Rotary Printing versus Inkjet Tile Printing

Ever changing and consistently improving technology has caused the overhaul of many industrial processes. It has been observed that an industry which does not keep pace with the latest advances in science and technology often renders itself redundant. On the other hand, if proper attention is given to the manufacturing process and suitable changes are implemented which are aligned with the relevant technology, it can do wonders for the industry as a whole. The crucial point is that any technology which is not consistently evolving is bound to find itself redundant within a few years. With an ever growing demand for industrially produced products, it is vital for manufactures to keep improving the efficiency and turnaround time at any manufacturing facility.

Modern Tile Factory

Keeping in line with other counterparts, the tile manufacturing industry has also come a long way from the early production days. The tile industry has witnessed a remarkable improvement in its production technology during the past few decades. Ceramic and porcelain tiles have quickly captured the mind space of the public due to the obvious advantages that they offer. Ceramic tiles are cost effective and extremely versatile. However, the process of printing intricate shades and patterns on these tiles has undergone many structural changes in the past. As we’ll come to know, the printing process has embraced the latest advantages that technology had to offer which completely revolutionized the tile manufacturing industry.

Rotary and Screen Printing – An Introduction

Screen or Rotary printing was the most widely used process for ceramic and porcelain tile printing for a very long time. The industry was heavily dependent on this procedure as it offered an economical way to print huge amounts of tiles. The first traces of screen printing appeared in the works of Song dynasty in China. The time period was   approximately 960 to 1279 D. The credit for popularizing screen printing as an artistic technique is generally given to the American artist, Andy Warhol. The method gained wider acceptance as the time progressed and was inducted as a mainstream process for industrial production subsequently for large scale production of garments, clocks, medical devices and thousands of other items.

Screen printing is a fairly straightforward process which includes large sheets of screens with patterns or stencils blocked out. These stencils work as an impermeable boundary to the ink and ensure that the ink does not seep through after the printing has been done. A squeezing machine is used to force the ink through the mesh onto a substrate. The entire tile is colored using this process except the area on which pre-determined patterns had been drawn using the stencils as boundaries. This printing process results in a desired pattern or shape being produced on the tile and the process can be repeated again and again to duplicate millions of such tiles. After the printing procedure is completed, the process of glazing begins. The glazing materials are essentially added to provide a glossy or matt finish and a protective layer to the tiles which shields them from dust, germs and moisture. A noteworthy point during this process is that the ink pigments used for the printing process and the glazes which are added afterwards must tolerate the high temperatures a tile is subjected to in the firing kiln. The firing process helps provide resilience and strength to the clay component which results in the durable nature of the tile. 

Rotary Tile Printing

Rotary Printing is often confused as a completely different process than Screen printing. However, this is a common misconception as both procedures are one and the same except for a small difference. Rotary printing also employs screens to print patterns on the ceramic tiles; the only difference is that the screens are cylindrical as compared to the flat ones which are used in screen printing. For this exact reason the latter is also known as Flatbed screen printing. The setup cost related to establishing a screen or rotary printing manufacturing facility is quite high. However, the cost per unit of tile drastically reduces as the large scale production of ceramic tiles is carried out. As it is amply clear by now, screen printing is accomplished by the direct contact of tiles and a stenciled pattern pressured on them. Due to obvious reasons, this process results in lot of tiles being damaged by the force of contact. As, the tiles are printed upon before subjecting them to high temperatures of a kiln, their structural is easily compromised as they not strong enough to withhold such pressure. This does not happen on a mass scale although the small percentage of tiles that do break can cause blockages and associated costs to the production line.

Inkjet Printing

Ink Jet Tile Production

Inkjet printing is a well known term which is familiar to most people, thanks to the widely used office and home printers which employ inkjet printing technology. Inkjet printers are undoubtedly the most prevalent form of printing devices available today. They offer seamless printing services on papers, cards, newspapers along with major home and office use. The innovation though is the use of inkjet printing technology for designing vivid patterns and styles on ceramic and porcelain tiles. Inkjet printing took the tile manufacturing community by storm when its arrival was announced. The huge advantages related to reduced cost and increased versatility meant a lot of tile manufacturers were interested in trying out this innovative way of printing. The fight between analog and digital has mostly resulted in the victory of the latter. Since, inkjet printing is a digital method of printing; it is no big surprise that it has an upper hand over screen or rotary printing techniques. This is quite evident in the fact that the purchase for screen printing equipment by tile producers has become almost negligible compared to inkjet printing materials.

Inkjet printing is a form of computer printing that reproduces a digital image by pushing ink droplets onto the material which is intended to be printed upon. The process itself is quite complicated as the droplets are rearranged by the use of electrostatic forces. Interestingly, the employment procedure for inkjet printing is very simplistic and economical as compared to screen or rotary printing. This is the exact reason as to why the tile manufacturers are rapidly shifting their stance and funds towards inkjet printing technology. As we delve deeper into the functioning and results of inkjet and rotary printing, some basic differences become evident which are discussed in detail below.

Cost Effective

Rotary printing requires the more frequent replacement of all the input materials. These include stencils, adhesives, chemicals and glazes among many others. This surely took its toll on the balance sheet of the manufacturer as the replacement cost was factored in. Inkjet printers on the other hand use a digital process to recreate the visual image on any tile. This process is steadfast and involves propelling of ink droplets on the tile without even requiring direct contact. As it is abundantly clear, the maintenance cost related to inkjet printing is considerably lower.

It should be kept in mind that a lower manufacturing cost for the tile producer translates into cheaper tiles for the consumer. This is a win-win situation for everyone and leads to the evolution of industry. Money is an important factor which drives the decision of any buyer. With tiles produced by inkjet technology at ridiculously low prices, the market for screen or rotary printed tiles seems to be fading away.

Waste Reduction

As mentioned earlier inkjet printing is a non-contact design process which involves the propulsion of ink droplets onto the ceramic tile. This is really crucial as the tiles are in a tender stage of their development. The printing process takes place before the strengthening process begins by subjecting the tiles to high temperature in a kiln. Thus it is imperative that tiles do not break or get damaged while in the printing stages. Screen or Rotary printing involves contact with the tile as the stencils are pressed hard against the surface of the tile. This often results in breakage of tiles which adds to the industrial waste produced by the tile manufacturers.

Another important thing to note is that the slightest misalignment between the tile and the design screen can cause imperfect and poorly patterned tiles. This also adds to the waste produced by a tile manufacturing facility. Inkjet printing is digitized and the position of each scattered droplet can be controlled with extreme precision.

Versatility

Picany Marble Effect Floor Tile

One of the most attracting qualities of inkjet printers is that it offers an endless variety of shades, patterns and colors to choose from. This is achieved with the seamless integration of designs with computers which can randomly mix and match the input to provide a unique design each time. All the design and decoration patterns for the tiles can be stored inside inkjet printers in a digitized format. To add to this feature, the memory can be increased limitlessly to store gigantic amount of complex patterns.

Inkjet printers have an innate ability to adjust to the size and texture of any tile which further exaggerates their versatile nature. Furthermore, all the previously used designs and templates are at the beck and call of the manufacturer by the push of a few buttons. Also unlike screen or rotary printers, only one batch of a specific design can be printed by inkjet printers without changing any basic equipment of the printer. To print a particular design on screen printers, an individual stencil of that design or shape has to be made. This is no longer required by the digitized process of inkjet printers.

Creativity

Vesta London Tile

Italian and Spanish tile manufacturing industries were regarded as the pinnacle of high quality and exquisitely designed ceramic tiles. Their engineers had mastered the arduous process of creating exemplary and visually appealing tile patterns. However, the advent of inkjet tile printing technology has created a slightly more level playing field for all tile manufacturers and designers. Designs can now be created digitally and then stored in the memory of an inkjet printer to make them a reality in no time. Now any designer with access to a decent photo editing software can create stunning designs without any straining physical work required. This is an aspect in which inkjet printing has truly revolutionized the tile manufacturing and designing industry.
The quality of the print on a tile produced by inkjet methods is also much higher quality than the traditional rotary printing method. True high definition designs of any image can now be easily mass produced, a concept that was unthinkable just a few years ago.

Efficiency

The entire process of tile manufacturing has become seamless and more efficient with the use of inkjet printing. Apart from creating endless varieties of tile designs on offer, each tile can be made different from the other with the highly digitized process. The fast demand and supply scenario which is a reality today forces producers to keep shortening turnaround times. This means that the time required in taking an idea from a designer’s head and making it into a spectacular tile should be as little as possible. Inkjet printers satisfy this need as the designs can be transferred digitally into the printer’s memory and then printed on a tile with the utmost of ease. In addition to achieving quick turnaround times, the inkjet tile printing also lets the manufacturer make last minute changes to the tile pattern and design. This can be achieved as the printer also provides high quality replicas of the intended design on paper enabling the producer to get a sense of the final product in terms of pattern, shade and colour.

Tile manufacturers have rapidly adopted the use of inkjet printing since 2007. The European tile production facilities were the first to embrace this change of technology and discard the Screen and Rotary printing procedures. In the past few years, massive tile production hubs have started digitizing their facilities by employing inkjet printing. It seems that inkjet tile printing is here to stay as the primary tile producing procedure, of course until the inevitable arrival of a newer and more sophisticated technology.