During the last decade the tile industry has reinvented the way ceramic tiles are decorated. With the advent of inkjet technology being incorporated into this process there is no longer a need for screen or roller printing methods, freeing the industry up to many different opportunities. As with screen and roller printing, the image of the design is first scanned, then modified on a computer. However, by utilizing the key advantages of digital imaging the design can be almost instantly transferred to the inkjet printing machine, which is fully equipped with the essential inks to print any design with any desired color.
The non-impact technology that the inkjet printer utilizes enables manufactures to decorate any type of tile, including relief tile, just as easy as traditional flat tile. This is done by using a print style called Drop on Demand (DoD) and by utilizing a special type of printing device called a piezoelectric printhead. These let the printer create an identical picture of the digital image by propelling tiny drops of ink (measured in picoliters) onto the tile. Because the inkjet machines fit perfectly into the manufacturing process, it is no wonder how they improve efficiency, yet allow for a higher degree of customization by allowing virtually an infinite possibility of design.
What We Used Before
In the not too distant past the entire ceramic tile industry were slaves to screen and roller printing. While not bad, technology has since proven these methods to be rather inefficient. Not only are they more time consuming, but they can produce large amounts of waste.
A key benefit of the inkjet printer is not just the fact that you can load an image of almost unlimited length, but at any time during the printing process you can change that image instantaneously. With the older methods your design capability is more limited, and changing designs can prove to be time consuming and expensive. The biggest hindrance of the older methods is that the production line needs to briefly stop while the design is applied to the tile. Because inkjet printing allows a seamless application of the image, it can speed up the production rate up to five times!
You must also consider the green benefit for embracing this new technology. Besides the screen and roller printers taking longer, they must also be replaced from time to time. You must also replace the film, adhesives, chemicals, and emulsion from the process as well, creating an unnecessary amount of waste.
Simply put, an inkjet printer reproduces a digital image by propelling a continuous stream of ink droplets onto the tile. With virtually no setup time, this shortens the period from idea to product immensely. As mentioned earlier, this allows relief tile, as well as fragile tile, to be decorated without any additional effort other than programming in the design.
Although standard inkjet printers are only equipped with enough memory to decorate about 30 12×12 ceramic tiles, like most computers additional memory can be added to create a virtually limitless possibility of unique designs. Factor in the ability to easily adjust to any size and texture and it’s easy to see how inkjet technology is revolutionizing the ceramic tile industry.
Another key factor is that all of your design information can be stored digitally. This allows the manufacturer to reproduce any image with a push of a button, with alterations to the design or size easily changeable.
In today’s market the demand for stone tile is declining as it is now so simple to replicate these images, despite the fact they inherently fluctuate in their design. Not only do you get the same aesthetic cosmetic design, but because the engineered stone is actually technical porcelain it is not only stronger and more durable, but it is much easier on the environment.
Products such as StonePeak’s Limestone Walnut combine the subtle beauty of a soft hue with the uniqueness of the limestone’s design. By using engineered stones you not only receive the green benefits of manufacturing the tile instead of cutting it from a quarry, but Limestone Walnut contains 32% recycled material. Combine this with superior strength of porcelain and a through-body color you have an eco-friendly tile that will look spectacular for a lifetime.