Major developments are underway to capitalize on growth opportunities in glass printing – part of the wider functional and industrial print movement.
Glass decoration has been carried out for hundreds of years, with stained glass created by skilled artisans being the most ornate and expensive option. Hand painting and decoration was a lower-cost alternative, using enamel and special inorganic paints that required firing to provide durability.
Over time, glass has become an interesting area for the print industry. It’s used in many applications that range from residential and commercial decorative glass to industrial applications, each with distinct demands for the printing that is done. It may be flat sheet glass for architectural use; a hollow container glass – usually a tube sealed at one end to form a drinking vessel; a lightbulb/tube; laboratory glass; lenses; or an ornamental object, such as a vase. There are demands for things like weatherproof printed architectural glass and specialty applications like glass cooking surfaces. It’s a very wide field.
Advances in glass printing form part of the wider functional and industrial printing movement, defined by Smithers Pira research in “The Future of Functional and Industrial Printing to 2022”– which shows the print industry is growing into markets outside of conventional graphic arts printing, which remains largely on paper. Printing technology is widely used to decorate many objects, from architectural and automotive glass to ceramics and electronics, household items, toys, and textiles. It can be used with special inks to create new functions – including biomedical and photovoltaics, which are becoming significant markets. Some sectors are established – wallpaper printing, for example, dates back hundreds of years – while others are emerging with lots of hype, such as 3D printing and printed electronics.
Industrial printing takes place across the world. Routes to market vary widely, with large manufacturers employing printing functions in house (sometimes inline) as part of their processes, and specialist print businesses supplying components. Both functional and decorative applications present sizeable opportunities for the glass industry, as an increasing number of glass components and products integrate printing.
Printing Process Developments
Technology breakthroughs have played a big part in the growth of glass printing. Suppliers have developed new equipment that widens the applications, with new inks, coatings, and functional fluids providing advanced properties of flexibility, adhesion, and durability, together with novel capabilities in electronics and biomedical to perform specific actions. These developments were driven by, and also enabled, truly transformative innovations in everything from smartphones to solar cells.
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