Glass Canada

Features Fabrication Innovations
The art of printed interlayers

While different decorative glass technologies have...

May 9, 2008  By *

A technological advancement that allows digital images to be applied to
laminated glass is making quite an expression on the Canadian market.

A technological advancement that allows digital images to be applied to laminated glass is making quite an expression on the Canadian market.

Images are digitally printed in the PVB interlayer using high-resolution ink jet printers with specially formulated inks to create an image in laminated safety glass that will not fade or colour change over time. The sliding doors of the Youth Centre of Kangigsujuaq in Nunavik, Quebec, glazed by Cloisons Corflex, La Prairie, Quebec. Laminator was Prelco, Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec.

While different decorative glass technologies, such as silk-screening, sandblasting and ceramic frit, have been successful in creating permanent images on architectural glass, they also come with their own unique challenges. Design constraints related to catalog textures, hard to handle materials, unproven glass assembly methods, durability and delaminating issues, safety code compliance and the high cost associated with photographic films have been obstacles to architects and designers who strive to express creativity in their building designs.

A new technology, acquired by DuPont and made commercially available four years ago, has taken down these creative barriers to allow architectural glass to make its own artistic impression in itself. The product, called SentryGlas Expressions, uses a new and fast way to put photography or artwork into decorative glass that assures the colour and resolution remains true to the original digital image. This is a new imaging concept which has grown from two of DuPont’s core technologies… proprietary inks for ink jet printing and its glass laminating business which serves the global automotive and architectural glass markets.


By marrying these two distinct technologies, the company is able to concentrate on designing proprietary inks and interlayers to create dramatic designs or lifelike photographic images in a laminated safety glass, but without the time delays and frustrations of traditional imaging processes.

The decorative sandwich
Laminated glass is best known as a ‘safety glass’ specified to meet building codes in hurricane prone areas of the US. Laminated safety glass consists of a multi-layered ‘sandwich’ of glass with a strong polymer interlayer for adhesion and impact toughness. The result is glass that holds together after breakage, maintaining a barrier and helping prevent injuries and property damage. Aside from the impact resistance, safety, security and acoustic dampening markets that specify laminated glass products, a growing niche market is developing for aesthetic applications.

The opportunity to decorate this laminated product happens by printing directly onto the safety glass interlayer before it is laminated, which results in an embedded image that is protected within the ‘sandwich’. It started with the introduction of coloured PVB interlayers which allowed the use of pantone colours with different levels of translucency by combining different coloured interlayers in the laminating process. Laminators have also been experimenting with encapsulating fabrics, rice paper and metal grids between the glass to achieve a textured or geometric look. The new digitized printing technology now enables virtually any image, whether it is a design or a photograph, a solid colour or continuous tone, to be reproduced in the interlayer of laminated safety glass without the expense and trouble of real textures.

Valerie Aunet, marketing manager for DuPont SentryGlas Expressions, says this technology is a logical extension for the company which started with PVB layers in the automotive windshields 60 years ago. “Since then the demand has risen for safety glass in hurricane prone areas of the world. But the demand now is for its decorative capabilities and laminated glass can now be known for its design as well as safety applications,” she says, adding that DuPont works with three laminators in Canada: Barber Glass Industries, Prelco and Lamiver.

University of Toronto’s new Centre for Cellular Biomolecular Research
(CCBR) features a graduated coloured façade using DuPont’s SentryGlas
Expression. Glazed by Ferguson Neudorf Glass of St. Catharines,
Ontario. Laminator for this project was Prelco in Riviere-du-Loup,
Quebec. Architect was Behnisch, Behnisch and Partners.

“Architects can work directly with laminators or DuPont which in turn finds the closest laminator for the job. We try to partner closely with laminators to ensure a seamless process for designers and architects,” she says, adding that DuPont does the printing and ships the interlayer to the laminator. “In Canada it is primarily marketed from a design standpoint where safety glass is specified, but not subjected to extreme hurricane winds and bomb blasts. Its key application so far has been in balustrades and wherever 21⁄8 inch laminated glass is needed to meet safety specifications.”

“We were one of the first laminators in Canada to adopt this product and we have been working with DuPont since its introduction in 2003,” says Bill Marchitello from Prelco, based in Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec. “The product has been very timely because we have been working on quite a few jobs that benefit from this technology,” he says, pointing out the use of SentryGlas Expression for the façade at the University of Toronto’s new Centre for Cellular Biomolecular Research (CCBR). It features a distinct design where the modulation of the DuPont vision glass serves to animate the sunlight entering the building with changing coloured light patterns that respond to the orientation of the sun.

Architecturally, the building is conceived as a 12 storey high transparent box (56 metres high by 57 metres long), elevated above a public concourse. The relatively shallow floor plan enables maximum use of daylight. The main, east-facing façade is a 7000 square foot graduated coloured wall in one piece of glass with arbitrary blocks of brightly coloured lites of laminated glass incorporating DuPont’s technology to provide a distinct visual expression.

Marchitello believes this is the first time that four or five different colour tones have been incorporated in a single interlayer, explaining how this product allowed designers to create coloured glass with depths of tone while some sections of the same laminated glass stay completely clear. “The use of different gradients of a colour in one piece of glass allowed us to precisely engineer the shading effect inside the building. Something like this would be difficult to do with ceramic glass.”

Although this product commands a premium price, Marchitello says there are several instances where it makes economic sense for architects to specify this product. “It can be expensive if the job calls for a lot of repetitive sizes, but if you don’t have the repetition then it becomes economical. It’s not that expensive to create an image on glass,” he says, adding that the market in Quebec is prime for this product because of the so called ‘one percent rule’. In 1961, the provincial government in Quebec enacted a measure for developers that offers grants to builders of one percent of the construction budget of all public building projects to incorporate some form of artwork in interior or exterior building projects.

“In Montreal you see all sorts of buildings with colour,” he says. Another ideal application is for airports as it is becoming more common for national airports to incorporate interior wall murals showing images that are unique to that country’s history and culture to international visitors.
However, Marchitello is quick to dispel that this new technology will be the demise of other decorative glass technologies. “This will augment silk-screening and sandblasting techniques because glass companies can now offer different versions with multiple colours and imaging possibilities. The advantage with DuPont is now this decorative capability comes with the added security feature of laminated safety glass.”

An ‘Art Wall’, by artist Sandra Bromley, in Edmonton, Alberta, is an example of the creative opportunities of decorative laminated glass. Now architects can meet building code criteria for overhead and underfoot glazing with glass that can look any way they want it to. Laminator was Barber Glass Industries in Guelph, Ontario. Photo by Sandra Bromley.

A logical extension
John Goodison of Barber Glass Industries in Guelph, Ontario, agrees, saying that decorative laminating glass is a logical extension of the progress being made with laminated glass
products for impact resistance and security applications. “Now architects can meet building code criteria for overhead and underfoot glazing with glass that can look any way they want it to,” he says, adding that Barber Glass had been doing some preliminary samples for DuPont prior to this new technology being released to the North American market, becoming a qualified laminator of SentryGlas Expressions in 2003.

“As we have focussed more on complicated and unique glass products, this has fulfilled a need in the market for decorative glass images that are of very high quality and more elaborate than other technologies can provide. Laminating SentryGlas Expressions has become a very predictable process for us, yet due to the nature of the product, great care must be taken on the front end to ensure that images which span multiple panels are co-ordinated so the best result is obtained.”

The company has used this product for several projects in Canada including Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Ontario; an art wall in Edmonton, Alberta; the Dixie Sandalwood Recreation Centre in Brampton, Ontario; as well as several projects in the US with more projects at different stages of development. “Our current advertising campaign is ‘We turn ideas into glass’,” says Goodison, to help illustrate the creative freedom this product will give architects. “This is something we take great pride in. We partner with architects and designers in order to help them realize their design visions and this technology will help us develop new products and techniques in order to achieve the designer’s goal.”

Scratching the surface
Michael Sartain from Lamiver in Montreal, Quebec, says the endless opportunities this technology creates is mind boggling and architects are only just scratching the surface of what will become a mainstream market. “It’s a great product that opens up new opportunities for architects and designers. It’s different from other forms of decorative glass. The image is digitally printed in the PVB interlayer. You can put whatever image you want and it won’t fade or colour change over time,” he says adding that corporate logos, counter tops, back splashes, interior office partitions, overhead glazing and balcony enclosures are primary applications. “Basically, it can be used everywhere laminated safety glass is specified,” says Sartain.

His company has recently launched a similar product and it is working with a local printer in Montreal that does the printing on the interlayer so it can offer a quicker turn-around time for smaller local jobs. “The trick is to use certain types of inks that don’t bleed. We had to experiment with different combinations of inks and PVB and use a little bit of magic. Just think about it, you can have a picture on a wall mural that is as smooth as the glass surface,” he says, predicting that this product will become a staple among building designers with a focus on building aesthetics. “The product has been slow to be adopted in Canada because of the cost, but this will be overcome once architects discover the endless creative opportunities and ideal applications that justify the cost.”

Marchitello says the technology to put any imaginable design onto glass has been needed for quite a while, but it will take some time to gain ground in the Canadian market. “This is still a niche product for now, until property owners and developers realize the aesthetic opportunities this will open up. In every building there is some form of aesthetic feature already in place,” he says, adding that this could be the next evolution in the development of glass that mirrors the growth in tinted and low-E glass coatings.

“This will become more mainstream once architects start specifying this product to dress up their buildings. There will always be a need for artistic impressions in the interior and exterior parts of buildings and this will provide them with another option.” -end-

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