Trends in Decorative Finishes

UV-curable screen printing inks allow high-speed printing using no solvents or heavy metals while providing all the color advantages of organic inks. Photo courtesy of Comdec Inc./Ruco Printing Products.
What trends are emerging in decorative finishes, and what factors are driving those trends? To answer those questions, CI talked with several leading suppliers of colors, glazes, precious metals and other decorating technologies. While many suppliers have had to change their product lines due to increasingly stringent environmental regulations over the past several years, most have turned the situation to the decorators’ advantage, developing a wide range of colors without the use of heavy metals. Suppliers have also developed new technologies for improved durability, faster production and less energy use. Following is an in-depth look at these advances, as well as a preview of some emerging products and technologies that will benefit the decorating industry in the near future.

The SpecTruLite™ organic inks for glass offer decorators a full palette of heavy-metal-free colors, as well as high-gloss and metallic effects. Photo courtesy of Ferro Corp.

What innovations have been developed over the past several years for ceramic/glass decorating?

Steve Presutto, Global Marketing Manager, Coates Screen: Two areas come to mind—ultraviolet (UV)-curable screen printing inks and digital inks. UV inks can provide significant production benefits and energy savings in long-run production applications compared to conventional decorating methods, while digital inks, which are applied in droplet form using print heads, can provide advantages for short-run and customized products.

Robert Chadwick, Vice President, Comdec Inc./Ruco Printing Products: Ruco Printing Inks has made many inroads into the ceramic/glass decorating market in the recent past. We have developed both solvent-based two-component organic inks and, most recently, a UV-curable organic ink. The solvent-based system features a low-temperature cure that makes it ideal for operations where a kiln cure is not appropriate. The huge benefit to this system has been the ability to match any color with inks that contain no heavy metals. In the past, some colors have been very difficult to produce—these new inks have overcome this problem.

Recently, we have also introduced a UV-curable ink for glass that allows for high-speed printing using no solvents or heavy metals while providing all the color advantages of organic inks. The ink also produces a glossy, sharp image that adheres well, has dishwasher resistance and good chemical and abrasion resistance. We are still discovering all the applications for this product, but so far, we have used this ink on housewares, cosmetics and advertising specialty items, such as mugs and beverage containers. [Editor’s note: For more information on this UV-curable ink, see “A New Cure for Screen Printing,” CI September 2001, pp. 39-41; or online at,2710,63058,00.html.]

Paul Hameleers, Business Manager, Engineered Coatings Group, Engelhard Corp.: The whole ceramic and glass industry is moving toward organics to get away from the environmental issues surrounding cadmium and lead. Engelhard is developing organic products to meet these needs, and with the latest acquisition of the ceramic coating business of Pittsburgh-based O. Hommel Co., we’ll be able to focus even more on organic products. [Editor’s note: See the news item located at,2714,75449,00.html for more information about this acquisition.]

We’ve also recently developed new microwave-proof precious metals, called MicroProof™. These products have a bright appearance that hasn’t been available in the past.

Todd Barson, Sales Service Engineer, Ferro Specialty Glaze and Decoration Products: Microwave-durable gold for glass and ceramic applications and thermoplastic gold for glass applications have been introduced within the past year. Other new developments have included a UV-cured medium for ceramic decal production, dry screen printing of ceramic decals and the KeraJet technology for direct ink jet decoration of ceramic tile. [Editor’s note: For more information about KeraJet, see the article, “Touch-Free Tile Decoration,” CI September 2001, pp. 20-24, or online at,2710,63059,00.html.]

David Klimas, Manager Global Market Development and Technical Service, Ferro Glass Systems:Most new developments have targeted making decoration products more environmentally friendly, including new glass enamel formulations that do not contain heavy metals, the introduction of organic coatings and inks, and the introduction of more environmentally friendly mediums. New decoration techniques have also been introduced, such as electrostatic dry-sprayed powders, UV-curable inks and laser decorating. Additionally, new non-stick, busbar-hiding technology has been introduced to the automotive glass industry to meet the need to produce more complex bent parts.

Sean Weir, Chemist, Ferro Glass Systems and Organics R&D: Organics R&D in Washington, Pa., has been working on two projects: organic inks and waterborne coatings, and laser marking materials. The SpecTruLite™ organic inks for glass offer decorators a full palette of heavy-metal-free colors, as well as high-gloss and metallic effects. These inks are more cost-effective than ceramic inks in terms of applied cost and energy savings for curing vs. firing. The waterborne coatings are also heavy-metal-free and are available in any color desired. These can be spray-applied or dip-coated and are used in many high-end decorative applications, as well as in applications such as lighting fixtures.

The CerMark™ laser marking materials for glass and ceramics offer decorators the ability to perform custom decoration on a piece-by-piece basis. These materials are applied to the glass or ceramic and then fused to the substrate using a CO2 or YAG laser. The use of the laser allows the decorator to change the image as needed to perform personalized decorations or to serialize glass and ceramic articles. [Editor’s note: For more information about CerMark laser marking materials, see “Lasers: The Light of the Future” CI September 2000, pp. 54-57, or online at,2710,10844,00.html.]

George Vardy, Executive Vice President, Mason Color Works Inc.: Encapsulated zirconium/cadmium pigments have been widely embraced by the industry. They offer the advantages of being stable through the entire ceramic spectrum up to Cone 12, and are food-safe and safe for factory workers. These pigments supply the designer with shades from bright yellow to orange and lobster red. True red is not yet commercially available, but research is ongoing to try to achieve this. Also, these pigments do not need lead, and they are color-stable in most lead-free formulas.

Bob Middlemiss, Business Manager Metal Inorganics, OMG: Cobalt oxides are the bases for many blue and black pigments. OMG has expanded our line of cost-effective cobalt oxides ranging from 30-73% cobalt. This allows decorators to choose the best materials for their applications at the lowest costs.

Organic inks and glazes can help decorators achieve a desired look without the use of heavy metals. Photo courtesy of Engelhard Corp.

How have environmental regulations affected the types of products your company supplies?

Presutto (Coates Screen): Coates Screen supplies UV-curable, solvent-based and textile inks to the screen printing industry as a whole. Over the years, there has been a trend away from solvent-based inks in favor of UV-curable inks. Additionally, the use of heavy-metal pigments has decreased significantly in favor of inks formulated without heavy metals. These changes have certainly been influenced, if not mandated, by environmental regulations. Our product development has been in line with these trends.

Thomas Knox, Manager, Technical Services, Ceramic Color & Chemical (CCC): CCC meets all national and state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements as a zero-emission producer. We do not manufacture materials containing lead, cadmium or selenium.

Chadwick (Comdec/Ruco): Often environmental regulations stimulate the development of new products. In our case, it helped make the industry aware of some of our products that already existed. We have worked in industries where the heavy-metal regulations have been an issue for many years, so we were quite prepared for the new heavy-metal regulations in the glass and ceramic industries.

Hameleers (Engelhard): The cadmium and lead issues that we’re facing in ceramic and glass enamels are prohibiting us from using those heavy metals. With organics, we can reach the colors our customers really want without the heavy metals. The only drawback on those products is the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are emitted during application, but we’re working on water-based systems that will overcome that problem. Some organic water-based systems are in use, but most systems are still solvent-based. The durability is the main issue, but it’s quickly getting there. Durable, organic water-based systems should be widely available by the end of this year.

Barson (Ferro): Many of Ferro’s new developments have been in response to environmental regulations and our desire to make our environment a safer place. For instance, there is an increased need for lead-, cadmium- and mercury-free decorating materials. The continued concerns about the use of solvents and heavy metals are leading to changes in production techniques and formulations.

Vardy (Mason Color): Certain pigments that were based on the use of lead compounds are no longer manufactured in our plant. Other than this area, environmental regulations mostly affect in-plant processing and waste treatment decisions.

Middlemiss (OMG): Environmental regulations have not altered the type of products supplied by OMG to the ceramics industry. However, they have altered the handling procedures required to ensure proper safety. More packaging options are also available to reduce waste from packaging or to ease the recycling of the container.

Today's tile manufacturers can benefit from developments such as Ferro's KeraJet technology to more quickly and easily decorate their products. Photo courtesy of Ferro Corp.

What other factors are currently affecting glaze/colors/precious metals suppliers, and how will these factors affect the types of products available on the market?

Presutto (Coates Screen): Many decorators strive to be more efficient. UV-curable screen printing inks offer advantages over traditional frit inks with regard to being more efficient and cost-effective. Digital inks are also more efficient for certain applications. In both cases, if ink performance meets the end-use requirements, it may be prudent for decorators to look at these newer technologies.

Knox (CCC): Overseas suppliers are making the shrinking U.S. market even more competitive than it’s been in the past, and manufactures must improve quality and reduce costs to survive. As a result, CCC has focused our resources on the manufacturing aspect of our business in the past several years, improving our processing to lower costs and increase quality.

Chadwick (Comdec/Ruco): The largest factor of late has been the economy. With the recent slowdown in the development of new products, it has been more difficult to introduce new and innovative products that require the purchase of capital equipment. But we see things beginning to rebound.

Hameleers (Engelhard): From a business point of view, we’re seeing a lot of imports from the Orient. As a result, a lot of our customers in the U.S. are losing business, and we’re selling less than we planned. It’s become essential for us to establish a relationship with Chinese companies. In January of this year, we opened an office in Shanghai in the Free Trade Zone. I think many companies will find themselves forming relationships with Chinese companies in the future.

Barson (Ferro): The use of automatic dishwashers has led to the development of decorative products having an increased resistance to chemical attacks. The increased importing of ceramic blanks for decorating has resulted in an increase of on- and in-glaze decoration of dinnerware in the U.S. Additionally, the modernization of decorating lines has resulted in the need for new products to use in high-temperature, fast-fire cycles for deco products.

Jerry Faucett, Tile Business Manager US, Ferro Tile Coating Systems: Competitive pressures are modernizing the industry and turning it into a volume industry. This change is driven by the need to achieve low unit costs with comparable and consistent quality and designs as innovative as European or U.S. producers. Low-cost production is essential to remain competitive, and this necessitates large-scale production and the replacement of labor with automated systems. There is excess capacity in the stain and frit industry. Margins are low, and suppliers are struggling to make a profit. This will likely force a reduction in suppliers in the future by acquisitions, mergers or bankruptcies.

David Klimas, Manager Global Market Development and Technical Service, Ferro Glass Systems: Global competition and the need to continue improving the environment are the major factors that are affecting our industry. We must focus on developing more cost-effective products and application techniques to help our customers remain competitive. The global glass market is very mature, with little growth expected outside of the developing countries.

Vardy (Mason Color): Price and availability of raw materials continue to be very important, and in our field, raw material consistency and quality are also vital. High-quality complex inorganic pigments cannot be made very successfully with cheap, low-grade raws. At this time, a few materials used in color manufacturing are in short supply or no longer available. This has created an increase in re-development costs of some existing pigments, but the situation has not yet caused a shortfall in the availability of those products.

Middlemiss (OMG): Customers and suppliers are all trying to streamline their operations. The focus will be to minimize inventory and rapidly convert raw materials to finished products supplied just-in-time to meet customer requirements. Proper planning and scheduling are critical to ensure that the right product is made available in the correct package as schedules continue to change.

What trends are emerging among ceramic and glass decorators, and what new products are the glazes/colors/precious metals industries developing as a result?

Presutto (Coates Screen): Color management software and hardware (such as dispensers and software controlled scales) are not new to screen printing, or even to other printing technologies, but perhaps are gaining interest in the glass and ceramics market. Again, the goals of being efficient and cost-effective are answered in part by these color management tools.

Knox (CCC): I think that the customization of products and services will be important going forward. Many suppliers, including CCC, will develop new products and services at our customers’ requests to ensure that their needs are being met.

Chadwick (Comdec/Ruco): Marketing groups want access to every color in the palette and are demanding very accurate color reproductions. We are prepared to meet that demand.

Hameleers (Engelhard): I don’t think the trends really change all that much. Right now we’re looking at more of the low precious-metal-based products for the decorative industry and lower silver-containing products for the automotive industry. For instance, rear window defoggers typically contain about 55-82% silver. We’re trying to get the amount of silver down to around 50% or less without sacrificing the performance of the system. This will significantly lower the price. We’re already selling some of that. We also supply slow-tarnishing silver to companies such as Visteon.

Overall, I think the organic water-based systems will be the key innovation for the decorative markets.

Barson (Ferro): Decorators desire faster turnaround time, smaller runs and more flexibility in the decorating process to minimize inventories and maximize cash flow. To meet these needs, Ferro developed the CerDeChrom color management system using four- and seven-color systems and special software. The system allows for faster prototyping and minimizes the number of colors needed in production.

Additionally, in the tile industry, rotary printing has replaced flat screen printing in many areas. Rotary printers generally require less set-up time, maintenance and clean-up time than flat screens. Also, the rotary printers have the option of printing all of the tiles alike (by indexing) or printing randomly so that the tiles have an intentional variation. This provides flexibility in the tile design. Rotary printers can also be placed much closer together than flat screens, reducing the length of the glaze line or allowing room for other glaze or deco applications.

Klimas (Ferro): Glass decorators are using organic inks and coatings to replace glass enamels. They are also looking for faster and more cost effective decoration techniques. In the future we expect to see a greater need for UV-curable organic inks. We also see a need for decorating techniques that would offer mass customization, such as laser decoration.

Vardy (Mason Color): Perhaps more than new products, we find today that our customers have the same laboratory equipment we do, and the monitoring of sold product is very high. Lot to lot, pigments must exhibit extreme quality and consistency; therefore, dedicated, qualified technical personnel are mandatory. In a similar vein, expectations of just-in-time shipments have created the need for superb inventory control to give the customer assurance that products of all types can be shipped virtually overnight, since extended shipping times are no longer acceptable in most instances.

Middlemiss (OMG): Use of blue glass for packaging various liquids is increasing. This is replacing some clear or brown glass and creates an attractive product presentation. The increased availability of higher-cobalt-content cobalt oxides will help meet this demand.

For More Information

For more information about the topics discussed in this article, contact the contributors using the contact information listed below:
  • Coates Screen, 2445 Production Dr., St. Charles, IL 60174; (630) 587-5215; fax (630) 513-1655; e-mail;
  • Comdec Inc./Ruco Printing Products, 25 Hale St., Newburyport, MA 01950; (978) 462-3399; fax (978) 462-3443; e-mail;
  • Engelhard Corp., Engineered Coatings Group, One W. Central Ave., E. Newark, NJ 07029-2809; (973) 268-7800; fax (973) 268-7914.
  • Ferro Specialty Glaze and Decoration Products, 4150 East 56th St., Cleveland, OH 44101; (216) 641-8580; fax (216) 641-8857;
  • Ferro Glass Systems and Organics R&D, 251 West Wylie Ave., Washington, PA 15301 (724) 223-5900;
  • Ferro Tile Coating Systems, 1540 Selene Dr., Carrollton, TX 75006;
  • Mason Color Works Inc., 250 E. Second St., Box 76, East Liverpool, OH 43920; (330) 385-4400; fax (330) 385-4488;
  • OMG, 811 Sharon Dr., Westlake, OH 44145; (440) 899-2950; fax (440) 808-7117; e-mail;

Editor's Note

For additional suppliers to the decorating market, see Ceramic Industry’s Data Book & Buyers’ Guide, in print or online at,2784,,00.html.

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