Classy Glass

Advanced decorative techniques make high-end looks more affordable.

By Janet Herlihy Editor

Glass has been fascinating craftsmen since they first started making it into beads and seals in Mesopotamia around 2500 B.C.

Finding new ways to embellish glass–how to color it and decorate containers of it–continues to intrigue the craftsmen of the 21st century, especially those dedicated to innovation and creativity for the cosmetics and personal care market.

The Spray’s The Thing

Probably the most significant recent development in decorating glass containers is the spraying of either organic or ceramic inks on the container. Once sprayed, the items pass through a curing stage where they are heated. The ceramic sprays are a form of liquid glass, which bonds with the surface of the glass container when heated. Organic inks do not melt into the surface and are, therefore, somewhat more fragile than ceramic finishes, but are available in a wider range of colors and finishes.

Because spraying, with either ceramic colors or organic inks, can be done economically for relatively small runs, more companies are opting to spray colors on glass rather than using colored glass, according to Bob DeProspo, executive vice president of USS Corporation, Newark, NJ.

USS provides a wide range of glass decorating services including acid etching, spraying, silk screening with extremely tight registration and printing with raised precious metals. USS will add the application of pressure sensitive labels on glass this year. The company first began spraying glass bottles about three years ago and can now spray opaque, transparent, glossy or frosted looks.

DeProspo explained that the use of colored glass, where various substances are added to molten glass to create shades, involves high volumes, sometimes a million or more bottles, which can be prohibitive for many smaller companies or when only smaller numbers of containers are needed. “Now all the little companies can do with spraying, what previously only the big companies could do,” DeProspo said.

Government regulations have eliminated some of the ingredients that can be used in ceramic sprays such as lead and cadmium, which in turn has limited the palette of available colors. But organic inks, which are somewhat more delicate than ceramic finishes, are now available in a tremendous range of colors including bright and neon shades. While organic inks create a finish that can be scratched, it is not too delicate for home use.

Sprays can be manipulated to offer greater design flexibility. Multi-color finishes can be created, such as Liz Claiborne’s Mambo fragrance bottle, which is colored using red, yellow and brown inks. Sprays can be applied heavier or lighter so the color of the bottle varies with dark to light gradations.

Masking some areas of a bottle before it is sprayed to leave those areas clear is another current trend. By masking, clear windows can be created as well as all sorts of designs made by combining clear and colored or frosted areas.

As seen in the picture above, a Bath & Body Works Purely Silk Body Lotion bottle, left, has a frosted finish featuring a subtle clear floral pattern encircling screened text and a pressure-sensitive label. The center bottle, Torrid, has been sprayed red in a top-to-bottom, light-to-dark tone. The Elizabeth Arden Bye Lines bottle features a barber pole effect in clear glass on the spray frosted cylinder.

There are many options and combinations of techniques now available. “The marketers bring us their designs and we show them what can be done,” said DeProspo.

Steve Contreras, director of sales and marketing for Quest Industries, Hillside, NJ, noted that spray effects are available for pearlescent and iridescent finishes and even glow-in-the-dark effects. Quest also provides frosting, spraying, screen printing, heat transfer and pressure sensitive labeling services for glass containers. Contreras added that there are also neon-look sprays and a crackle effect that can impart an antique look.

The growth of spray techniques is driving a decline in the use of acid etching for frosted effects. Even though acid etching is actually more cost-effective, it can only produce frosted looks on whatever color glass is treated, whereas sprays allow for a frosted look in virtually any color.

Metallicizing, add­ing accents of gold, silver or chrome, is a luxury look that is very expensive and even more fragile, DeProspo said. Embel­lishing glass with raised metal involves first laying down an exact print in clear flux of what will be metallicized. Then, the decorator must print the metal over the flux in exactly the same position. The same machine is usually used as well as the same operator in order to duplicate the positioning. The flux not only allows the metal to bond with the glass but also raises it and adds shine, according to John Ziemba, manager, sales and marketing at USS.

Silk screening is a traditional method of decorating glass but it too has become more advanced. “Most of the breakthroughs in silk screening are related to better materials that can stand up to handling and abrasion,” said Ziemba. As in spraying, both ceramic and organic inks are used—for the same reasons. While the organic inks are somewhat more difficult to work with and are more fragile on the finished bottle, the range of colors available makes them appealing.

Whether organic or ceramic, precise registration—the exact alignment of layers of printing—is critical, especially for cosmetic and fragrance containers. Ziemba said that for a fragrance bottle for Banana Republic, USS printed black over white on the concave face. He explained, “We used ceramic inks and put down two passes, in exactly the right position inside the curve.”

The Bath & Body Works product “imagine” has slender, clear glass bottles that are silk screened at USS with delicate, pastel design elements with a hand-painted look. The design is placed around the bottle so that the pattern can be seen on the surface and through the glass.

The use of clear film as a label material on glass rather than the more complex and labor-intense silk screening process is also growing, according to Contreras. “The film has become very thin and easy to apply and gives a no-label look.”