By Cassandra Balentine
Customization is a major trend across all industries. Architects for both commercial and residential projects demand unique applications. Glass decoration is one solution, which today is achieved with digital ceramic printers that enable direct to glass printing.
Several printer manufacturers offer solutions targeting the ability to print directly to glass, presenting an opportunity for those that work with the substrate to offer custom printed solutions from home décor to exterior facades.
Established in 1990, Insulite Glass Company is headquartered in Olathe, KS and operates an additional facility in St. Louis, MO. In total, the company employs 170 workers out of approximately 140,000 square feet of production space. Its fleet of trucks makes daily deliveries throughout the Midwest and is capable of servicing projects nationwide.
Insulite Glass is a leader in automated architectural flat glass fabrication offering a variety of glass products, including insulating glass, heat-treated glass, spandrel glass, laminated glass, glass entrances, shower doors, FireLite products, and Digital Glass Printing (DGP).
Above: A Dip-Tech GlassJet PRO printer helped Olathe, KS-based Insulite Glass create Whole Person Healthcare’s Logo on a new medical building.
Decorative Glass Services
Decorative glass is appealing to both commercial and residential customers. “These projects include everything from backsplashes, countertops, hand railings, shower enclosures, and custom art glass to whole building facades,” says Kurt Hartman, DGP specialist, Insulite Glass.
Insulite Glass began offering DGP in 2012 with its purchase of a ceramic frit digital inkjet printer from Dip-Tech, a Ferro Company. The printer was the fourth of its kind in North America. Today there are more than 40 Dip-Tech machines in North America, according to Hartman. “Despite the increase in DGP suppliers/competitors, our level of business continues to grow. The market demand for DGP is growing exponentially as more architects become familiar with its possibilities and incorporate custom decorative glass into exterior and interior building plans,” he shares.
An Eye on Digital
Many commercial glass installations require a single color pattern of dots, lines, or holes added to the substrate for the purpose of managing glare, solar heat gain, and u-values—which improve the overall performance of insulated glass units (IGU). These patterns are traditionally silkscreened. While having silkscreen capabilities in house had been on Insulite Glass’ wish list for some time, the cost wasn’t justifiable.
About five years ago, Insulite Glass embarked on its digital journey when its president was introduced to Dip-Tech at a trade show and realized that with the purchase of a single machine it could expand product offerings and capabilities to meet the demands of customers and architects. With the implementation, the company now has options similar to traditional silkscreen patterns and introduced custom decorative glass.
Insulite Glass uses a Dip-Tech GlassJet PRO printer. “The ability to print nearly any design makes the technology very appealing,” admits Hartman. The printer was able to pick up where traditional silkscreen left off and advance it to the next level.
Benefits and Challenges
When Insulite Glass first obtained the Dip-Tech GlassJet PRO, there was a push to spread the word on the benefits of direct to glass digital printing as opposed to using applied films.
Permanency is one of the biggest advantages of the digital ceramic printing process. While films can be picked off, fade, or release gasses in the airspace that over time can fog the IGU; the ink is made of microscopic ceramic—glass—pieces that are fire fused into the glass, similar to glazing pottery. During heat treating the surface of the glass softens and the frit subsides into the glass. In other words, it’s stain glass on a microscopic level. “I tell customers, if they’re alright with their decorative glass lasting as long as the stained glass seen in the Vatican, they’re good,” explains Hartman.
He says DGP provides unmatched quality and durability for architectural glass. “During the heat treating process, ceramic inks are fused into the glass itself, providing powerful resistance to scratching, acid, UV light, and weather to ensure the design withstands the test of time.”
The company utilizes both full-color ceramic frit inks and translucent/etch inks. Both inks are permanent due to the heat treating process after printing.
Due to the composition of the ink, digitally printed glass can be insulated with the printed surface in the air space of an IGU without causing any issues. The ceramic frit can also be used on the outside surface because of its resistance to the elements, explains Hartman.
“When placed against the interlayer in laminated applications, there is no loss of adhesion between the interlayer and fritted glass,” he offers.
One challenge of printing with ceramic inks as opposed to UV- or acrylic-based solutions is the limited color gamut. “Because ceramic frit inks are inorganic compounds, it’s hard to get fluorescent and metallic ink colors,” admits Hartman.
Magenta is one example of a hard-to-obtain color. “This is because the elements you would need to produce the color are gold and cadmium, which is not something approved to work with in the U.S.” However, he believes change is on the horizon, and that it’s just a matter of time before the ability to hit these new colors is achieved.
The company utilizes the same ceramic printer it started with, but is in the market to upgrade. Hartman says the past five years have brought advancements in terms of speed, the number of printheads supported, and smaller nozzle size to improve dpi for true high-definition printing.
Insulite Glass recently printed a company logo for the exterior glass wall of a medical building. Whole Person Healthcare’s logo features colorful, overlapping rings. The glass installation measures approximately 36×87 feet, comprised of 91 digitally printed and laminated glass panels.
The building is positioned within a mile of a major interstate making the curtain wall an attention-grabbing feature that is backlit with LED panels at night.
To achieve the color matching and vibrancy of the brand and ensure an appealing aesthetic from near and far, the print is comprised of three colors of dots—red, green, and blue. The size, frequency, and combination of the different RGB dots is interpreted by the human eye as the countless, brand-specific custom colors.
Low-iron glass combined with a white polyvinyl butyral interlayer was used to achieve the ideal translucency required by the customer. Each glass panel contains flat-ground edges, which reduce light refraction on glass corners and four holes for spider fittings.
The architect envisioned the custom glass signage from the onset and worked it into its original design and budget. Fortunately the client and designer also understood the importance of working in concert with Insulite Glass DGP throughout the entire process—from initial drawings, samples, mockups, and LED adjustments to production and installation.
Managing the progress, approvals, and schedule of the materials, Insulite Glass project managers assisted the owner, design team, and customer. The glazing subcontractor and general contractor ensured on-time completion of the project.
On the Horizon
Insulite Glass continues to focus on growth while providing customers with the best service and products available. The company’s early adoption of digital printing technologies for glass applications enables it to control costs and turnaround times on previously outsourced silkscreen work, and open new and exciting product lines with the ability to offer high-value custom glass decoration services on site.
Apr2018, Industrial Print Magazine