Owen Booth likes his toys. After having worked for a few years at Metro GlassTech, New Zealand’s premier glass supplier and manufacturer, he was about to be lured him away by another employee. But his supervisor made a more appealing offer.

“I asked my boss what he had to offer me to stay with Metro GlassTech,” says Booth. “He knew that I have a background in computer engineering, so he enticed me with the prospect of operating a new digital printer he was purchasing.” Booth’s new toy was the DIP-Tech GlassJet™, the first industrial direct-on-glass digital printer, a versatile flatbed unit suitable for any glass application including interior and exterior architectural glass.

DIP-Tech’s corporate philosophy is to help designers and glass manufacturers create the previously impossible cost effectively. Traditionally, the creative possibilities of designing on glass have been limited by screening, an expensive, labour-intensive process that involves set up, cleaning, storage and reclamation. This makes the use of multiple, unique images very cost intensive. With the GlassJet, short to medium runs are cost efficient and have faster turnaround.

A challenging design

Metro GlassTech recently provided the glass for the renovation of the Wall Street Mall in Dunedin, New Zealand. Booth processed the supplied files, scaling and tiling them to suit the glass sizes provided by the construction company.

The very large glass sizes brought along an unexpected challenge. “We had to tile them, print one section, then rotate the glass, and stitch the remainder,” says Booth. “Remarkably, we had just received the GlassJet software update a week prior, with the print top to bottom option, which proved to be very helpful.”

The project presented several very specific demands. The architects’ design required the glass and inks to be highly durable as the glass is exposed to the elements on both sides. They also wanted to use the printed image to create a lower opacity to control light entering the offices. Beyond that, actual interactions with the architects were minimal. They just provided images scaled to the right aspect ratio for each section.

Glass printing made easy

“The set-up was very easy,” says Booth. “The GlassJet quickly and digitally processed the images, accommodating a wide variety of file formats, such as EPS, PDF, JPG, and TIFF. From there, it operates like a regular printer and receives the images directly via the network. DIP-Tech was good to its word. We had minimal set up time, thereby reducing costs. Most jobs we’ve done with this machine would not have even been considered previously using the screen printing technique.”

Complicated tiled projects such as this have in the past been considered logistical challenges. The GlassJet easily handles variable data for tiling project, numbering each pane in accordance with the designer’s plan. It also eliminates most of the barriers that previously stopped Metro GlassTech from accepting projects. “The GlassJet saves money and reduces production time by printing multiple colours at once. Being able to print white and black in the same pass effectively halved the print time,” adds Booth. “Metro GlassTech can now provide a product for our customers and architects that no one else can.”

Booth concludes: “We have several projects coming up that are perfect for this application. A particularly interesting one is a lion, nine meters tall, for a brewery in Auckland. The image uses a lot of complex shading. To do this the traditional way is not really an option, as the cost to prepare 12 screens for a one-off job just wouldn’t be economical. With the GlassJet, the brewery will receive a beautiful rendition of the artwork on glass exactly as specified.”