by Cassandra Balentine
Brewery and winery goers love their merchandise, including barware like pint and wine glasses. Direct to object (DtO) printing technologies make it easier than ever to offer short runs of custom glasses commemorating anything from the company’s logo to a limited edition drink.
“Statistically, DtO printing in the glass industry is continuing to extend its market share,” offers Christian Maas, managing director, Koenig & Bauer Kammann GmbH. “Although still outnumbered by conventional labels for beer and wine, more beer designers take an interest in direct decoration for its unique properties, e.g. the no-label-look, relief effects, and environmental benefits. Screen printing, inkjet printing, and foiling are the main technologies, sometimes even combined with label for direct decoration at the front and label with more technical information at the back.”
Continued advancements in DtO printing specific to glassware make it easy for print providers to offer a variety of custom barware to craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries.
“In my experience, the adoption of DtO printing within the glassware industry has been remarkable,” claims Riley Mann, marketing specialist, Inkcups. “There’s a discernible shift towards leveraging the unique capabilities of digital UV DtO printing, particularly for pint glasses, wine tumblers, and beer bottles.”
This trend is driven by the versatility of digital printing, allowing for the replication of various print outcomes. “Techniques such as mirror print, tone on tone, contour print, and others have gained popularity, making digital decoration the preferred and effective method for achieving high quality and customized results in glassware,” says Mann.
A notable example is the use of contour print to elevate the perceived value of wine bottles. “This technique provides a textured three-dimensional feel to the design, creating a level of sophistication and uniqueness that sets the product apart,” adds Mann.
“The adoption of direct print to glassware is a natural extension of a large existing market that includes souvenir, commemorative, and branding that is currently printed through other methods such as pad printing,” shares Hugo Gonzalez, senior segment specialist, industrial printing, Mimaki USA, Inc.
For many years, glass has been printed on directly using different technologies. “Predominantly, pad and screen printing technologies were very successful. There is now a big push in digital printing on all types of glass. This is where we see the biggest opportunity because the technology and process has advanced to become as efficient if not more efficient than the other two process that have been adopted,” shares Jim Lambert, CCO, LSINC.
Gonzalez explains that digital UV technology offers the ability to print full-color, photorealistic, and smooth gradient images and logos with minimal setup and wasted resources. “This is particularly beneficial for customers seeking low-quantity batches of customized and personalized designs.”
Jay Larsen, GM/director of R&D, digital inkjet systems, INX Digital, feels that digital printing on glassware is well past the commercial acceptance stage. “Printers are mostly suitable for shorter production runs with variable data or special digital embellishments. Many hundreds of printers are installed in the market, printing on glass and using our JetINX print engines.”
Tooling and software advancements continue to enhance the appeal for breweries/wineries and those print operations that supply them. “Items ranging from shots and whiskeys to pints and growlers can now be decorated. Combine all of that with the ability to process art files directly from the web and glassware continues to be one of the most popular applications for UV rotary printers,” says Michael Perrelli, marketing and sales director, Innovative Digital Systems.
The acceptance and adoption varies geographically. “I just returned from Europe and one of the biggest things I see, especially in Germany, is breweries supplying the decorated glass to the bars and restaurants. These branded glasses are used exclusively for the beer supplied by the breweries,” shares Paul Bolduc, president, Koenig & Bauer Kammann (US) Inc. “In the U.S. we are still a long way from this.”
Compared to traditional methods like screen and pad printing, DtO brings the capabilities of digital print to barware, including short runs and customization.
Digitally printing to glassware provides flexibility in small quantity orders, multicolor imprints, and greater customization capabilities. “Rotary digital printing allows you to conduct smaller quantity glass drinkware runs at less cost, ultimately saving time and money,” stresses Perrelli.
“One of the biggest benefits is the available printable area versus that of an applied label,” says Lambert. Brand owners push this because it gives them more real estate to convey their marketing message on store shelves. “There are also possibilities with high build tactile effects that just aren’t possible with traditional conventional labeling. This is also an advantage over silkscreen and pad printing processes. Also noteworthy is the sustainable characteristics of the digital ink on glass specifically with regard to the recycling and reuse options that are available.”
Bolduc agrees, noting that with DtO, Koenig & Bauer Kammann equipment prints excellent quality glassware with excellent durability, even on shaped glass articles. “We use a Xaar printhead, which has a 70 millimeter (mm) print area, so if the artwork is bigger than 70 mm in the longitudinal direction we would have to print in two or more passes. We have solutions for this too if needed.”
Digital UV technology also eliminates additional setup required between jobs/designs or job quantities. “In popular methods such as pad printing, a printer would have to use the same amount of chemicals and ink to start the press if they were going to print two cups or 200 cups. Additionally, they would have to start up a printer for each additional color or clean the press to print the next color. With digital UV/DtO technology, there is no setup or wasted ink or chemicals to change between designs, colors, or customers. This is why pad printing usually requires minimums in order to reduce the overall setup per piece cost. The real benefit is the ability to print high-quality short runs, photorealistic images, and a significant reduction in setup and clean-up time. Similar advantages exist over screen printers,” offers Gonzalez.
Mann says DtO printing offers quality. “Inkjet printing ensures that finished glassware products exhibit a high quality and uniform appearance, enhancing their overall aesthetic appeal.”
It also offers cost-effective and quick results. “UV digital printing on glass stands out as a revolutionary and cost-effective technology, providing quick and professional results at a lower cost per print,” adds Mann.
DtO provides immediate readiness for shipping. “Unlike some other methods, there is no drying necessary in the inkjet printing process, allowing glassware products to be immediately ready for shipping after production,” continues Mann.
The process is ideal for multi-color designs and industrial use. “Inkjet printing is optimal for companies aiming to produce multi-color designs, especially in large-volume industrial applications, offering a versatile solution for glass decoration,” offers Mann.
Working Past Limitations
While there are many benefits to DtO printing for glassware, there are also limitations to consider.
Until recently these advanced pieces of machinery and corresponding technology have come with a substantial price tag, admits Mann. However, accessibility continues to improve. Mann points to the release of Inkcups’ Helix ONE benchtop printer as an example of a more accessible DtO system.
When it comes to short runs and customizations Perrelli doesn’t see limitations outside of the decoration area on intricate shaped items. “Most of the glassware that comes through our Applications Lab can be digitally printed. Our team analyzes the product and then tests for safe rotation—tooling, adhesion, and ensuring the largest possible print area is achieved.”
“A big challenge is awareness among designers and brand owners, so spreading the word about the benefits of direct decoration is important,” recommends Maas.
As DtO print technology advances, it becomes easier to print to glass objects.
“Speed, adhesion processes, and tooling have advanced over the past couple of years to where operators can UV print glassware faster and better than ever before,” comments Perrelli.
Larsen shares that incremental improvements in surface treatment options, cleaning methods, and ink technologies were made over the past few years.
For example, INX offers patented helical print technology to allow the printheads to perform at full speed with resolutions higher than the native printhead resolution and nozzle redundancy. “This allows for continuous production of quality products to meet the customer’s needs. In addition, we provide ink and treatment options for difficult substrates that allow for printing of durable finished products,” says Larsen.
Advancements in drives and controls have led to faster machines with higher throughput, points out Maas. “Hardware and software for inkjet print modules, such as INX’s JetINX technology, today allow for accurate ink drop deposition at a range of speeds, article geometries, and ink viscosities. Ink chemistry itself has improved in its performance in various areas, such as curing/drying properties, operability, and chemical components.”
Mann comments that the Transparent Pin Curing feature for Inkcups Helix machines allows operators to skip the time-consuming step of stuffing each clear vessel with a foxtail. “Traditionally, UV inkjet printing on clear vessels requires a stuffing agent known as a foxtail to block the UV light from curing the ink and damaging the printheads. With this technology, containers remain uncontaminated and sterile on the inside and printhead life is protected.”
Additionally, Mann addresses pretreatment systems as a way to streamline the process. “We offer the MagiCoat pretreatment system for glass. This system utilizes a flame treatment system along with a spraying system for spray-on primers. It boasts eight stations that rotate individually while going through the system. Each item is flame treated to eliminate debris and coatings put on items such as glass that inhibit adhesion. Any area that can be made more efficient and relies less on the operator is ideal.”
Lambert also points to jettable primer as a game-changing advancement. “Jettable primer helps in some instances to minimize pretreatment processes before the article gets to the printer. This saves money and time.”
Bolduc says Koenig & Bauer Kammann continues to innovate on the equipment side adding specific features to simplify the process of digital printing. “We are also working on the consumable side; we have an open ink policy and work with ink suppliers who can bring the most benefit to the complete process. We have recently introduced digital embossing, which could potentially open additional markets for our customers.”
Gonzalez believes general advancements in direct printing to glassware include the ability to print single items and low-quantity batches without significant setup or associated fees; the ability to print photorealistic images and smooth gradients; evolving primers offer better ink adhesion; and new methods are coming every day, such as UV direct to film, which basically turns the ink into a rub-on sticker with great adhesion.
“Overall, the glassware industry is actively embracing the advancements in DtO printing, recognizing its ability to not only produce superior prints but also to unlock creative possibilities that were previously challenging with conventional printing methods. As a result, digital UV DtO printing is becoming an integral part of glassware customization, offering businesses a competitive edge in delivering high quality and visually stunning products to the market,” says Mann.
Glassware is typically going to be washed numerous times, so printed images must be durable.
“Washability and durability are a big concern when it comes to glass drinkware,” comments Lambert. The standards are high and when drinkware is subjected to commercial wash cycles, the decoration and color integrity of the decorated glass must remain in tack. “Potential buyers need to make sure they do their due diligence. Most reputable vendors will have third-party test results that can be shared related to successful washing cycles for their ink and substrate combinations.”
Gonzalez admits that this can still be a limitation for DtO printing. “Most bulk-produced glassware is screen printed then fired in a long oven to anneal the ink in order to provide durability. Hand washing is recommended for digitally decorated glassware.”
“Glass as a substrate is difficult to print on,” notes Maas, “because on a molecular basis it normally lacks bonding points for ink. Here we are looking at two processes which dominate the direct decoration industry—UV ink and ceramic ink. With UV, washability and durability depend on proper surface flame pretreatment, applying state-of-the-art primers/ink, and using adequate UV-curing systems. Ceramic inks rely on oven processes to melt pigments into the glass at high temperatures for permanent bond.”
Gonzalez adds that while new digital primer formulations help the ink adhere better than previous formulations, the decorated surface may not hold up to multiple runs through the dishwasher.
Larsen feels that with the right recipe—substrate, treatment, ink, cure, and overvarnish—digitally produced products can be very durable. “That said, most companies recommend hand washing because consumers really expect these types of products to last a long time.”
“With any piece of drinkware, washability and durability is a concern. For this reason, it is important to undergo adhesion testing to find the right combination of ink, primer, and pretreatment needed for your vessel,” comments Mann.
According to Bolduc, washability and durability is not a concern. “We have worked for years and continue to perfect the system, with our current process and inks we are able to withstand a minimum of 500 dishwasher cycles and many glasses surpass 1,500 wash cycles.”
Perrelli agrees, noting that as long as the proper steps are followed prior to printing, there shouldn’t be any concern on the ink adhesion. Third-party testing shows that properly prepped glassware can stand up to the rigors of use and 250-plus dishwash cycles. “Here’s the key—operators must be disciplined in following those pretreatment/preparation steps.”
Direct to Glass
Wineries, breweries, and distilleries are well poised to benefit from the technology afforded by today’s UV DtO printers. Print area, ink adhesion, and durability continue to evolve to ensure high-quality directly printed graphics that stand the test of time.
Feb2024, DPS Magazine