Jan Anjema always keeps an eye toward the future. As the managing director of glass-processing plant Steinfort Glas in Franeker, The Netherlands, he has long been a believer in adapting the latest techniques to keep Steinfort ahead of the pack. Although the plant’s focus is on glass for furniture, interior design and shop interiors, Anjema was eager to expand its capacities.
Traditionally, Steinfort’s projects centred on screen printing, an expensive process in terms of material and person hours for set up, cleaning, storage and reclamation. This makes screening particularly ill-suited for small to midsize jobs. “We were limited in the kind of jobs we could accept,” says Anjema. “The screening process was familiar but cumbersome, costly, and not at all flexible, so we were ready to make a move.” As part of his quest to find a solution to provide cost-effective custom work to his clients, Anjema began monitoring the evolution of glass printing equipment, eventually finding DIP-Tech’s GlassJet™, a printer so technologically advanced that he decided to buy it. A well-timed move, as it turned out.
A challenging waterfall design
For the Stadsschouwburg City Theatre in Haarlem, noted Dutch architect Erick van Egeraat designed a dramatic glass facing to create the illusion that water was cascading from the roof and down the sides of the building. This monumental task required 400 different prints on 400 different sized glass panes.
Originally, the plan was to use screening technology for the project. Since each window was a different size and print, the overall cost quickly turned out to be prohibitive. A more viable, economical approach was necessary to bring the City Theatre’s new image to life.
Printing directly on glass
It was found in the GlassJet, the first industrial digital printer printing directly on glass. Providing unique versatility, it is suitable for virtually any glass application. Its user-friendly design allows for rapid set up and printing of digitally processed images from a variety of file types such as TIFF, EPS, PDF and JPG. Images are sent directly to the GlassJet via the network like with any other printer. Even low-resolution images aren’t a challenge due to the inclusion of Pixel-Blaster software. Each image can be individually numbered, allowing for easy tracking of the individual panels required in a project.
To bring the Haarlem project to life, the design and build team had to confront two major challenges. The first was colour. To achieve the effect envisioned by the architect, Steinfort mixed three of the nine available ceramic ink colours in seven different combinations until van Egeraat decided they had created the ideal colour palette for their project. The second issue was to make sure that the different prints were located on the correct part of the pane, with one part in green and the other in white. The GlassJet’s capacity to print up to five colours at a time streamlined this process, providing a clear advantage over using screens for such an undertaking.
“Although a job this size can be confusing, the GlassJet comes equipped with an easy solution,” says Anjema. “Its variable data feature, which easily handles multi-tiled jobs, hides numbers in the corner of the tiles, eliminating any potential mix-ups during installation.”
Previously impossible designs
The economic advantages of direct on glass printing were immediately apparent to everyone involved, making it a key selling point for Anjema. “We can now offer a small run project for relatively little expense compared to using screen technology,” he says. “We have already done five other projects involving more than 100m² of printed glass, which would be impossible with screen printing due to the variation in prints per window. The low setup cost is a key economic factor, as well as being able to supply a very high quality product for which the customers are prepared to pay a good price, while still reaping significant savings over screen printing.”
While economics are a significant factor for companies like Steinfort Glas in adopting the GlassJet, the startling beauty of the designs as seen on the Stadsschouwburg Haarlem are sure to continue to inspire architects and designers to continue to push the boundaries of creative expression on glass via digital printing.