The Fine Art of Digital Printing

The addition of digital printing to a glass façade or internal space can enhance people’s response to a building’s aesthetic. Digital printing on a glass surface has been around for a number of years now, and printed interlayers even longer. The differences between the two processes, however, aren’t always as familiar.

Digital Ceramic Printing

Stephen Balik, director of architectural sales and marketing at GGI in Secaucus, N.J., recommends digital ceramic printing for most applications, especially exterior projects.

“Digital ceramic printing is suitable for any glass application. The final properties and cleaning solutions are the same as clear glass because the ceramic ink is crushed glass that, when tempered, permanently fuses to the glass surface. This makes for a highly durable finished product that is ideal for exterior applications—from public art to glass installed in the building envelope.”

In addition to tolerating direct sunlight in exterior applications, direct-to-glass printing using ceramic ink is well suited for interiors where the glass may be ex-posed to moisture, such as shower doors and kitchen backsplashes.

“Also, when tiling an image over multiple pieces of glass, there is more room for error when trying to align images printed on the interlayer, as there can be small variances during the lamination process,” says Balik. “With direct-to-glass printing, the image is printed edge-to-edge directly to the glass and is more consistent in tiling.”

Interlayer Printing

According to Reese Schroeder, president, studio artist at liquidoranges Studio in Kingston, Mass., the difference between direct-to-glass printing and printing on the interlayer is one of quality and resolution.

“We can reach 4,000 dots per inch (dpi) when printing on the interlayer at liquidoranges,” he says. “It has the high resolution that we need when printing highly detailed artwork. Printing on the interlayer is also ideal for interior spaces where people’s proximity to the glass is much closer than digital printing on a building façade. Direct printing is lower resolution but the technology is getting better. [Some] machines are approaching 1,400 dpi.”

Schroeder says it’s possible that printing on the interlayer could become obsolete if direct-to-glass printing continues its trend toward higher resolution images.

“The technology appears to have peaked. It hasn’t gone higher than 4,000 dpi in a number of years. What’s really changing is direct-to-glass printing. Its major limiting factor is transparency,” he adds. “You can’t see through ceramic ink. Direct-to-glass printing using ceramic ink is similar to 2-D, it doesn’t really have a dynamic effect on a space. Printing on the interlayer is more like 3-D; it allows light to interact and alter a space because of its transparency.”

Balik cites another reason why printed interlayers are preferred for interior, rather than exterior, projects.

“Laminated glass using printed interlayers is best suited for interior applications due to fading issues when exposed to sunlight, or even long-term exposure to indoor lighting,” he says. “Printed interlayers do offer an advantage when utilizing vibrant red tones or neon colors. Ceramic inks cannot achieve these vibrant colors.”

According to Schroeder, direct-to-glass printing is better for larger pieces.

“The interlayer is limited to the size of interlayer rolls, 50 inches by 100 inches. Though you can never print on the half inch on either side of the roll, so it ends up being 49 by 100 inches,” he says. “For the exterior, direct-to-glass is by far the superior way to go. If water infiltrates the laminated glass it will destroy the interlayer.

Another application well suited for printed interlayers is curved glass.

“While direct-to-glass printing can be used on bent glass, depending on the design and the amount of bend in the glass, printed interlayers may be a better option because the glass is bent and then laminated using the printed interlayer. With ceramic ink, the glass is painted first and then curved,” says Balik.

One misconception is that the same aesthetic outcome can be achieved with both processes.


According to Bernard Lax, president of Pulp Studio in Gardena, Calif., ceramic ink is made of colored particles, a clear base and a flux which pulls the ceramic into the glass and embeds it. Ceramic ink can be used for screenprinting, which is durable and cost effective for large projects with repeating patterns. Its limitations are color options, sizes and pattern variation.

“You’d have to make a screen for every pattern and one screen can cost up to $1,500, which isn’t cost effective for any project under 1,000 square feet,” said Lax.

Balik agrees.

“The misconception is that screenprinting is less expensive than digital printing on glass and printed interlayers. However, the latter two options are actually more cost-effective when there are multiple designs being utilized on one project and when the quantities are smaller. Screenprinting is cost-effective for large volumes of the same designs due to the cost for producing the screens, but far from ideal on custom project work.”

UV Inks

Kris Iverson, marketing and sales director at Moon Shadow Glass based in Sandy, Ore., says that his company does both direct-to-glass printing and interlayer printing. The company uses laminated glass for both processes. They use direct-to-glass printing on laminated glass for interior projects.

“We use UV ink. Sunlight can decrease its lifespan by five to ten years,” he says.

Lax says people often assume UV inks are made to with-stand UV exposure, but that is not the case.

“These UV inks are inks that are stabilized, cured and dried using UV light. Their sustainability is the same sustainability as you would find in a banner or in signage that’s printed outdoors,” he says. “It’s the same system, they were just able to apply it to a piece of glass. When put outside its lifespan is basically three to five years. You’re not going to get a warranty for that.”

Color Trends

Liquidoranges uses Pantone color matches to ensure that the colors printed match the colors of the art or design shown on the monitor. In the case of broken glass, the color match allows the company to replicate the design for replacement.

According to Lax, digital printing companies use a tedious process called profiling to anticipate the potential color differences in how an image looks on a monitor and how the color will appear on the glass. The process requires recalibration of machines and computers to ensure that the color representation from each machine is accurate.

Printing on the interlayer creates a higher resolution image and makes it possible to create a true gradient with a more subtle transition than direct-to-glass printing, according to Lax.

“Remember that not every project lends itself to a single technology,” he said.

Balik expects color options to continue to grow for digital printing, and that the durability of interlayer printing will continue to improve. However, the greatest change could come from designers.

“I believe the architecture/design community and the building team overall will continue to strengthen their understanding of the different technologies available,” he says. “This will make them more comfortable in specifying glass with digital imaging and it will allow them to gain a better understanding of the value it can add to any project.”

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