By IPM Staff
Printing directly to glass is one way to really up your fabrication game. Woon-Tech of Whitinsville, MA is one company that understands digital ceramic in-glass printing’s appeal and what it is doing to revolutionize decorative glass.
Beginning in 1946 as RI-based Woonsocket Glass & Mirror with a focus on glass window repair, the Woon-Tech of today gained steam in the late 1990s/early 2000s. In 2014 the company—then named Woonsocket Glass Fabricators—housed 14 employees. At the time, it looked to separate from the pack and make a name for itself as a niche company. To do so, it upgraded all of its equipment and entered into digital printing.
Today, under parent company HMI Cardinal—a manufacturer of custom glass shower enclosures and a key supplier of commercial glazing solutions and artisan glass, Woon-Tech—now employs 104 out of a 36,000 square foot space. The company went through a rebrand a year ago to reflect a more technical savvy brand.
Markets served include corporate, education, health, hospitality, residential, restaurant, retail, and sports. Primary customers range from glass shops and railing vendors to artists and woodworkers. Products offered include all glass entrances, art, conference room walls, custom shower enclosures, elevators, escalators, fencing, flooring, furniture, squash court walls, hockey rink walls, kitchen backsplashes, bar tops, bar backs, tabletops, partitions, railings, staircases, and signage.
Above: Markets served by Woon-Tech include corporate, education, health, hospitality, residential, restaurant, retail, and sports to create unique products such as kitchen backsplashes.
The multi-faceted company is split into five main divisions to better serve its customer base. Woon-Tech specializes in more traditional fabrication services such as glass entrances, custom shower doors, mirror fabrication, notching, milling, edging, polishing, back painting, and textured and patterned glass.
Its lamination division, Wammi, celebrates the strength of glass and the visual opportunities laminated interlayers create. The company works with SentryGlas interlayer from Trosifol to ensure unparalleled safety throughout all of the projects it is assigned.
Woon U at Woon-Tech offers continuing education for members of the glass industry—whether already in the glass trade, searching for a career, or eager to learn the many ways glass can enhance projects. Woon-Tech provides seminars, continuing education classes, factory tours, and team building opportunities to interested parties.
The impressive design division leverages the company’s knowledge behind everything glass from design to engineering.
The fifth division of Woon-Tech is Swoon—the digital print division. Stated on Woon-Tech’s website, it deems digital printing as “where cutting edge technology merges with beauty in the most inspiring ways.” The company’s digital ceramic in-glass printing services are used by architects, designers, and artists looking to challenge the boundaries of glass as art.
In the right place at the right time, Woon-Tech invested in an AR4000 digital printer from Dip-Tech, a Ferro Company in 2013. When looking to diversify, the manufacturer decided to consider digital printing with ceramic ink as an option for its decorative glass products. “We were intrigued by the next big thing in glass and hoped to have capabilities in New England that no one else had,” explains Josh Foster, GM, Woon-Tech.
Aware of the boom in Asia and Europe, Woon-Tech’s team hoped to be one of the first to bring digital printing on glass to the U.S. Economically speaking, the process was attractive compared to others. “The previous applications of printing on glass prior to this were archaic and not pocket friendly,” admits Foster. Prior to digital, Woon-Tech’s decorative glass process involved sand blasting, which was both time consuming and challenging, he adds.
Printing directly to glass is not without its challenges. Lori Grady, graphics manager, Woon-Tech, says the learning curve for designing files ultimately printed on the Dip-Tech printer wasn’t too difficult. First she familiarized herself with the ink set and the best way to utilize the colors to their advantage, from working with opacities to blends.
Since glass is clear and light—natural or artificial—more often than not influences the finished product, opacities and other concerns are paramount when designing a file. Woon-Tech can print on both low-iron and clear glass. Low-iron glass is fully clear, whereas traditional clear glass has a green tint. For true color representation it often opts for and steers its customers to using low iron. “Viewing the images through the glass, there is a natural green tint. All of the light and color in a room affects the finished product,” explains Grady.
Key to the success for the printer was education—not only the staff learning how to design files, run the printer, and sell the product; but the customers as well. Dip-Tech is instrumental in providing education to Woon-Tech’s sales representatives on the merits of digital printing technology, which trickles down to the end user.
According to Leigh Berberian, director of marketing, Woon-Tech, what works best is “spoon feeding the end user bits and pieces. We lead customers down the path of understanding, start with the merits of glass and then understand the light play, and add the ink/image.”
The Woon-Tech team markets its digital printing services directly to architects, artists, and designers, which helps them grow the business, particularly the decorative print department. It recently launched a tabletop division, which offers customers printed glass resembling woodgrain, marble, and stone finish.
The glass allows for a number of different designs that wouldn’t be possible with natural materials. For example, a recent client request included a marble countertop for a kitchen island. The marble incorporated the color navy to match the base of the island.
A popular tourist destination in various states across the U.S., the couture sweets and sundries chain Sugar Factory works with Woon-Tech on the creation of its counter tops. Woon-Tech completed work at four different locations, one of which was in New Orleans, LA and accounted for 8,000 square feet of glass. Printed in six business days, the install period took two to three days. This is a fairly common timeline. A typical project normally takes eight to ten days start to finish.
Ready for What’s Next
This past January Woon-Tech installed its second Dip-Tech printer, a NEra D. The newest model offers features such as a versatile printing carriage, the ability to print different applications without changing ink tanks, and easily switching between fast single-color patterns to full-color, photorealistic prints. It is capable of up to 12 ink channels and offers a resolution of up to 1,410 dpi.
Woon-Tech’s website states that the future of fabrication means shattering the old rules, and the company is well on its way to fulfilling that message. With the recent addition of the new Dip-Tech printer and plans to expand its tabletop division, it’s poised to be a large part of the revolution in commercial and residential glass design.
Oct2019, Industrial Print Magazine