News Analysis: Backpainted Glass

A Look Behind the Backpainted Glass Scene

By Jordan Scott

Backpainted glass is a staple of decorative glazing. With vivid colors and durability, it can be used for numerous commercial and residential applications. The preparation of this type of glass for use in a project relies heavily on communication between the architect, glazing contractor, fabricator and supplier to ensure the color matching and installation is done correctly.

The Supply Chain

Fabricators are in the middle of this supply chain, dealing directly with their paint supplier, as well as the architect or glazing contractor. Michael Saroka is the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Goldray Glass based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

“We usually deal with the architect if brought in early in the design process. Otherwise we go through the glazing contractor,” he says. “If we go through a contractor we can end up playing the telephone game. However, quite often glaziers allow us to talk directly to the architect. Everyone wants to work together to get the job done.”

Gloria Garibay is the purchasing manager at PRL Glass Systems Inc. based in City of Industry, Calif. She says that fabricating this type of glass involves expensive equipment and expertise.

“For a glass shop to fabricate the glass themselves they would have to know how to apply the paint, how many coats and how thick it should be,” she says. “It takes a while to under-stand the application. We’re certified to apply the paint to the glass. A customer wouldn’t know how to apply it and there would be errors visible once the paint is cured.”

According to Sal Guerra, plant manager at Glasswerks Architectural of South Gate, Calif., processes for typical ceramic paints and silicone-based paints are different. For ceramic paints, Glasswerks cuts the glass, applies the ceramic enamel, runs it through an oven to cure the paint, then runs it through a tempering furnace so that the enamel fuses to the glass. For silicone-based paints, the company cuts the glass, tempers it, applies the silicone paint and then air cures it or uses a curing oven.

Ordering the Glass

Contract glaziers and other back-painted glass installers often are responsible for ensuring that the fabricator creates the desired product.

Dave McCabe, national sales director of Travertine Inc., an elevator interior fabrication and installation company based in Tulsa, Okla., says backpainted glass works well in elevator applications because of its durability and vivid color options.

According to McCabe, the architect approves the drawings and his company orders the glass from fabricators such as Pulp Studio in Gardena, Calif.

“We’re required to meet code and make sure sizes will work within the elevator,” says McCabe. “Once the architect approves the drawings we order the glass.”

McCabe says his company is often involved in material selection.

“Ten years ago, no one asked our opinion about which materials to use, but that’s changed in the past few years. People are hesitant when it comes to elevators,” he says. “We recommend backpainted glass for its durability and vivid colors with images that can’t be produced with anything else.”

Color Matching

Another challenge is color matching.

“We could get the colors approved to begin with, but lighting can affect pigments, causing the paint to look different under multiple light sources,” says Saroka.

“The substrate of the glass plays a key role. Color can vary based on the manufacturer. It takes time to create a color match,” adds Guerra.

The glazing contractor usually approaches Glasswerks with the architect’s desired color. If it is standard the company can provide the color samples quickly, but if it’s a custom color the company then works with its coating supplier.

“It takes about seven to ten business days to get the samples back to the customer,” says Guerra.

According to Garibay, when a customer asks for a custom color, PRL sends a paint chip or other color example to ICD High Performance Coatings to create a match.

“Customers come to us and we can find the paint they’re looking for,” she adds. “It’s difficult to invent your own color, but the majority of the time our supplier can match it.”

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