future’s So Bright

Companies See Endless Possibilities for the New Technology

By Jordan Scott

Digital printing allows architects and designers to achieve colorful and intricate glass designs that command people’s attention. Several companies have invested in this new technology during the past five years. Has it been as successful as they hoped? The answer seems to be an overwhelming yes.

Sedak: Digital Printing Sector is Growing

Sedak GmbH & Co. KG added digital printing capabilities to its Gerst-hofen, Germany location in 2014. The printer had a resolution of 720 dpi.

“By adding digital printing to our range of capabilities, we became a full supplier of oversize glazing,” says Maic Pannwitz, company vice president. “When we started operating our first digital printer, only about 10 percent of the orders that included printing required the digital printing technology. Today, the digital printer handles approximately 90 percent of the orders that demand printing.”

In 2017, the company added a second printer with a resolution of up to 1024 dpi. According to Pannwitz, it operates faster than the first one, despite the higher quality.

“The new printer has a more sophisticated head, and the printer itself is able to run faster cycles while getting the same quality as the other printer, which might have had to go over [the glass] twice to achieve the same optical quality,” he says.

Before the widespread use of ceramic ink, screen frits commonly were used to achieve simple patterns on glass. This process, however, was limited to glass sizes up to 5.5 meters, according to Pannwitz. With today’s advanced technology, the company is able to produce printed glass up to 3.21 meters by 15 meters.

The company created a 10-mm thick, heat-strengthened glass artwork featuring a photorealistic print of the Swiss Alps for a hospital. Hospitals often avoid artwork for sanitation reasons, but digital printing offers a way to get around that danger because glass can be sanitized and does not collect bacteria like conventional artwork materials can.

Aside from interior decoration applications, Pannwitz expects to see 3-D effects become more popular as the ability to print on several layers advances.

“Normally, glass will be set up mechanically in the printer and we start printing the first layer. The ink needs to be dried in an oven, and then you can place the glass again and print the second layer on top of the first with a precision of approximately 2/10 mm offset,” says Pannwitz. “Our new printer has the heating system in the head, so now right after printing, the first layer will be dried. After finishing the first layer, the head goes back and starts immediately printing the second layer. No additional positioning work of the glass is needed because the glass stays in the same position.”Complex designs are also a growing trend.

“Our next goal is to reach complete flexibility. That means to reduce the time needed to prepare the digital printer for another design. By achieving that goal, we will be able to produce individual glass units more quickly and more cost-efficiently,” he says.

Triview: A Digital Façade Canvas

“Triview has been very successful with digital printing. It is adapt-able to most types of fabricated glass, allowing flexibility for architects, de-signers and artists,” says Joe Carlos, director of sales and marketing at the City of Industry, Calif.-based company.

The company currently is looking for machinery that will meet automotive, architectural and decorative needs.

“We’ve used digital printing in insulating glass units for custom facades, as well as public art installations. We also use digital printing in decorative wall cladding, magnetic marker boards and shower doors,” says Carlos, who also sees a trend for digital printing in bird-safe glass.

“…facades are canvases to create on,” he adds. “Print technology allows an artist to interface with architecture. It’s important to know the pros and cons of the differing digital technology when specifying a project. Digital printed frit has full color options and holds up well for exterior use. Tonal changes, subtle patterns, etc. can be achieved more readily with digital technology. With the environmental issues constantly being considered in architecture, treating the exterior glass facade for performance, digital printing offers a wide range of shading coefficients.”

The application of the glass is important to consider when deciding which digital format to use.

“If it’s an exterior application, solar performance and UV exposure have to be taken into account. In these instances, ceramic frit and UV ink would be better choices. If it’s an interior application where solar and UV performance are not an issue, you have more flexibility in the types of inks that can be used,” says Carlos. “A design might require a variety of colors, high resolution and varying degrees of transparency and translucency, which are more easily achieved using traditional digital methods.”

He suggests using digitally printed frit when a project’s glass sizes exceed the possibilities of UV and other types of ink.

Prelco: See the Possibilities

At Prelco, based in Rivière-du-Loup, Québec, Canada, the complex designs achieved through digital printing have more than just aesthetic value.

“It allows architects and designers to give a unique signature to a building. It also allows them to increase the energy performances and reduce sun glare when used in a glass façade,” says Maryse Paradis, the company’s technical advisor of architectural glass. “Digital printing can be adaptable to all architectural styles from traditional to the most contemporary ones. In addition, the latest technologies allow us to print any images, patterns or pictures in high definition, which gives a high-quality appearance to a building.”

Prelco launched the digital printing sector of its business in 2013.

Paradis says the technology is an essential addition to the company’s product line because it satisfies market demand.

“It completes our silkscreen offering by adding more possibilities in terms of design and production capabilities,” she says. “We also offer continuous-education programs to our staff such as graphic designers, maintenance people and operators to ensure that we operate our equipment at the highest quality level possible,” says Paradis.

The company mainly uses digital printing in insulating glass units for commercial or institutional buildings, double-skin glass façades made of laminated glass, interior glass doors and partitions, and architectural arts integration projects.

“…we see different trends going from very subtle effects using white or etch patterns, to the opposite – large glass façades with organic or geometrical shapes printed in bright colors,” says Paradis. “In the future, we see a trend toward metalized effects or printed patterns on the exterior face of the glass façade.”

Paradis anticipates that silkscreened glass, readily avail-able for many years, will continue to grow in popularity due to its versatility.

“It is hard to say if the field is reaching its top peak now, but for sure it will continue to be in demand on the market.”

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