Loggerhead Deco: Sustainable Success

Chicago printer brings experience home with eco-friendly, small-batch UV glass printing.

Direct printing on glass presents unique challenges. Glass bottles for beverages and specialty foods bring additional considerations. Besides the substrate, there are safety and environmental concerns as well as governmental regulations to take into account. During his 17 years in printing equipment manufacturing, Steve Gilbertson developed an understanding of these issues, as well as an appreciation of the need for environmentally sustainable decorating that eliminates lead, cadmium, and harmful VOCs from the process. In 2010, he put his ideas for addressing them into action, launching his own business, Loggerhead Deco in West Chicago, Illinois.

Today in his new 27,000-square-foot shop, Gilbertson utilizes a state-of-the-art UV process to provide eco-friendly direct screen printing for the small-batch distilling industry. The company primarily serves the craft spirit market, although it also prints some containers for high-end specialty foods such as olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and grilling sauces. With the industry growing by about 35 to 40 percent a year, Gilbertson views his business as an opportunity to use his technical knowledge and familiarity with bottle decorating’s special requirements to attest to the viability – and profitability – of environmentally responsible processes.

“Quality and the ability to compete with ‘portfolio’ brands on the shelf are what matter most to our customers,” he explains. “Keeping up with decorating trends is extremely important to them, but for the most part, they’re small operations. They don’t want to buy container loads of glass, and they’re looking for just-in-time runs of about 1000 pieces that won’t impede their cash flow.” While Loggerhead’s environmental emphasis may not be the first thing customers look for, Gilbertson notes that employing eco-friendly decorating is an added selling point they can include in their blogs and literature to help set them apart.

Sometimes referred to as applied color labeling, printing directly on glass offers a number of advantages in bottle decorating, including the potential for 360-degree wrapping and even full-bottle graphics that won’t wrinkle, scuff, peel off, or be affected by moisture. At the same time, the process is technically challenging and subject to governmental regulations on several fronts.

The biggest hurdle from a printing standpoint is the substrate. Glass is nonporous. It doesn’t lend itself to printing and may have a coating that is not receptive to ink. Then there are regulations pertaining to both the process and the product. This includes the banning of lead and cadmium and other provisions set forth in Proposition 65, including the presence of specified chemicals in products, the home or workplace, or emissions from production facilities.

Gilbertson has drawn on his high-level experience in the major brand decorating arena and his exposure to the European screen-printing culture – which he views as being more innovative with respect to sustainability because of increased compliance issues – in tailoring his equipment and approach to his chosen market. The process he developed begins with pretreating the glass to enable the UV ink to molecularly bond with the surface during curing. The system goes on to utilize a combination of high-end Kammann UV printers, including a K15-M CNC multicolor high-speed automatic, along with custom-made equipment such as spin-cure units.

Printing through high-end meshes with between 280 and 460 threads per inch, the company prints 0.002-inch resolution to compete with printed paper labels. Jobs range from one to six colors, with CMYK process color particularly in vogue today. “One of the biggest trends in high-end bottle decorating is the use of four-color process,” notes Gilbertson. “When people see what it’s possible to do with direct printing, they want to keep pushing it to emulate what’s being done with traditional labels. They’re running 10- and 15-color jobs; so we as glass decorators need to continually be more innovative to show folks that we can not only give them whatever graphics they’re looking for, but do it on the entire surface of the bottle.”

Using custom designed in-house tooling, Loggerhead decorates the neck or body of round-, oval-, and even square-shaped bottles at rates of 35-60 parts per minute. Loggerhead also offers water-based spray frosting, as opposed to the traditional ceramic process using frits.

“Our printing process is green,” states Gilbertson. “It creates two things: ozone and heat. Ozone is good, but too much heat is not; so we have the capability to collect the 150- to 180-degree [F] heat the press generates and reduce its temperature to 70 degrees before it leaves the building. We’re focused on reducing our carbon footprint. Our process is lead-free, with no solvents or VOCs, and 100-percent Proposition 65-compliant. Moreover, what we do is ‘cradle to cradle’ decorating. The glass we print can go straight to the curb and be remade into new glass.”

In addition to environmentally sustainable decorating, Loggerhead provides its customers with assistance throughout the process, from art through packaging, helping with everything from creating the product’s “story” to selecting bottles, closures, and packaging to navigating governmental regulatory channels. “Each design must be submitted to the government, and they have 90 days to approve it,” explains Gilbertson. “We have a very high batting average for getting artwork through the process quickly and efficiently. Typically, the time from when the government signs off and the customer hits the ‘go’ button until the order is completed is two to three weeks.”

Loggerhead’s focus on short runs, green technology, and customer service has been a winning combination. In addition to setting it apart as a supplier of value-added services and extending its clientele to 50 states and 14 countries, it earned the company a 2014 City of Chicago Brilliance in Business Green Initiative Award.

Explore other industrial printing projects from our August/September issue:

Graphic Overlays Take Flight

The Magic Is in the Money

Screen Printing's Place in the Sun


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