Decorating Ceramics

Heavy-Metal-Free Options

Image courtesy of Brown-Forman, Louisville, Ky.

Demand has been increasing for full-color, heavy-metal-free designs on a range of products in the gift and promotional products industry. This demand has driven print and decal suppliers to develop new systems to meet the growing needs of the marketplace. Customers are looking for one decorating or decal system that can be used for a range of products, including glass, ceramic, plastic, acrylic, wood and stainless steel.

Traditional lead- and cadmium-free water-slide and heat-release, fire-on decals are still limited in the full color ranges required by many art creations and corporate logos. Companies like The Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo have changed many of their logos to white because they cannot match the Coca-Cola and Pepsi red color with heavy-metal-free, fire-on decals. State and federal laws and guidelines are making it too risky to put bright fire-on colors on today's glass and ceramic packaging.

New non-fire and bake-on decal transfer systems are growing in popularity because they enable decorators to offer a full range of bright colors and true four-color process decals using no heavy metals. Decorators can offer their clients decorated products without any color limitations. In addition, special embossed and metallic effects can be achieved that are not possible with traditional fired-on decals. Water-slide, bake-on decals and non-fire rub-on transfers are two such systems.

Non-fire and bake-on decal transfer systems enable decorators to offer a full range of bright colors using no heavy metals. (Image courtesy of Kraftware, Roselle, N.J.)

Water-Slide, Bake-On Decals

The water-slide, bake-on decal is applied using water and has a removable cover coat. After the cover coat is removed, the item needs to be heated in an oven at 300°F for 30 minutes. The inks are hardened by the heat and are household dishwasher safe.

These decals are being used on a variety of decorative cosmetic and alcohol containers to provide a more durable and rich finish compared to the traditional paper labels and stickers. Water-slide, bake-on decals are also being used to decorate stainless steel mugs and water bottles, as well as bicycles and motorcycles.

Special embossed and metallic effects can be achieved that are not possible with traditional fired-on decals. (Image provided by ExactBuilt Decorating Co., Underhill, Vt.)

Rub-On Transfers

A rub-on transfer works like a pressure-sensitive decal but has a removable liner that, when removed, leaves only the ink behind on the ware. This gives the appearance of a raised, direct-printed graphic. These transfers do not need to be heated or baked. They can be applied to any smooth surface item, including bottles that are already filled with products such as cosmetics, alcohol, wine and high-end water.

Rub-on transfers are all acrylic based so they contain no heavy metals, which allows them to be used on food packaging and children's products. These transfers are also household dishwasher safe.

Rub-on transfers are offset printed with 155-line halftone that offers the highest resolution possible. They can be produced with a special embossing material to give the decoration a textured look and feel, offering a rich and unique appearance on the product being decorated.

This raised embossed technique can also be used without any color. The clear embossed rub-on transfer, when applied to a clear or frosted plastic or glass, gives the appearance that the container was custom molded with the embossing in the glass or plastic mold. Many companies are using this clear embossed transfer system both for production and when prototyping new packaging designs.

Continuous Innovation

Decal printers and decorators are constantly working to improve the color range and durability of heavy-metal-free decals to meet the increasing demands of the marketplace and the environment. Water-slide, bake-on decals and rub-on transfers avoid regulatory and health and safety concerns while offering bright color options for today's manufacturers.

For additional information, contact International Decal Corp. at 3318 Commercial Ave., Northbrook, IL 60062; call (847) 498-5820, ext. 11; fax (847) 498-6356; e-mail; or visit


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