Digital Print Opens New Vistas in Glass Decoration

With the ongoing growth of the functional and industrial printing market, printing on non-traditional substrates will become even more popular. The glass industry could be one of the market segments which will benefit from this to a large extent.

Digital Print Opens New Vistas in Glass Decoration

The printing industry, including functional and industrial print, has been growing continuously for a long time now. This has mostly been due to the broadening of existing applications and the evolution of new market niches. In its new report “The Future of Functional and Industrial Print to 2022”, Smithers Pira expects the industry to grow from $76.9 billion in 2017 to $114.8 billion in 2022. This market growth is accompanied by a notable extension of print substrates. This means that printing processes are no longer exclusively for traditional substrates, such as paper, board and packaging materials. For example, many glass components and products integrate printing which will lead to many new opportunities for the glass industry in the near future. The overall market value of glass printing is forecast to reach $1.3 billion by 2022. This equals an annual growth rate of 7 percent from 2017 to 2022.

Printed Glass Market: Technologies Remain Diverse and Challenging

Matching these numbers, leading equipment supplier Thieme reports that the demand for printed glass from technical glass applications like glass displays, touch panels and solar applications is growing at the moment. In comparison to flat and hollow glass which require screen printing, the glass applications mentioned above are fine to be printed on directly. The requirement for these glass products differs significantly from architectural, automotive or domestic appliance products, leading in turn to several new equipment and process solutions.

The most important printing technology for glass products is multi-pass printing. Drums of multi-pass printers can only dispense one type of ink at a time. This requires multiple passes under the drum to produce full-colour results. This type of printing can be very complex and challenging: The registration tolerances of the different ink layers are demanding and those for the printed layer thickness are very tight. In addition to this, another challenge is posed by the thin raw glass which is used. The thickness of these glasses is mostly below 2mm and sometimes even as thin as 100μm, thus complicating the printing process considerably.

Promising Prospects for Inkjet Future

Latest trends show that industrial and functional print on the one side, and publication and commercial print on the other, move in opposite directions: While print volumes concerning the latter are declining, the demand for construction, automotive, electronics and manufactured products are growing. As a result of this, many established printers move into industrial markets where they make use of their own core skills.

In the field of analogue processes, the market for inkjet printing is increasing significantly. The total market is calculated to grow to $110 billion in 2023. Suppliers have developed equipment to broaden applications, with new inks, coatings and functional fluids providing new properties of flexibility, adhesion and durability. Fast-growing industrial decoration sectors such as ceramics, textiles and glass are also using inkjet and benefitting from the continuing technology investments in heads, inks, integrated print systems and control software.

Furthermore, there are also new supply models which can help to push innovation forward and improve process efficiency. In Japan, for instance, traditional print companies have taken shares of the electronics and lifestyle printed sectors. This is not the case anywhere else on the globe and routes to market and supply chains across industrial and functional print segments thus stay rather complex. Japan, however, has once again acknowledged its status as a big player in the printing market. A better awareness of these topics in the established players can help them improve their print and decoration using new techniques from new suppliers.

How do you think the glass printing market will develop in the next years? Tell us in the comments below.

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