FLEXIBLE SOLUTIONS AND MULTIPLE TECHNOLOGIES FOR DECORATING CERAMICS
Defining our approach to this topic could be compared to a three-lane motorway heading directly to your objectives. If we look at the way the market moves on one hand and consider the technologies and widespread knowledge we possess on the other hand, the solutions we provide are an articulate combination of methods which can be tailored to a specific need. Process knowledge, technological expertise and close relations with customer and ink or lacquer suppliers all come into play.
Growing demands for customisation, making luxury products available to all your customers, are driving the market towards an increased need to be flexible, to guarantee superb, repeatable quality. Variety, the broadest possible colour gamut, to ensure the highest degree of product personalisation, which has to be delivered just in time. Sustainability of the process also remains a priority in all sectors today.
Selecting the right process case by case
Responding to a conceptual requirement does not lead to one machine or one technology. Addressing the desire for personalisation, sustainability, cost rationalisation, lead time reduction and quality demands a multifaceted response. We need to examine the three lanes of our motorway and see how each of them leads directly to the customer’s goal.
Decorating ceramics can be done through:
a high-temperature industrial digital printing process using vitrifiable inks
a low-temperature industrial digital printing process using UV or water-based inks
a process known as Solid Colour (achieved either using high or low temperatures) in which a single colour is applied using spray, roller or curtain coating methods
Each of these is suited to a specific objective and should be evaluated in greater depth. Our experience in all surface enhancement technologies and our expertise with regard to these three techniques enable us to guide customers towards the most suitable solution, involving definition of the process, choice of machinery and appropriate consumables.
High-temperature digital printing
Also known as the third firing process, this technology involves printing with vitrifiable inks directly onto ceramic surfaces ranging from mosaics to large slabs in terms of size. It enables an extremely high level of customisation, combines superb image quality and definition with the eloquent power of colours, now giving access to a previously inaccessible luxury product. Moreover, single pieces can be decorated making them unique and can be delivered on demand, just in time.
Typical characteristics of this process include:
direct printing without a primer
machine with a printing motor with up to 40 heads, output up to 50 sqm/hr
interlaced heads in order to ensure non-stop printing and avoid the "line" defect
8 colours available with a bright gamut
3 precious inks (gold, platinum and lustro) that are not affected by the firing process
patented ink recirculation system, with periodic flow inversion to avoid sedimentation and maintain total efficiency of the heads, allowing full backgrounds without defects, even with precious inks
drying with NIR lamps to avoid the formation of meniscuses on the surface and colour matting
special ventilation system to ensure the integrity of the belt and prevent the nozzles from getting clogged
reliable, proprietary software developed specifically, enabling total control over the process
tanks treated internally with nanotechnologies to avoid their deterioration
Low-temperature digital printing
Versatility and the extraordinary variety of finished effects are the hallmarks of the low-temperature alternative. Precisely for this reason, unleashing creative power to respond even more so to a demand for personalisation, it is essential to master every aspect of the process, which is the added value we provide.
Able to account for the entire process, supplying all the necessary equipment, our attention is focused on the desired result, providing customers with the technology needed at each step of the process to ensure that result.
Our solutions are designed in house and include:
adhesion primer and/or basecoat application
digital printing with multi-pass / single-pass machines
protective topcoat application
drying and catalysing ovens
Using low-temperature digital printing, companies dealing exclusively with decoration of ceramics are able to access a colour gamut way beyond that of traditional inks for ceramics. Furthermore, effects such as over 90 high-gloss, below 5 gloss deep-matt and "haptic" relief effects are possible to extend creative potential. And it is all done using UV or water-based inks, thereby eliminating their need for a firing oven and reducing the environmental impact.
Further to the advantages regarding sustainability, colour gamut, unrivalled customisation potential, the key benefit is that a customer will be able to count on a turnkey solution from start to finish, and tailored to their productivity and flexibility needs, with all the equipment necessary, consultancy to identify the most appropriate inks and single-pass or multi-pass printers to perform in line with the customer’s objectives.
Low-temperature digital printing uses photosensitive inks, making the end product suitable for indoor environments. Although surface wear resistance of the printed layers is not comparable to a ceramic surface, satisfactory foot traffic resistance can be achieved by setting the correct process parameters.
Creating Solid Colour with digital printing or traditional methods has highlighted issues that include the so-called "orange peel" effect, or the "television" effect. To avoid these, we have conducted research to establish a Solid Colour application technique that:
greatly reduces costs
enhances the colour gamut
increases flexibility and productivity
While this technique should not be considered for flooring, it is an excellent solution for decorating any other ceramic surface. The process can be illustrated in 3 stages:
application of a colour coating
application of a protective layer
application of the finished effect
Starting with the colour coating, after an optional primer, the colour gamut is vast and because application is performed at low temperatures, the colour chosen is not affected by a high-temperature process. Colours of any RAL or Pantone are reproduced faithfully.
Application is performed using any of three methods: spray, roller or curtain coating, all of which based on technologies designed, developed and fine-tuned in our LAB. In fact, the choice will depend precisely on further tests we can run to adapt the equipment to the lacquer used, the size and shape of the ceramic piece and the quantity of lacquer to be applied.
The second stage in the process regards the application of layers to protect the coloured coating applied initially. It involves a series of coating phases, performed on roller coaters where lacquer consumption can be carefully controlled to avoid waste. The result of this stage is the quality of the surface layer, surface resistance and colours which are true to the desired result.
Finally, the desired finished effect is obtained using integrated technologies to achieve an over 90 high-gloss or below 5 gloss deep-matt finish.
Each of the technologies implemented, from coating to curing, are the result of decades of research and innovation which have led to the benefits mentioned above.
How do they improve quality?
Each coating solution that can be implemented for the Solid Colour application technique has been perfected to ensure consistent, repeatable coating uniformity. Each machine enables full control over the operating parameters and can be accompanied by software solutions to maintain top performance. Booth pressurisation avoids dust entering the spraying cavity, increasing the quality of the process.
How do they reduce costs?
A host of devices and patented systems all contribute in different ways to increasing transfer efficiency, for example specially conceived coating enclosures (plenums), thereby reducing lacquer consumption. Patented cleaning systems retrieve excess lacquer during the coating process and recycle it to minimise waste.
How do they increase productivity?
Highly flexible, high-speed colour changeover is possible thanks to the patented Just in Time system. Recently developed devices applied to specific spray coaters also allow for on-the-go colour changeovers avoiding machine downtime. The scalability of the solutions allows coating to be performed on more than one product simultaneously. Overall costs are thereby reduced even further.
Multiple technologies multiply your benefits
To summarise the benefits obtained, we need to appreciate the different ways of achieving what the market demands. Highly customised products supplied with short lead times at competitive prices, ensuring consistentquality and suited to their final use.
Our broad knowledge of the industry and the widespread technologies involved, and how they can be combined into an integrated solution allows us to work with each customer towards their ideal objective.
Learn more about the techniques used to decorate ceramics in this recently published webinar.
We believe technological research and continuous innovation to be essential for the achievement of rewarding results. First and foremost, our goal is to be a consultant and partner.