By Cassandra Balentine
Digital print technology has a wide reach. Beyond the more traditional sign and graphics and commercial printing, it is currently leveraged for a broader range of industrial applications.
Ceramic and porcelain materials are among the items that can be digitally printed. However, it requires the right equipment and skill. In industrial settings, hardware often requires some tweaking for the best results.
Above: Paris Group is a porcelain and ceramic printer and dishware wholesaler based out of Newmarket, ON, Canada.
A Range of Items
Ceramics are a versatile medium, utilized everywhere from dishware to décor and even jewelry. Based in Newmarket, ON, Canada, Paris Group Inc. is a porcelain and ceramic printer and dishware wholesaler. More than a decade since its establishment, Paris Group operates one location with both full- and part-time staff.
The company brings in a lot of business through word of mouth and participates in select corporate marketing companies. Its primary target base includes businesses, home owners, restaurants, architects, and designers, as well as agents and representatives that resell its products.
It is well adept at printing to porcelain and ceramic items, including dishware, tile, and jewelry. “That is all we do and with our unique, proprietary system of digital printing we are able to print on all kinds of different porcelain and ceramic in full color, high resolution, and no fade,” shares Eric Partanen, VP of sales, Paris Group.
Paris Group’s printing operation is 100 percent digital, its primary products include printed plates, bowls, and mugs that are both dishwasher and microwave safe. It is also able to print inside of mugs, and on mug handles, which is a unique service—especially in full high-resolution images. The company also produces printed walls, floors, and outdoor tile for a number of customers.
It is important to note that the print output is considered food safe, using inks that do not contain lead, which Partanen comments is a big differentiator for them because in the past there was a lot of ink on the market containing lead. It also is able to print on many types of porcelain without a minimum order quantity.
A Niche is Born
Paris Group originated selling bulk porcelain dishware and continues to do so. When it started to get requests to print logos on plates for restaurants it knew it was on to something. “A Major League Baseball team contacted us to print logos on plates for the team airplane. That is what got us going, we already had the inventory of dishes, now we needed the printing part,” shares Partanen. The company took some time to learn about the options for printing with permanent, full-color ink on plates.
During its research, some key features were important including food-safe inks, as well as extreme durability. Partanen found that other methods—like dye-sublimation—would scratch when printed to ceramics and porcelain. Therefore, it needed something different.
Create, Prep, Produce
Paris Group operates what it refers to as printer lines, which includes various components from hands-on labor to automatic equipment. Additionally, it fires at very high heats—up to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit for 12-plus hours. “A lot of our equipment has been tweaked to make it work in our industry,” states Partanen.
To make a piece of printed porcelain or ceramic, the art department takes a submitted image and sizes the graphic appropriately for the item it is printed on—for example a 10.5-inch dinner plate. From there it’s prepared for the production process. Files are mostly PDFs or JPEGs. A virtual sample is created and sent via email. Physical prototypes are created for larger orders before production.
After the proprietary digital printing process, the items are glazed so that the image is tucked and sealed, providing extreme durability.
“When we print on plates, dishware, or tiles, they can last years. Outdoor wall tiles can last 50 years or more. Memorial tiles or headstones for 100 years, floor tiles can last dozens of years, but wear is a difficult word to put a finger on,” shares Partanen. “For example, a busy place like a train station will eventually wear the tiles as well as our print. It all depends on how well the actual tile wears down.”
He also explains that if dishware is used regularly in a home, it is a much different scenario compared to a restaurant. He estimates one of their plates could get up to 20 years use, but maybe less for a restaurant setting.
“It’s hands down the most durable print you can produce on porcelain after market,” says Partanen. “We’re not talking about a design that is added to the tile or plate while it is being manufactured. We’re talking about high resolution, full color after the product is made, which is amazing.”
While the company mastered its production process, it does still encounter challenges. One of the biggest issues is the variety of items it prints to—from dishware, bone china, and gold-rimmed plates to different types of ceramic or porcelain tile and printing on the inside of mugs. “Although we know we are one of only a handful of companies that can do what we do, it is also very challenging. If a printing line goes down, nobody is having fun,” he exclaims.
A Day in the Life
While a big part of Paris Group’s business is dishware, it is often tasked with printing to tile for décor purposes. In fact, at press time the company was in the midst of producing five large murals of custom-printed outdoor tiles for the city of New Orleans, LA.
The project consists of a variety of old photographs depicting some of the largest bands that came through The Big Easy to play at the hotspot, The Warehouse, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, including The Doors, Van Halen, Peter Townshend, and The Who.
While it was the place to be at the time, The Warehouse has since been closed and torn down. The city of New Orleans, along with a developer, decided to create a memorial of the club where it once stood as a historical reminder.
The five murals measure six by three feet each and are made out of Daltile’s Anchorage line of outdoor porcelain tiles. They were printed using Paris Group’s proprietary, full-color high-resolution printing technique.
One challenge was lining up all of the tiles to ensure the proper flow, as the five large pieces are meant to tell a story, mural to mural.
The proverbial red tape was another issue. According to Partanen, it took about three years to get the approval from officials. With the approvals in, it took about six to eight weeks to complete the printing part of the project.
Several things are on the horizon for the Paris Group. One is a print on a 24×24-inch tile that can be customized in full color. Currently, the maximum size is 12×18 inches.
The company also started to print on glass like glassware and glass tiles, which Partanen believes is an exciting move.
Finally, the shop is starting to print on small porcelain that is used as customized jewelry. This allows customers to have any image they want, like a child, pet, or mother’s handwriting or a bible verse printed on small porcelain that is then combined with a gold or silver chain. “Now you’ll have customized, printed jewelry.”
A Nice Niche
Digital print technology enables a range of opportunity for many industries. Once impossible or too expensive to create is now a reality. With a proprietary printing process, Paris Group offers items like custom dishware and jewelry, while leveraging the same equipment and skill set for décor items like tiles. It is this ingenuity that propels the print industry forward into new directions.
Oct2019, Industrial Print Magazine