By Melissa Donovan
Part 2 of 2
The first part in this series profiled Sun Styles Tile Craft of Tucson, AZ. The Web-based business caters to customers on an international and national level, offering high-quality, kiln-fired ceramic goods. It integrated digital print into its workflow with the help of distributor Digital Ceramic Technologies, where a Ricoh digital ceramic printing system was purchased. The investment allows the company to offer kiln-fired products decorated with digital photographs or client-supplied artwork—growing Sun Styles’ product offerings.
The company isn’t the only business out there reaping in the benefits of digitally printed ceramics; here we profile another user of the technology.
TPG Tiles, based in Paramount, CA, offers custom imaging on ceramic and porcelain substrates to customers worldwide. In business since 1987, about five years ago it began working with digital kiln-fired printing, using a modified Ricoh printer with specialized organic toner.
“We always try to stay up with current trends and have been experimenting with new print technology for many years,” explains Nathan Buschman, VP, TPG Tiles. Coming from a screen-printing background, TPG Tiles appreciated the transition, especially “because we are longer limited on the colors we use for a job. The customer is no longer limited to just a few colors. We have opened up hundreds of colors that were not available just a few years ago.”
TPG Tiles refers to its digital print process as DigitalGlaze. According to its Web site, pieces are fired at high temperatures, fusing the image to the ceramic surface to form a permanent image. The products are weather proof, colorfast, and dishwasher safe. The organic toner withstands outdoor hazards such as precipitation or UV glare, ensuring durability.
The digital print process isn’t without its challenges. For example, since TPG Tiles uses organic toners, it doesn’t have the full pallet of colors that other inks may allow. Over the years, the staff has worked diligently to achieve a correct color match between the digital image and final product that comes out after baking in the kiln.
“We constantly work to improve the color and become more efficient in our processes so that we can become an industry leader,” shares Buschman. Of note, TPG Tiles’ Web site advises that some color shifting should be expected, especially with red tones. The company sends out a color palette to customers for guidance when designing their own tiles.
Another constant challenge is time and temperature, explains Buschman. “We bake on a lot of different substrates—porcelain, ceramic, porcelain enameled—and with each one you have to bake it at a different profile. This is a constant learning curve,” he admits.
TPG Tiles works with clients from a number of different backgrounds from consumers to trade and everything in between. Its Web site is designed as a storefront to allow a customer to upload its own design online and then receive an email proof to approve. As little as one tile or an entire mural can be created. Some of the environments these are ultimately installed in include kitchens, bathrooms, game rooms, patios, and backyards; memorial plaques for grave headstones; custom outdoor signage; and entry walkways.
For example, the company created a serving tray depicting a street map of downtown Los Angeles for a high-end home décor shop also located in that neighborhood. Another project involved Spanish tile used as address markers for a property management company. TPG Tiles also repeatedly works with several non-profits in collaboration of mosaic artwork.
Digital print allows companies like TPG Tiles and Sun Styles to expand their product offerings to include unique, personalized products. Simultaneously, the quality of the ink and toners used provides a level of comfort for the end user, ensuring durability and resistance from scratching and peeling. With advancements in ink technology and curing, there are endless opportunities in what digital print can accomplish. dps