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Improved Laser Printing Equipment for Ceramics (ILPEC)

Project Team:

Principal InvestigatorProfessor Martin Smith 
Co-Investigator: (Feb 2017–Sep 2017) Rod Bamford

Co-Investigator: (Oct 2017–Jan 2018) Peter Oakley
Researcher: Dr Steve Brown 

Improved Laser Printing Equipment for Ceramics (ILPEC) builds on the results of the AHRC funded project: Extending the Potential for the Digitally Printed Ceramic Surface. ILPEC will offer immediate incremental improvements to the ceramic laser printing equipment that is currently available to ceramic tableware and giftware manufacturers and ceramic design studios. The project will also act as a longer term stimulus by identifying the technical specifications for the next generation of machines that will be directly dedicated to the needs of UK ceramics companies and related creative industries.

The value of laser printed ceramic technology has been proven in limited contexts; it is now widely employed to print small runs of ceramic transfers used to decorate tableware, giftware and artworks. More recently leading UK ceramic companies have started to recognise the technology's true potential and its commercial disruptive capability. This has demonstrated that the new technology offers a range of aesthetic and economic opportunities unattainable with screenprinting, currently the dominant means of creating the large runs of ceramic transfers used to decorate high-value ceramics i.e. porcelain and bone china. As a truly digital technology, laser printing also holds the potential for complete integration of digital design development and the actual print processes.

The project team identified two key technical barriers to wider take-up of current laser ceramic printing technology. Whilst the laser print machines currently available were adequate for the requirements of office printing, two aspects of these laser printers' construction have proved to be weak links in the context of high volume, multi-colour accurate ceramic transfer printing. First is the inability of the current toner delivery system to handle the large quantities of different coloured mineral pigments needed for large runs of ceramic transfers. The second is the poor registration accuracy of the printer's paper feed mechanism. This project will develop the improved machine parts needed to successfully print high volumes of high-quality multi-colour ceramic transfers.

The project will also assemble an industry working group to look beyond the currently available technology and define the requirements for a next generation, purpose-built, ceramic pigment digital laser printer. Drawing on the combined expertise of the working group, the project team will draft a comprehensive set of specifications that will respond to the needs of ceramics manufacturers and related industries that could use such machines.

This project is funded by