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Ceramic: Technology expands design possibilities

September 3/10, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 6

By Mara Bollettieri

With the help of technology, ceramic can go where it wasn’t able to go before. High-definition printing and screening has completely transformed the category, allowing it to be a more versatile floor and thus a more attractive option to the consumer.

The industry has been raving about the aesthetics of wood, and with high-definition printing, manufacturers can now offer these hot looks to the marketplace. If the consumer wants to install a floor that looks like wood in her bathroom but doesn’t want to put in real wood because water may damage the floor—no problem. In short, she can have the wood look she wants, with the benefits of ceramic tile to go with it.

Case in point: Dal-Tile uses digital printing to replicate looks of not only wood to stay on trend, but also stone, marble, masonry and concrete. High-definition printing allows the company to give the consumer a plethora of options and designs to appeal to all different tastes.

“Digital printing continues to be an innovation that lets us develop tile lines to meet consumer demands,” said Laura Grilli, senior manager of product development, Dal-Tile. “By combining digital printing with our existing expertise in tile design and manufacturing, our leading tile brands are able to develop tile that accurately replicates the natural surfaces but still features the benefits of tile, such as design, durability, cleanability, high-performance, health and sustainability.”

The manufacturer uses its Reveal Imaging, Visual Imaging and EverLux technologies in its three main tile brands—Daltile, Marazzi and American Olean. Grilli emphasized that not only do these technologies provide the look of the material that it is imitating in the design but also realism by creating the feel of the material it’s imitating. “Our technologies can create tile for our brands that capture the visuals and texture of the material we are trying to achieve, so much so that it is difficult for consumers to discern what is tile and what is the natural surface we are imitating,” she explained. “Our EverLux technology actually synchronizes the texture to the design for the ultimate realism.”

Emser Tile also uses high-definition printing to its advantage. The company cited its Porch line, a glazed porcelain that features subtle wood grain movement on tile panels. The collection gives realistic wood looks and can be installed in shower walls and floors, kitchen counters, inside pools and other wet areas due to the benefits of ceramic as a flooring option.

“High-definition print technology continues to evolve, enabling ceramic designs that showcase high-resolution pattern and texture at once,” said Barbara Haaksma, vice president of marketing.

Technological advancements have also allowed manufacturers to have more control over the design process of tile. MSI shared that not only has high-definition printing revolutionized the category, but it provides companies with the ability to have 100% control of the outcome of the print. Because of this, MSI can change images on the tile to the way the company wants it to look.

“The unique beauty of this is if there is a vein coloration or awkward knot hole in the natural material that we want to remove or alter, we can,” said Emily Holle, director of trend and design. “At MSI, our strong background in natural materials gives us a very good eye for color, detail and movement in graphics. We are very particular about what graphics work and which ones don’t. We now have the ability to take a high-resolution scan of natural stone, wood plank, cement look, etc., and print it on tile.”

Using the latest advancements, MSI is also able to produce larger-format tiles for shower walls, floors and now countertops. This pairing of hot graphics with popular large tile sizes is its key ingredient to success in the industry with ceramic tile. “Large 5 x 10 panels are being printed with the most beautiful graphics,” Holle stated. “This happy marriage of digital print and large format panels is going to change the tile industry as we know it. Large-printed tile is now perfect for countertops. Think about countertops that won’t fade and can be in any high-end stone look you desire for a fraction of the cost. It won’t scratch and it’s heat resistant.”

Leslie Wolfe, designer and owner of Benton Parker Design, LaGrange, Ga., who frequently collaborates with MSI, attested to how high-definition printing has completely transformed the category. She has experience designing multiple spaces with tile for many years but has always been resistant to its looks. Now, tile can offer authentic stone looks, which she prefers, with digital printing.

“I have always been a natural stone loyalist because of its authentic colorways, rich depth in veining and overall luxurious appeal,” Wolfe explained. “In the past, there was no comparison. Ceramic tile wasn’t anywhere close to the quality of looks I specified for projects. With the massive improvements in print technology, the visuals look better than ever. There are some prints on tile that do not exist in nature, so that is an added bonus—high durability plus a unique design.”