Oh No….The Printer’s Out of….Tile!

June 18th, 2010 by Mary Schmelzer

Just when you thought you’d seen all the uses for an ink jet printer, along comes a new, innovative one. Large scale ink jet printers are now being used to precisely spray ink onto tile. The inks used are a combination of salts and glazes which are sprayed onto a white body tile. A computer is used to design the pattern which is then sent to the tile on the production line. Nearly any image that can be created by the computer can be copied onto the tile.

Natural stone is being replicated using this technology. By combining different ink jet printing and different glazing, greater depths and texture can be achieved, making the tiles look even more like real stones. Ink jet is also better at accommodating surface texture on the tile and can randomize the patterning (so you can’t see an obvious repeat on the tiles.) Printed “stone” is useful for commercial installations where a natural stone would be beautiful but not long-wearing or may be difficult to maintain.

Because the tiles are printed right on the production line with computer control, small batches can be provided with quick turn-around. This gives the consumer amazing control. Previously, small batch productions were very costly and had a long lag time. Because of this, tile distributors ordered in large quantities then had to pay to warehouse the tile.

How could you really push the envelope on this technology? My first thought was corporate identity: it would be interesting to have a logo or other company imagery printed right into the tile used in its offices. How about reproduction tile for an historic project where the tile is no longer available? Maybe we’ll start to see art tile using artists’ images that are duplicated or divided and printed onto individual tiles.

Let us know if you’d like to see this tile and consider it for your own project. We can discuss its possibilities for your application. Plus, you never get a paper jam!

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