Inkjet printing technology for the decoration of glass and ceramics
In the 1990s many attempts were made both by end users and our competitors to try and use inkjet printing technology for the decoration of glass and ceramics.
A number of patents were filed that claimed the use of inkjet printing technology, however none led to an industrial application mainly because the proposed inks were either too expensive to make or could not compete with other industrially used printing techniques (e.g. screen printing) in terms of performance.
The inks were often not robust enough to guarantee a defect free production process. They could also cause blocking of the ink delivery nozzle resulting in destruction of the inkjet printer head and thereby leading to a shortened print run.
The advantages of a digital printing technique over screen printing are obvious and attractive:
- A very quick response time
- Direct printing from the computer to the substrate
- Possibility to print information on individual pieces, for example bar codes, dot matrices
- No need to produce expensive screens
- No need to store large screens that have been used only a few times
- More efficient use of inks
- No need for air conditioned print rooms.
Inkjet printing also offers a high cost saving for use in decorating building façades, entrance doors and unique interior designs. With this in mind we began work on developing inks for the decoration of glass that could be applied by inkjet printing and that met the technical requirements of the market.
One of the key inventive challenges was to reduce the particle size of the glass frit and pigment into a size that required only modified milling and that allowed continuous inkjet printing with minimal nozzle clogging.
This work was patented (WO2005/052071), however we soon realised that industrialisation would require the formation of a partnership with a hardware manufacturer.
We then entered a joint project with DipTech in Israel to develop the first inkjet printable glass enamel ink that could be used on an industrial scale.
Thanks to the contribution from teams in R&D, process development and customer services we successfully developed the components for an inkjet ink to decorate glass, developed a large scale production process for its manufacture and put in place a sophisticated quality assurance system to ensure the highest standards.
Inkjet printing of glass enamels on an industrial scale has now become a reality and we are now working on the development of further products using this new inkjet printing technology.