Major developments are underway to capitalize on growth opportunities in glass printing – part of the wider functional and industrial print movement.
While analog printing methods – gravure, flexo, litho, screen, pad printing, and foiling – are still widely used, there is very strong growth in digital methods, with new inkjet inks and fluids opening many opportunities.
Gravure, screen, pad printing, and foiling are perfectly adequate for many of the long-established applications in which they are used. In producing a beer stein or sheet of exterior architectural glass, the printing is a small component of the process and often the decoration will be integrated in the manufacturing line. In a changeover, manipulating the print setup is generally a lot simpler than changing the product to be manufactured. The required skillset for this type of printing is probably less than in commercial print or packaging; prepress production is often outsourced with screens, plates, and cylinders brought in as required and reused over many years. The management of the industrial plant will concentrate on improving the methods of making the product rather than the intricacies of print technology. There is also much activity in developing routes to market, for print suppliers and equipment manufacturers as well as for the associated consumables.
Glass Printing Markets
Printing colorants (chiefly through screen printing technology) has, over time, become a lower-cost alternative for glass decoration. Interior architectural glass, mirrors, and gaming machines are printed using organic inks, both solvent and UV curable. Exterior and dishwasher-proof glass tends to use inorganic inks and enamels that contain pigments, glass frits, solvent-based binding agents, and additives. After printing, the ink is cured in a lehr at around 1110 F (for enamels) to fuse the printed layer to the glass surface for a permanent finish.
The overall demand for flat glass, produced by float techniques, is dependent on construction and rose 7.1 percent in 2015-2016 to 99 billion square feet, some 70-75 million tons. Asia is the biggest and fastest growing glass market, accounting for 60 percent of all flat glass by area – though obviously, much of this is unprinted. Fabricated flat glass demand will benefit from rapid growth in sales of energy efficient products, such as solar control, insulation, and low-emissivity (low-E) fixtures.
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