Renowned German glass designer Bernd Hoffmann was approached with a unique opportunity in 2006: To design a mostly glass façade for the municipal bank of Eiserfeld, Germany, illustrated with a satellite image of town and its surroundings. Always ready for a creative challenge, Hoffmann took the chance to provide “a new, interesting face for an old, unattractive building.”

Glass has always held a special fascination for Hoffmann, who studied glass and ceramic technology at the University of Duisburg, Germany, before starting Hoffmann GTD, an engineering and design office and manufacturing company for glass specialised in stained glass design and production.

A new dimension of design

Hoffmann associated himself with glass production company Interpane-Sicherheitsglas of Hildesheim, Germany. In 2005, Interpane was researching new methods for glass decorating and discovered an exciting new technology: digital ceramic printing on glass developed by Israeli company DIP-Tech.

“Glass, as a material, is a miraculous element for me,” says Hoffmann. “It gains its spectacular design qualities by its optical non-existence. Generally, graphic design is based on non-translucent, white paper substrates. On glass, a new dimension of design is added, where all images are hovering on invisible backgrounds, while the colour white evolves to become a functional, active element.”

The advantages of DIP-Tech’s new technology quickly became apparent to Hoffmann, as the software can process white ink while most graphic software programs and printers do not provide white as an active colour. Most layouts have to be inverted to show the actual result of the artwork.

Creating the satellite photo façade

Shortly after Hoffmann discovered the technology, he became aware of the Eiserfeld bank project. Construction company Warstat was looking for a supplier for the glass tiles the architect was considering through company Gli-Glas. “Luckily, our client was open to new ideas, allowing us to design such an exciting façade,” says Rainer Oestereich-Rappaport, the architect of the Eisenfeld project. “Together with the designer Andreas Bücklers from Cologne, we developed the satellite photo as the motif for the building.”

Without digital printing on glass, a project of this scope would not have been feasible. Hoffmann also quickly grasped how leveraging the new technology provided significant cost advantages. He says: “The main benefit of GlassJet, the machine used to deliver this technology, was that we could realise a large format image consisting of 295 different tiles with an average size of 1700mmx1300mm without any film-production costs and without the need for multiple printing. Because the machine prints up to five colours at a time, we were able to print even multicoloured images effortlessly in one run, backing it afterwards.”

Colour development and some aspects of application training were a concern for Hoffmann initially, but the DIP-Tech support team immediately answered any questions raised. There was no down time due to technology issues during the production. The machine’s variable data feature greatly simplified logistical issues, allowing individual tile numbers to be embedded into all graphic images. This ensured unmistakable identification during the handling, from printing, burning and quality controlling to shipping to the installation.