By Cassandra Balentine
From tiles to glass, digital ceramic printing technologies enable direct printing to fragile materials. With this capability, the benefits of digital—fast turnarounds, reduced set up, and cost-effective short runs—expand to new markets.
Ceramic printers are commonly used to decorate ceramic surfaces and tiles. The technology is well suited for applications in architecture and interior décor for items like facades, balustrades, canopies, dividers, partitions, doors, and kitchen and shower glass; automotive and transportation, including digitally printed replacement glass, train windows, buses, and coach glazing; appliances like refrigerators, ovens, glass cookers, tabletops, and cupboard doors and tops; and awards and personalization from custom interior décor to personalized titles for recognition.
Above: Durst’s eight-color Gamma XD printer series is poised to reinvent ceramic tile decoration. These are samples of possible output from the printer.
Printing to Ceramics
There are several ways to print to ceramic materials, including, but not limited to digital. Both dedicated machines and multi-function UV flatbed printers serve the demand for digitally printed ceramics.
“Compared to an analog process, a digital process eliminates the cost involved in set up for screens or films, making turnaround time quicker and enabling short runs while maximizing revenue return,” shares Josh Hope, senior manager, 3D printing and engineering projects, Mimaki USA, Inc.
According to Norbert von Aufschnaiter, manager ceramics printing division, Durst Phototechnik AG, this lessened cost is also seen at the buyer level. “Customized products are at reasonable prices thanks to things like minimized downtime—designs can change without the substitution of mechanical parts.”
Andrea Annovi, engineering director and Luciano Bastardi, automation engineering manager, System Ceramics, a System Spa division, explain that digital print technology makes it possible to produce original surfaces “capable of imitating the finish of rusted metal, the feel of wood and its natural vein, and nature’s most precious marbles—allowing for unlimited creativity.”
Yuval Nahum, head of marketing, Dip-Tech, a Ferro Company, says the advantages of combining ceramic inks for glass and wide format, vivid digital printing processes include UV durability in outdoor conditions, supreme adhesion, and chemical and scratch resistance. “Ceramic inks can be laminated, bended, and double glazed, and can also be printed first surface,” he continues.
Digital printing allows vivid or single-color design with full personalization and no setup costs. According to Nahum, opaqueness or transparency, light transmission, and see through or privacy can be controlled. In addition, large scale projects can be divided for different glass panels for the ideal match. “It is also easy to match color digitally and to achieve elegant gradients and frost glass effects.”
Traditionally, ceramic ink is printable on flat glass by screenprinting. “Screenprinting may be acceptable and cost effective if no customization is needed,” suggests Nahum. He adds that it is suitable for many one-color applications.
Flat glass can also be printed with UV printing and organic inks, printing in an interlayer and laminated in between two pieces of glass. “However, there are challenges to using these methods. UV organic printed ink can have adhesion issues with the glass, scratchability issues, and UV resistance challenges. This type of printing is therefore mainly used for indoor wall cladding—for example, kitchen backsplashes—where it can be protected with back painting. The installation environment also needs to be considered for environmental durability issues,” continues Nahum.
The challenge for transitioning to digital ceramic printing is meeting requirements for speed, affordability, and compliance with respective industry standards. “But this revolution is already happening as faster and more competitive return on investment solutions are introduced,” says Nahum.
It is also important to educate the market. Dip-Tech is dedicated to training the architectural and interior designer communities around the world to the possibilities of digital ceramic printing. “Educating the market segments is done in different channels, including but not limited to exhibitions for architects and designers, seminars, webinar training, and online activity to expose the advantages of using our technology,” shares Nahum.
On the Market
A variety of digital ceramic printers are on the market today.
Dip-Tech offers digital ceramic printing on glass. The NEra printer features a versatile printing carriage designed to enable a seamless, multi-application process. The printer allows for different high-speed applications without the need to change ink tanks. It offers up to 12 ink channels and a variable drop size. Automated ink recirculation in the printhead, as well as high-power dual-technology drop fixation, automatic fast color change system, and stationary glass printing are additional features.
The company also sells the GPi, featuring variable drop sizes and high image quality. It offers automatic ink recirculation in the printhead. Thermal drop fixation enables high quality and efficiency. It is a modular, flexible solution with a user interface designed to support a simplified workflow. Dip-Tech develops and manufactures its ink.
Durst offers its new eight-color Gamma XD Printer Series. With this press, Durst is intent on reinventing ceramic tile decoration with new possibilities for unique and creative tile design and ultimate production efficiency. The Gamma XD ceramic printer combines high-quality inkjet technology with a unique print engine that is designed to break the barriers to quality and speed, maintaining the required ink amount per square meter. Key features of the Gamma XD include a high uptime/productivity, optional digital material printing technology, high nozzle stability, low customer maintenance, and low printhead costs with easy and fast replacement.
EFI offers its Cretaprint series of ceramic tile printers. Models include EFI Cretaprint P4, EFI Cretaprint D4, EFI Cretaprint SOL, EFI Cretaprint C4, EFI Cretaprint C4 Twin, EFI Cretaprint X4, EFI Cretaprint M4, and EFI Cretaprint P3. With these printers, EFI Cretacolor Inks, and the Fiery proServer color management system working as one, EFI supplies a total solution.
The KERAjet P7 from KERAjet, S.A. offers a range of printheads and digital decoration with 12 colors. Its vertical resolution is 180 to 1,200 dpi and horizontal resolution is 254 to 1,200 dpi. It features a drop size of ten to 200 picoliters. A continuous ink stream provides a steady and active printing system.
The KERAjet S7 features a distributed ink control system and up to 12 inks. It offers continuous ink recirculation as well as an automatic purge and cleaning system. The KERAjet S7 offers conveyor speeds of up to 90 meters per minute, a vertical resolution from 180 to 1,200 dpi, a horizontal resolution from 254 to 1,016 dpi, and a drop size from ten to 200 picoliters.
The KERAjet presses feature advanced digital printing technology for printing with ceramic pigments, soluble salts, effects, solid applications, glazes, and UV inks.
System Ceramics offers Creadigit, a digital, single-pass inkjet printing process developed by the company to enable high-definition decorations on ceramic surfaces. Annovi and Bastardi say it offers advantages and benefits that were “unthinkable not so many years ago.”
The printhead is available in three different versions depending on the native print drop. It offers a resolution of 400 dpi, internal recirculation, high-strength metal plates, and total regeneration capacity. Creadigit digital inkjet printing is valued for the decoration of large ceramic surfaces. The Creadigit XXL and Creadigit BS versions reach printing widths of 1,355 and 1,806 millimeters, respectively. Additionally, the processing electronics inside Creadigit enable high-speed printing to lend a concrete quality to images of all kinds for graphics up to 200 square meters in size, making each slab unique.
Operators can manage a quantity-based printing mode with immediacy of use, which is a sought after factor. “This high-added value principle allows the technician to set the values of the material to be deposited on the ceramics. This is significant as it is possible to modify the quantity of ink without having to change the file that has already been elaborated for the printing process. Unlike the resolution printing process, with this method you can always be sure that Creadigit will deposit the desired amount,” share Annovi and Bastardi.
Creadigit does not produce inks, but performs detailed tests. “More than 1,000 inks and over 1,500 waveform printhead activation electronic tests are studied and tested to obtain optimal drop on demand digital inkjet printing, on account of the fact that the inks are a crucial factor in print quality combined with reliability over time, ensuring the highest level of excellence throughout the entire ceramic production process,” note Annovi and Bastardi.
They explain that the digital printing system is designed to deposit small quantities of ink, thus ideal for printing images. Other printheads, designed with robust native drops to facilitate the application of quantities, are used to obtain special effects like metallic, sunken, opaque, or reflective.
In addition to dedicated ceramic printers, select flatbed printers also support this application.
For example, Mimaki’s UJF Series and JFX Series of UV LED flatbed printers can be used to print flat ceramics such as tiles. “These are multi-purpose printers that print to a variety of surfaces. Depending on the surface, primers are often used to promote ink adhesion. Because it’s a common practice, Mimaki offers a jettable primer for all flatbed printers, enabling users to prepare just the area to be printed. Primer is used for surfaces such as glass, some metals, or ceramic tiles. We also offer a wipe-on primer,” says Hope.
Mimaki provides original inks for all of its products. Primer may be required, depending on ink type and characteristics, comments Hope. In terms of finishes, Mimaki offers clear in many of its ink sets and it is jetted like any other color—inline on the printer.
Demand for personalization leads to the continued development of digital print technologies. Solutions on the market vary, but all offer quality and durability for printing to ceramic objects like glass and tile.
Apr2018, Industrial Print Magazine