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Ceramic: Next-gen digital printing technologies unlock tile’s potential

July 3/10: Volume 32, Issue 2

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 3.26.15 PMDigital printing has helped to change the tile industry by providing manufacturers with limitless designs that mimic what is trending amongst consumers. Whether it’s natural stone, cement, marble, slate or wood looks, digital printing offers consumers the looks they want, the ability to put it where they want and at a desirable price range—all of which ultimately benefits the specialty retailer.

Case in point is Confindustria Ceramica, which finds digital printing to be one of the key technologies used in Italian ceramic tile production. “When it was first introduced, it could only guarantee satisfactory results for certain materials, but it can now be used successfully for any kind of product,” said Vittorio Borelli, chairman. “Its role has been further strengthened by the emergence of the second major innovation in ceramics, that of large-format panels and slabs, given that digital technology is essential for decorating these products.”

As technologies continue to advance, manufacturers from all over the globe are developing newer visuals and textures. Some of the newer design trends Barbara Haaksma, vice president of marketing Emser Tile, has noticed include Moroccan and Spanish looks, as well as antique visuals that mimic handmade tile. The main development she sees focuses on the manufacturer’s ability to customize products. “Another trend we’re seeing is the ability to create art on tile. Artists are now doing renderings and it’s being reproduced on tile. All of that is great to do now that the technology allows for it. I think in general we’re seeing a lot of customization.”

Haaksma explained that the new customizable features of tile are a bonus for specialty retailers, especially those who have designers or customers who want to create their own images. This trend lets tile take on higher-end looks with greater nuances, not only among tiles but customers as well.

Other tile manufacturers, such as Dal-Tile—the parent company of Marazzi, Daltile, American Olean and Ragno—are also creating more sophisticated products with the help of next-generation digital printing. “The evolution of printing technology has led to manufacturers being able to create unique patterns and designs on individual tiles, similar to the natural materials, like wood or stone, which we are replicating with high degrees of authenticity,” said Gianni Mattioli, executive vice president, product and marketing.

Part of Dal-Tile’s digital printing technology includes what the company calls “Reveal Imaging.” As Mattioli explained: “[It] is our state-of-the-art digital printing process that produces realistic color, detail and veining that is unique on every single tile for a look that’s virtually indistinguishable from natural stone. Digital printing technology is giving us—as well as other tile manufacturers—a competitive advantage over other flooring categories.”

Beyond the ability to recreate various designs and patterns is the ability of the new technologies to apply different materials to the tile. For example, the innovations at Crossville allow its digital printer to manufacture gloss, matte and luster glaze effects on its tiles, according to Craig Miller, R&D director.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 3.26.40 PMMS International (MSI) is also incorporating newer printing technology that enables a quicker production process. “Digital printer manufacturing companies, such as Kerajet from Spain, recently developed an inkjet printer that will be able to apply both glaze and ink in one step,” said Paulo Pereira Jr., senior merchant porcelain. “Since these cutting-edge digital printers can apply both enamels and solids simultaneously—besides the basic graphic effect—products can also incorporate other effects such as metallic, shiny or anti-slip effects in the same, one-step application.”

In that same vein, advanced technologies employed at Emser Tile are allowing the manufacturer to incorporate ink-jet printing deeper into the surface. “It’s not just a print sitting on top of the surface, but it actually becomes ingrained into the bisque,” Haaksma said. “So then the patterns and the colors are now infused into the tile itself.”

Overall, newer printing technologies are allowing manufacturers to innovate throughout the entire production process. For Borelli, this includes “image acquisition techniques that allow for ever higher levels of definition; increasingly powerful graphic design software capable of processing the images; more precise and high-performance print heads; and the development of suitable ceramic glazes.”

Retailer benefits
While next-generation digital printing provides manufacturers with benefits, it ultimately helps specialty retailers sell tile product at higher margins, according to tile executives.

These new technologies are enabling the consolidation of flooring products including wood, laminates, natural stones, etc. “For specialty retailers the requirement for training their sales team goes down as product lines are consolidated,” MSI’s Pereira said. “In addition, it enables more individualism for customers in the design process as the amount of choice significantly increases.”

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 3.26.09 PMWith the help of digital printing, consumers can also get high-end looks and high-performance flooring—both of which are available through porcelain tile at a much more affordable price. One example of this is found in tile that resembles natural stone. “[Natural stone] continues to gain strength in the market, but it is not suitable for all applications,” Emser Tile’s Haaksma said. “So you can get the realistic stone look with the performance, durability and affordability of porcelain. This way you can put it in a kitchen countertop, or wet space where you wouldn’t usually want to put a stone.”

Higher margins are available to retailers courtesy of the attractive characteristics made possible through digitally printed tile. “These types of products are letting retailers expand their margin dollars by drawing more consumers to their showrooms to buy products that were once unimaginable for a typical homeowner,” Mattioli explained.

Homeowners, industry expert say, are often inspired by botique hotels, spas and hospitality spaces they encounter through traveling. “In the past, the durability concerns and price points of rare stones and marbles prevented many consumers from bringing these gorgeous high-end looks in their own homes,” Mattioli explained. “However, through Dal-Tile’s Reveal Imaging technology, our brands are able to offer the visuals of rare stones and marbles in a tile product. This lets consumers have the look they love with the performance that real-life activity and real life budgets demand.”

For Confindustria Ceramica’s Borelli, higher margins are attainable by comparing past and present products. “All you have to do is compare these products with those that were available just five years ago to appreciate the progress that has been made. But it is crucial for retailers to communicate this value to their customers so that they are prepared to pay a premium for ceramic products that stand out in terms of innovation, technology and technical characteristics.”

Digitally differentiating
Most digital printing technologies are not proprietary—meaning manufacturers are often using similar machinery to produce hundreds of different products. When it comes to differentiating digitally printed tile, most manufacturers keep a close eye on developing trends to extract key details that will be unique to their product lines.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 3.26.04 PM“While digital decoration technology is capable of creating products with superior technical characteristics, it does mean the same plant solutions are being adopted across the entire Italian ceramic industry,” Borelli said. “What really sets companies apart is their stylistic choices, their use of graphic designs, colors and surface textures.”

Crossville aims to differentiate itself from other tile manufacturers by blending traditional printing technology and ceramic material effects with digitally printed images. “We call it a ‘digital-plus’ approach that allows us to create looks that are unique to Crossville products and are not replicable,” Miller explained.

For manufacturers such as Dal-Tile and its associate brands, differentiation comes from not only creating differing designs, but also from developing multiple products. “The vast array of tile offered by our brands provides every customer with a solution for every challenge they may face,” Mattioli explained.

 

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Cersaie renews agreement with BolognaFiere

cersaie-2017-posterSassuolo, Italy—Following negotiations lasting several weeks, Cersaie, International Exhibition of Ceramic Tile and Bathroom Furnishings, will continue to be held in Bologna in future years. Secured by BolognaFiere and Edi.Cer. spa, a subsidiary of Confindustria Ceramica, the agreement covers a four-year period, (2017-2020) with an option for an additional two years (2021 and 2022).

Investments to upgrade the Exhibition Centre formed a key part of the agreement, as effective implementation of the investments planned by BolognaFiere are seen as crucial for a major international event like Cersaie.

“The latest edition of Cersaie confirmed the strategic importance of the Bologna venue for our international clientele, which reached a record figure of more than 50,000 out of the total attendance of 106,000,” said Vittorio Borelli, chairman of Confindustria Ceramica. “The renewal of the contract comes at a time of constant innovation for our show and growing investments on the part of exhibitors, so the need to upgrade the Exhibition Centre is a particularly important aspect.”

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Ceramics of Italy Tile Competition opens

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 5.39.21 PMNew York—Confindustria Ceramica (the Italian Association of Ceramics) and the Italian Trade Commission are seeking entries for the 2016 Ceramics of Italy Tile Competition. For the past 22 years, the competition has served as a unique platform to showcase the work of North American architects and designers who utilize the high technical and aesthetic qualities of Italian tile. Each year an international jury of design experts selects three winning projects as well as honorable mentions in the residential, institutional, and commercial/hospitality sectors. Projects displaying the highest level of functionality, creativity, sustainability and aesthetic appeal will be rewarded with valued prizes as well as exposure in the industry.

To qualify for the competition, projects must be designed by North American-based architects and designers, completed in the past five years and feature a significant portion of Italian ceramic or porcelain tile.

Winners will be notified in March and officially announced at the Ceramics of Italy International Press Conference at Coverings, taking place in Chicago April 18-21.

In addition to travel and show accommodations, each category winner will receive a cash prize of $4,000 plus a five-day trip to Bologna, Italy next fall to attend Cersaie, the world’s largest exhibition of ceramic tile and bathroom furnishings.

The online application can be found at tilecompetition.com. There is no fee to enter and multiple submissions are accepted. Deadline is Jan. 15.

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Ceramics of Italy contest deadline extended

ceramics of italy_newBologna, Italy—The submission deadline for the 2014 Ceramics of Italy Tile Competition has been extended to Feb. 12.

 Organizers are seeking entries for the most original and imaginative spaces by North American architects and designers using Italian ceramic tile. 

The winner will win $4,000 and a five-day trip to Italy to attend the Cersaie show.

Sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission and Confindustria Ceramica (the Italian Association of Ceramics, comprises more than 150 ceramic tile manufacturers), the Ceramics of Italy Tile Competition is the longest-running competition of its kind. 

The 2014 edition is open to architects and designers based in North America who have used Italian ceramic or porcelain tile in their residential, institutional and commercial/hospitality projects compeleted in the past five years.

 The competition is completely digital and free to enter.

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Ceramics of Italy 2014 Tile Competition calls for entries

2014 Ceramic Tiles.Tile Competition MRSassuolo, Italy—Confindustria Ceramica, the Italian Association of Ceramics comprised of over 150 Italian ceramic tile manufacturers, and the Italian Trade Commission announce the official call for entries for the 2014 Ceramics of Italy Tile Competition. This year marks the beginning of the competition’s third decade, honoring the exceptional work of North American architects and designers who create imaginative spaces using Italian ceramic tile. Continue reading Ceramics of Italy 2014 Tile Competition calls for entries

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Confindustria Ceramica elects Borelli chairman

Borelli.Vittorio
Vittorio Borelli

Sassuolo, Italy— The Italian ceramic manufacturers’ association, Confindustria Ceramica, recently elected Vittorio Borelli chairman for the two-year period 2013 to 2015. The election followed an earlier meeting of the board where his designation as chairman of Confindustria Ceramica was approved unanimously. “I’d like to thank my colleagues for nominating me to this position,” said Borelli. “Working together within a cohesive association is the best way to address the current difficult situation. For this reason, I hope to see the greatest involvement on the part of all member companies.” Continue reading Confindustria Ceramica elects Borelli chairman

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Mosaic Tile wins 2013 North American Distributor Award

Vittorio Borelli, left, vice president of promotional activities for Confindustria Ceramica, presented James Igoe, general manager of Mosaic Tile Company, with the 2013 North American Distributor Award.

After considering the work of hundreds of leading tile distributors across the United States and Canada, Ceramics of Italy is pleased to recognize Mosaic Tile Company as the recipient of the 2013 Confindustria Ceramica North American Distributor Award. The award is annually presented at Coverings to a prominent North American distributor in appreciation of its dedication to the promotion of Italian ceramic tiles in the marketplace. This year, Mosaic Tile Company, a valued partner for the past 40-plus years, joins this hall of fame list of distributors. With ten showroom locations on the East Coast, the company has distinguished itself as a leading resource for colorful, design-driven, large-format and eco-friendly tile. Continue reading Mosaic Tile wins 2013 North American Distributor Award

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Call for entries for 2013 Ceramics of Italy Tile Competition

Confindustria Ceramica, the Italian Association of Ceramics comprised of over 150 Italian ceramic tile manufacturers, and the Italian Trade Commission announced the official call for entries for the 2013 Ceramics of Italy Tile Competition. Now in its 20th year, the competition honors the exceptional work of North American architects and designers who have featured Italian ceramic tiles in their institutional, residential, and commercial/hospitality projects. It celebrates the pairing of innovative design ideas and products from leading manufacturers of Italian ceramic tile in creating spaces that are well appointed, versatile, timeless, and sustainable. Recent winners include Fractal Construction, Leo A. Daly and RSP Architects. Continue reading Call for entries for 2013 Ceramics of Italy Tile Competition

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Ceramics of Italy returns to IDS 2012

Ceramics of Italy heads back to Toronto for the 2012 IDS Interior Design Show held from January 26-29, 2012 in the Metro Toronto Convention Center. Sponsored by Confindustria Ceramica, the Association of Italian Ceramics, the Ceramics of Italy institutional booth will feature mini-exhibits from some of Italy’s leading manufacturers including Appiani, Atlas Concorde, FAP, Giovanni De Maio and Vogue. Continue reading Ceramics of Italy returns to IDS 2012

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Executive forecast: Ceramic producers investing in technology for 2012

By Louis Iannaco

 

Much like last year, while most tile producers did not see economics conditions in 2011 rebound as quickly as they would have liked, they continue to make investments in technology and look to do more of this going into 2012. Digital printing technology has made a huge impact on what manufacturers can create, and it seems as though they’ll continue this trend moving forward. Mills are also being challenged from abroad, with an increase in imports from places like China only adding to pressure on pricing. Continue reading Executive forecast: Ceramic producers investing in technology for 2012