Breaking the Glass Barrier

Last updated: 07-02-2020

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Breaking the Glass Barrier

Many smaller—or tabletop-style—UV flatbeds print to glassware. This is a lucrative opportunity for wide format print service providers (PSPs) looking to expand their capabilities with existing technology. It is also a good occasion for PSPs to purchase and add a smaller flatbed to their shop just for this purpose.

Above: Design and print software helps accommodate the use of white ink and varnish for building textures on glass. Two of Mutoh’s printers—the XpertJet 461UF and XpertJet 661UF— are equipped with this technology.

Endless Opportunity
There are many application opportunities when it comes to digitally printed glass. Print providers considering utilizing existing UV flatbed printing technology or bringing the process in house with a smaller, tabletop-style device should realize the potential return on investment (ROI) right within their grasp.

“Glass is an awesome print media for a large number of applications. These items are ideal for awards, crafts, and moments. Since glass is clear, it can be printed on the first surface, second surface, or both to create effects that are almost three-dimensional (3D) in appearance. Add glass that is a color or has a smoky look and the range of applications extends. Plus, printed glass items give the impression of value and PSPs can sell them for greater margins,” shares Mark Rugen, director of education, Mutoh America, Inc.

For PSPs, turning to a familiar application like signage, working glass into the mix is a no-brainer. “Using UV printing, layering techniques can create backlit displays that elevate the draw and appeal of signage, high-end displays, or décor items. Adding a certain moxie and style is a way to expand into new and exciting territories that customers are delving into,” explains Sachelle Thompson, account manager, LogoJET USA.

Glassware used as drinkware is another consideration. However, there are challenges that PSPs should be aware of. “The main concern is potential ink adhesion issues, as the UV inks made for sign and graphics sit on the surface of the glass. There are new digital primer formulations available that help the ink adhere better than previous formulations; however, the decorated surface may not hold up to multiple runs through the dishwasher,” admits Michael Maxwell, senior manager, Mimaki USA, Inc.

Beyond traditional glass-type items like gifts, awards, décor, or drinkware, there are other options to consider. Thompson suggests tempered glass, for example, which can be printed to prior to adding to the final product or enclosures. Another potential item is mosaic or subway glass tile.

“Digital printing is considered a key component of the fourth industrial revolution as it automates and customizes on demand production without limitation of time and place. One promising area is the direct to object market,” says Juan Kim, CEO, VALLOY Incorporation.

Anyone with a need to print directly to glass should take advantage of UV digital technologies. One reason is the ability to print full-color graphics to both glassware and glass gifts in shorter quantities. Historically, other options included full-color screenprinting for large runs only or monochromatic processes like rotary or laser engraving. “Having the option to print in full color in short runs is beneficial for a lot of UV printer owners,” suggests Michael Perrelli, director of marketing, Direct Color Systems.

Digital printing offers a flexibility in addition to high-quality, full-color graphics. “Digital printing—using rotary devices—means you can now do smaller glass drinkware runs for less cost, saving time and money. Unlike silk screening, you can produce far more intricate designs and instantly change out the designs with a mouse click for increased customization without additional screens or setups. Faster and shorter runs equate to higher productivity and profitability,” explains Craig Smith, president, Innovative Digital Systems (IDS).

Thompson compares the time spent to decorate a glass piece using UV digital printing to color fill techniques and vinyl weeding. She cites filling in etched areas via a manual process can take an hour or more, but the UV printed counterpart only takes eight to ten minutes. Vinyl weeding takes 20 minutes and a direct UV print only takes three minutes.

“UV digitally printed glassware presents the opportunity to add diversification in methodology in mimicking current effects—like sand blasted looks—and offering more to consumers including color and customization so the product doesn’t look or fall flat. It does this all while cutting down on time-consuming processes and increasing productivity and potentially ROI when measuring up against current processes and services,” continues Thompson.

An added benefit to utilizing direct to object printing technologies like UV is sustainability. “This method greatly reduces the amount of paper and plastic waste generated during the printing process. With other methods of glassware decoration, individual plastic backings are removed from the artwork and must be discarded. This additional waste negatively impacts sustainability and the environment,” states Jessica Makrinos, marketing manager, Inkcups.

Prime Candidates
Digitally printed glass appeals to a PSP’s existing and prospective customers in current and new industry verticals. Top of mind are award and trophy shops, executive gifting companies, cosmetic brands, event planners—the list goes on and on.

“For vertical markets such as signage or trophy shops there is considerable merit taking products to the next level with UV digital printing. Whether it’s a ‘No Smoking Zone’ sign, corporate signage, or an award, cutting-edge techniques such as backlit printing or enclosing prints using double-paned glass presents a high-quality product and service,” explains Thompson.

In the awards market, Rugen recommends looking at corporations and schools as potential customers. “These requests are more custom and individual rather than larger orders and can be a small source of revenue for a shop.” He also indicates craft-style vendors as possible clients. “Home décor and gifts can be a real source of both retail and online sales.”

Maxwell suggests service organizations or event planners as prime candidates since they are interested in customizable or personalized products like glass awards, stemware such as champagne glasses for a wedding or commemorative wine glasses for an event, vases, collectible shot glasses, and decorative carafes.

Considering cylindrical glassware like drinkware and candle holders, Smith lists craft breweries, cosmetic companies, crafters, licensed sports and entertainment entities, special event planners, and caterers as industries benefiting from UV digital printing. “Almost every corner of the glassware industry can take advantage of what UV digital printing has to offer. The ability of rotary printers to produce a mirrored-image design viewable from inside the drinkware is an example of the creativity that can be achieved,” he notes.

Perrelli points out that a typical UV flatbed not only directly prints on glass, but wood and acrylic as well—providing further potential.

Meet and Greet
Identifying possible applications and markets to sell digitally printed glassware to is the first step. From there, PSPs need to figure out how to reach them and distinguish their capabilities from the competition. A few tried-and-true methods help achieve this.

Trade shows are always a good option to meet and comminute with others. “One of the best ways that print providers can communicate their value is by exhibiting at appropriate industry trade shows or in vertical markets they may want to explore. At trade shows, they get the chance to speak to prospects face to face and have the opportunity to demonstrate what digital printing can really do,” notes Makrinos.

In Perrelli’s opinion, the first step is to develop samples and then reach out to current customers and visually present the capabilities. After that, moving to social media and search engine optimization are favorable online methods to drive people to a website or brick-and-mortar location.

“For the more traditional awards market, a print provider should visit schools and businesses with good examples of what can be achieved by digitally printing on glass. Samples sell. Samples are king. On the other hand, a strong social media campaign, as well as an online presence on Etsy, Pinterest, and other online ecommerce platforms, are necessary for larger volumes as well as 24/7 selling,” recommends Rugen.

Website marketing is tricky. The messaging must be clear and relevant, as well as offer information that is both easily digestible and accessible to the reader, according to Thompson. “This allows the consumer to better determine what services they need and which route to take. But if they’re on a website that has photos of different processes or services and the advertising banner cannot be read because it’s cropped off or the information is unclear, this can quickly deter eyes. Staying current, clear, and as concise as possible while offering the option to learn more in depth with additional resources is appealing.”

Going Little for Glass
Lastly, PSPs need to determine the best small format or tabletop flatbed printer for their business operation. These devices and their capabilities offer a lot of potential, but for glass in particular must offer primer, gloss or varnish options, white ink, and a wide depth from bed to printhead to accommodate thick materials. In addition, print providers should be aware of two types of machines—ones dedicated to cylindrical printing or flatbed devices where a rotary option is added.

“A necessary requirement for printing onto cylindrical objects is a device that can rotate the object 360 degrees while remaining positioning correctly beneath the printheads,” explains Maxwell. Mimaki offers the Kebab option for mounting onto its UJF-3042 MkII Series, UJF-6042 MkII, and UJF-7151 Plus printers. They handle printing on cylindrical objects up to 4.33 inches in diameter.

For dedicated cylindrical printing, UV LED digital printers are equipped to offer true rotary cylindrical object printing. IDS offers the Revolution 360° T UV LED curable printer, capable of printing to cylindrical flat wall and tapered/conical objects.

Inkcups’ newest dedicated cylindrical printer is the Revolution. It boasts 12 stations, automatic load/unload, an integrated pretreatment system, and can print up to 600 parts per hour. The Revolution uses Inkcups’ patented helical image engine to achieve higher quality prints at a resolution of 702×900 dpi.

Devices of this nature are often used to decorate glass drinkware, which requires pretreatment for proper ink adhesion to the glass and furthermore so that the glass can withstand washing by hand or through a dishwasher. “Digitally printing of glass drinkware must start with a Pyrosil pretreatment for proper ink adhesion to the glass,” says Smith. Professional flame treatment kits are available through various resellers. IDS sells the Pyrobond 4, a tabletop flame pretreatment unit that automates the preprinting application of Pyrosil on drinkware. The unit is portable and offers a small footprint for tight manufacturing environments.

Alternatively, VALLOY offers the option of using a jettable primer that runs in a section of the printhead and is used for pretreatment. It also provides inline corona treatment. “We built a compact corona unit for scanning in a two-centimeter width band, together with the printheads. This enables easy one-stop printing on glassware using a single printer unit,” adds Kim. Reference the sidebar in this article, Surface Treatment, for more information on surface treatment options for pretreating glass.

Ink channel options beyond CMYK aren’t just for pretreatment, but for white ink or even gloss and varnish that can enhance the glass by providing texture. “Design and print software helps accommodate the use of white ink and varnish for building textures, an added component to greater margins when printing on glass,” notes Rugen. Two of Mutoh’s printers—the XpertJet 461UF and XpertJet 661UF—are equipped with this technology. In addition, they feature the ability to fit thick glass items up to four inches.

Direct Color Systems’ Direct Jet UV LED inkjet printers allow for glass printing of full-color, photo-quality images, logo, and text with opaque white ink. This provides bright, crisp, and durable color prints.

Two other important qualities to look for are resolution and ease of use. “While quality is often important when imprinting on glass or any product, having options to adjust print speeds to meet the demands of resolution is crucial. Easy transitions are also an added efficiency. Using smaller format UV printers can provide a user with the ease of translating a print from a rotary setup to using the flatbed or a jig within minutes,” explains Thompson.

LogoJET announced the UVx40R PLUS direct to substrate printer in early 2020. It features interchangeable printing trays and a Rotary 360° Printing attachment, making it easy to switch between various substrate shapes.

Breaking the Glass Barrier
The applications for digitally printed glass are endless, as are the various industry verticals that demand these products. PSPs need to understand how to go about marketing themselves as providers of such items and more importantly determine which type of printer is best for their business operation.

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