By Melissa Donovan
Part 1 of 2
Advancements in ink composition and curing technology allow digital print to expand into new markets. One of which is the industrial sector, where ceramic manufacturers are looking to customize their wares and offer buyers cost-effective, unique products in smaller quantities. These businesses range from corporations that outsource print to trusted partners or those that bring a digital printer in house to ramp up production, to smaller organizations relying on Web storefronts to reach customers worldwide.
Sun Styles Tile Craft, located in Tucson, AZ, is one small business that promotes its products online. It began in 2008 with the goal to provide high-quality, kiln-fired ceramic goods. Today it sells commemorative tiles for events such as weddings, births, and anniversaries; kitchen backsplashes; exterior tile murals; and grave markers. Customers span from the U.S. to Mexico, Canada, Europe, and the Caribbean.
Durability Requires a Change
Based on customer requests and general trends toward personalization, Sun Styles realized it needed to build on its expertise by adapting new technology into its portfolio. In particular, it looked for a device that could combine ceramics and pottery with art files such as customer-supplied photos and other graphics.
Initially, sublimation seemed like the most logical solution. “While we still use sublimation due to its effectiveness in many applications, we were finding that we needed something more permanent for applications that required UV- and scratch-resistance like outdoor tile murals and kitchen and barbeque backsplashes,” explain Geno DeCarlo and Diane Strzesak, owners/artists, Sun Styles.
After conducting research, DeCarlo and Strzesak found Digital Ceramic Technologies, located in Phoenix, AZ. The distributor offers ceramic toners and digital ceramic printing systems, such as Ricoh Aficio SP C830DN and Ricoh Aficio SP C420DN printers that Sun Styles now uses due to their consistency and ease of use.
The actual printing process did not present any initial challenges. However, learning curves had to be overcome when it came to color and low resolution. Through trial and error, DeCarlo and Strzesak corrected the color between what was seen in the design file to the finished, fired ceramic piece. Photograph quality issues are remedied by being more hands on with customers.
“There are times when the only photograph the family has is one taken in low light on a cell phone. We provide customers with photo guidelines for submission—we never turn a client away if an image is badly damaged or not optimum for printing, we just make sure we set their expectations by explaining our process and providing a proof for their approval,” share DeCarlo and Strzesak.
While durability was an essential feature in utilizing a digital print device, it presented Sun Styles—and its customers—with new opportunities.
“Digital printing allows for incredible resolution and vivid colors. This combined with our kiln-fired process has created new opportunities and made our products more affordable. All of our kiln-fired products can be created with digital photographs, and digital printing has made this type of business possible,” say DeCarlo and Strzesak.
Recognizing the ever-changing industry, both owners admit that are always open to trying out new innovations in digital ceramic printing. For any vendor testing new ceramic toners or introducing a new product into the market, Sun Styles is ready to implement them. dps