Thursday, 12 December 2013

How ink-jet tiles are transforming the industry

It's not just design, it's the business.
Ink-jet technology is increasingly changing the way that the tile industry does business. It makes it quicker and easier to provide designs to match and cater to market trends.  Ink-jet technology provides economic and production benefits over previous production processes, namely screen printing and roller printing. The technology provides an infinite variety of designs coupled with faster response times and lower breakages, but more importantly it has changed the way we do business. We're no longer a product-based sourcing company, today we're actually a service business. Such technology enables us to sell a market solution. Digital print technology has allowed us to effectively and efficiently better tailor products for the various international markets and in a shorter time period. As a result we can provide a product that our customers know will sell. We offer our customers our expertise in tile trends then let them select specific (even unique) designs that fit their markets. In other words we're now selling possibilities and variety rather than fixed ranges.

It's changing the way we sell.
Recently we made a presentation to one of our long-time customers who has placed orders for our initial ink-jet offerings. We decided to raise the level at the presentation and instead of brochures and folders we presented large poster-sized sheets of ink jet designs showing the tiles in real scale. We laid these 1 x 3m posters on the floor, showed collages of photographs we had taken at recent international tile expos and spoke about visual and tactile trends cresting in the international markets. By the end of the meeting our customers were enthusiastically placing orders for cutting edge ink-jet designs, not only the basic five or more tiles but smaller ancillary orders of designs that could be inter-laid with the basic tile designs and multiple variation distressed wood designs like the sample below. This would never have been even possible with roller and screen printed tiles!

This is more than a trend, it's a transformation. The ink jet production process changes not only the design potential but the cost basis so less expensive ceramic tiles can be produced with the look of high end porcelain, natural stone and even wood that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

Efficiency and 3D on-demand
The technology allows for an effectively unlimited number of high-quality patterns and decorations to be produced with fewer materials, less waste, less development and production time than any previous processes. The digital printing process can turn photographs, artwork, designs, logos or virtually any image into elaborately decorated wall or floor coverings. Soon enough even accurate textures will be produced digitally using 3D printing technology to produce the relief plates to impress the tile body.

The future starts today
The use of ink-jet printing for ceramic tile manufacture is growing worldwide and in Europe is outselling conventional analog systems. With this technology, tile design and decoration is easier, less time consuming and less costly, giving manufacturers the chance to massively increase their range of products and designs while remaining competitive. Ink-jet technology has made a huge impact on what manufacturers can create and the mass acceptance of these designs from world markets has promoted the swift transformation from screen and roller printing.

Digital ink-jet technology has changed the way ceramic and porcelain is produced, forever!

Download our New ink-jet tile brochures.
Contact us about selecting and buying ink-jet tiles.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

New inkjet tile catalogues launched.

While inkjet technology has been around for over ten years it is only within the last two years or so that the matured technology has become sufficiently reliable and ubiquitous that we can confidently produce inkjet tiles in China. Nonetheless we were very careful in selecting our preferred factory. We have worked with them before so we know their quality is up to standard plus they have a state-of-the-art modern inkjet facility. Our eight new mini brochures have accurate photographs of the new ranges as they came off the production line. You can download them individually on our brand page under KREM (scroll down to KREM) or as a pack here.

The designs for our new tile ranges come from a design house in Italy and are based on trends we and other experts have identified at expos such as the recent CERSAIE in Bologna. We sent a team including some of our most experienced customers over to Europe to make the final design selections. This process included selecting textures, specific face variants and colours for each design. The designs were then implemented and produced in China.

Inkjet Tiles - How are they made?

Ink jet printers that can reproduce realistic digital images were first available to the market in 2000. Today there are a wide variety of machines being made and used across the world.

Technology: The ink jet technology for tiles is essentially the same as your desktop inkjet printer just larger. Instead of scanning repeatedly across the page a tile printer uses four or more rows of ink jet heads working continuously.

· The image printed is chemically stable
· Inkjet printing is efficient; there’s far less wastage than with contact printing systems like rollers.
· No rollers means fewer moving parts thus reducing costs.
· Natural stones and pictures are reproduced perfectly.
· Much faster change-over times to new colours or designs.
· Greatly improved consistency of colour.
· Because there is no direct contact in inkjet printing it is possible to decorate relief surfaces.
· Inkjet decoration shortens the path from idea to product.

How: The master image is electronically separated in a graphics program then these digital files are sent to each of the different colour print heads. The printer can print multiple different tiles in sequence. The arrays of print heads spray microscopic pigment droplets onto the tile surface from a distance of only a few millimeters. The tiles now pass on to glazing and kiln firing at 900-1200°C.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

New Taps & Bathroom Brochure out now!

Our new PERFECTION brochure is 65 pages of top-end bathroomware in English and Spanish....
  • Shower enclosures
  • Shower roses
  • Bathroom suites
  • Two-piece and wall-hung toilets
  • Art basins
  • Pedestal and wall-hung basins
  • Bidets
  • Urinals
  • Taps
  • A brand new range of black & white taps
  • Bathroom cabinets and mirrors
Enquiries here MOQ: 1 full container.

Monday, 21 October 2013

New Ink-Jet Porcelain Brochure here!

New Ink-Jet & Porcelain Brochure here!

The new KREM brochure includes our new ranges of Ink-jet tiles plus our classic Porcelain tiles. These are entirely new ranges. Some sample pages follow:

Our slate-look Ardesia tiles in three different colours, each with five unique faces.

Atlanta is a top grade Porcelain tile in four subtly shaded colours.

The KREM range consists of Italian design Ink-jet tiles and pure porcelain screen print tiles. Innovated by intensive market research and production line development the colours and textures achievable using state of the art ink-jet technology on a coloured bisque convey the original charm and nature of the ranges, be they stone wood or concrete. The collection is specifically designed to integrate with contemporary architectural elements and trends. To further diversify the collection each style is printed and moulded from a different section of the master pattern providing numerous variations.

In our high grade porcelain collection particular patterns and colours that lend themselves to more accurate reproduction using classical screen print techniques such as lines and granular textures are included in the range. All tiles in the KREM collection can also be used on walls to extraordinary effect. They come in multiple sizes including large format. Options include rivens with a natural, rustic effect.

Download the complete brochure by clicking on any of the images above.
Enquiries here MOQ: 1 full container.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Things to know when buying black tile

There are risks in buying black tiles in particular. You should be aware of these to avoid problems and complaints from customers later.

Black tiles from China in particular can be of several different levels of quality owing to different production methods. Avoid buying black ink-jet tiles. For reasons  of chemistry black is very difficult to achieve using an ink-jet process at present. The safest is to buy a full body black tile that way even if the tile experiences surface wearing the black body will retain it's colour. All super black polished porcelain tiles with nano finish can face fading problems. The nano layer consists of very fine particles suspended in a wax. When applied to the tile these particles fill up the microscopic holes that naturally occur in the body of the tile This results in a much smoother surface and a better, blacker colour. But... the durability of the tile will depend on the quality of the body material, the water absorption rating and the quality of the nano wax. To avoid complaints from customers it is critical that we inform customers in advance of the nature of the particular tile and ensure that the customer's proposed use of the tile is appropriate.

Check what the body of the tile is made of.
1. The body is made from really pure black material mixed with black pigment which is very expensive and then polished – the result is that the polished face and the back of the tile are very similar in color – the surface is not "painted" black and as the tile wears the body will not show through the surface as a different colour. Washing the floor will not remove the surface colour. A good black tile will cost between $6 to $7 or more depending on how black the body material is.
2. The body is made from grey to red color material that has iron in it. The color of the body is not black. This tile is rubbish. The surface is polished and is NOT black until they add a black color nano – this is like "paint" on the tile surface. Once the "paint" is applied it is polished further and looks great (sometimes even better than the tile above) - BUT – once the floor is used, washed, wears etc. the surface colour WILL come out. Then you get patches of grey or red of the body showing through.  – I have had claims before when not checking the production…. and lost money – actually lost 4 containers once – all the surface washed out! This tile cost is from $4 to $5.

The glossiness on the surface cannot tell you how good or bad the tile is – you have to compare the bodies, then the surface – is it painted or natural? Then the size of the "holes" between the surface particles – to tell you if they used coarse (cheap) or fine (expensive) material. This will tell you how long the nano will stay in the surface pores.

So there it is – not so easy…. But if your customer is paying cash up front and wants the rubbish black just make sure he knows there you will not accept claims. For the rest of the people – explain / show / test and sell the good tile.

Friday, 23 August 2013

What is LVT?

Luxury Vinyl Tiles. Although we should point out LVT is often in the form of planks rather than tiles. LVT is part of what is known in the floor covering industry as "resilient flooring" which also includes sheet vinyl flooring and rubber flooring. In many ways LVT is similar to laminated wood flooring, the major difference being that it is made of vinyl rather than High Density Fibreboard (HDF) which is processed and compressed wood particles. Like laminate flooring LVT's strength lies not in the base material per se but in the layers that make it up. Both have wear layers.

LVT is made of layers too; its primary component is PVC vinyl which makes LVT dimensionally stable and flexible. Because of its composition LVT is waterproof as against laminate which can swell and rupture if waterlogged.

The ability to replicate real hardwoods and stones using advanced photographic technologies is the foundation of luxury vinyl flooring systems. There are four distinct layers fused together to produce the final product: a resilient vinyl backing, a vinyl color layer, a photographic film layer, and a urethane or aluminum oxide top layer. The protective top layer (also called the wearlayer or mil layer) is very important to the durability of the product. Quality products will have as high as a 40 mil layer. Commercial applications can successfully utilize 20 mil or above. Lower mil layers are available, but should be specified only for light traffic applications. Good LVT has an extremely hard aluminum oxide wear layer that resists scratches and provides UV protection to prevent fading from prolonged exposure to sunlight. LVT may also have a clear vinyl coating and a urethane coating to protect it.

LVT also has the advantage of being warmer to the touch and because of the manufacturing process it is easier to create surface texture so LVT most often has a realistic wood grain or a texture like natural stone.

Our factory is ISO 9001:2008 certified and produces LVT planks measuring 128mm x 1,25m long to real AC3 standard. In other words the flooring is 8,3mm thick overall. The coreboard is between 850-880g/m2 and the wear layer is 38g/m2 right in the top range of the AC3 classification.

Monday, 12 August 2013

What is the most common tile problem?

Customers can be quick to blame the tile when it comes loose or cracks or when the shower leaks, but rarely is the tile itself the real problem. While many issues facing the unsuspecting homeowner can be obvious, flooring is not one of them. Showers are especially difficult to evaluate, and often cost unsuspecting buyers thousands of dollars in repairs and days of inconvenience.

The tile industry, unlike many other floor covering products, has well established Standards for Installation published by national bodies such as the South African Bureau of Standards and the American National Standards Institute. Tile installations have specific tried and tested guidelines to follow to assure successful installations.

The most common complaint by far is loosened tile. Technically this is called delaminating or debonding. This is when tile has come loose from the substrate (mounting surface). The tile may sound hollow, have a grinding sound, or actually ‘tent’ up from the floor. This especially occurs on concrete slabs. The cause of the failure is almost invariably poor installation and may be primarily due to a lack of control joints or soft joints in the tilework and around the perimeter of the area and/or insufficient coverage of adhesive. It is important to the long-term success of a tile installation to provide for movement, which is certain to occur.

The technical reason this failure occurs is that ceramic tile expands and contracts with moisture and temperature at different rates than a concrete slab. Generally speaking, concrete slabs tend to shrink as they cure. This shrinkage can take place for many years. If there is no space to allow a release of the tension created by differential expansion,  the tile will come loose. Only the grout will be holding it in place and only for so long. Ceramic tile must be installed with the proper setting materials and provisions made for this expected movement. Also buildings move with seismic shifts, settling, heavy winds, material changes over time, and other factors. It cannot be stressed enough that movement accommodation and/or control joints are required in a tile job of any size, even the smallest bathroom.

Monday, 5 August 2013

What is a PEI Rating?

A PEI rating measured the durability of the enamel glaze on a tile. The Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) came up with the testing system to rate the strength of the glaze that is applied to the tile against scratching and wearing. The PEI Rating system uses numbers, 1 being the least scratch and wear resistant, 5 being the most scratch and wear resistant, to rate the strength of the glaze on the tile. Once the Tile is produced, most tile manufacturers will send the finished tile to the Porcelain Enamel Institute to test the strength of the glaze, or they will test the glaze strength themselves if they have the proper equipment in the factory. The test is performed on a special machine by placing a carbide wheel to the surface of the tile with weights on the top of the wheel to keep even pressure. The carbide wheel is then turned in a circular motion over the tile, and depending on how many revolutions it takes to penetrate the glaze of the tile is the number rating it receives. For example, for a tile to receive the highest rating, which is a PEI RATING of 5, the glaze will have to withstand over 10,000 revolutions on the machine.

PEI 1       Very Light Traffic
These Tiles can be used on all Indoor Wall applications, Interior Light use Countertops such as Bathroom, etc., and Very Light Traffic Residential Bathroom Floors. These Tiles are not recommended for any area that will have any constant or heavy foot traffic.

PEI 2       Light Traffic
These Tiles can be used on all Interior Wall Applications, All Interior Countertop applications, and Light Traffic Residential Interior Floors. This Tile should not be used in areas such as kitchens, entry ways, stairs, or areas with heavy traffic.

PEI 3       Moderate Traffic
These Tiles can be used on all Interior Wall Applications, All Interior Countertop applications, and all Residential Interior Floors. This Tile should not be used for Commercial Use.

PEI 4       Moderate to Heavy Traffic
These Tiles can be used on all Interior Wall Applications, All Interior Countertop applications, all Residential Interior Floors, and all Light Commercial applications, such as Restaurants, Lobbies, etc. This Tile should not be used for Heavy Commercial Use.

PEI 5       Heavy Traffic
These Tiles can be used on all Interior Wall Applications, All Interior Countertop applications, all Residential Interior Floors, and all Heavy Commercial applications, such as Airports, Shopping Malls and Supermarkets. This Tile is an excellent choice for Industrial applications where extreme durability is required.


Suitable for carrying out P.E.I. (wet) method tests to the ISO 10545-7 norm.

The test involves exposing the glazed material to the abrasive action of a charge comprising balls of different diameters with the addition of corundum and distilled water. The different abrasion stages are achieved by programming the machine at an increasingly higher number of revs, with fixed instrument speed as required by the standard

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Our New Inkjet Tiles are in Production!

Our Managing Director flew out to China on Friday to oversee the first production run of our new inkjet tiles.

While the technology has been around for over ten years it is only within the last two years or so that the matured technology has become sufficiently reliable and ubiquitous that we can confidently produce inkjet tiles in China. Nonetheless we were very careful in selecting our preferred factory. We have worked with them before so we know their quality is up to standard plus they have a state-of-the-art modern inkjet facility.

The designs for our new tile ranged come from a design house in Italy. We sent a team including some of our most experienced customers over to Europe a month ago to finalise the design selection. This process included selecting textures, specific face variants and colours for each design. We finally settled on four inkjet designs each in three to four colours and each with five face variants. This means that for a particular design-colour there are twenty ways to lay the tiles for a non-uniform arrangement that looks just like natural cut stone.

When the designs were completed we downloaded them via the very useful but it took almost two days! Each face file was 333 Megabytes! Of course when I got them unzipped and opened in Photoshop I could zoom into detail that left me feeling I was aboard the ISS looking down on an infinitely detailed landscape from orbit. Amazing! Below is a zoomed in section of the complete tile which is shown below.

Impressed? We are. Our brochures for the new ranges will be available shortly. Watch this space or drop us an email to subscribe to our blog emailing list.

Monday, 15 July 2013

How to up-sell bathroom tiles for immediate results.

How can you increase your tile sales by up-selling? Mostly this is simply a matter of giving good professional advice to your customers.
Today I want to give you some pointers on how to up-sell bathroom tiles on the basis of SAFETY. In a bathroom this means: as few sharp corners or edges as possible and most importantly non-slip tiles.
Slip resistance is the Coefficient Of Friction, abbreviated as C.O.F. Simply put it is a tile’s natural resistance to slip. Technically it is the force required to slide an object across a surface divided by the weight of the object. A lower C.O.F. number indicates less friction so the floor will provide less traction. Higher C.O.F. numbers mean a floor will be less slippery. For example a good slip resistant tile may be rated with a C.O.F. of 10 and a slip degree angle of between 6 & 9 degrees. (based on DIN51130 testing criteriaSo… how do you use this to increase profit?
1. Up-sell for safety - Talk about chilldren and elderly people using the bathroom. People fall and hurt themselves all the time.
2. Up-sell to more expensive tiles with
a high slip resistance rating - They should have a rating of more than 8.
3. Up-sell to smaller tiles and mosaics. Smaller tiles don't slip as easily. More grout lines means less chance of slipping.
Up-sell to your best grout.
4. Up-sell specialist pieces - such as rounded corners, radius or bullnose edges. And while you’re at it up-sell specialist tiles as accents e.g. a dado-rail strip.
Lastly, remember to insist that your customer buy 10% more for cutting, breakages and spares.
2. Email us for a quote.

Monday, 8 July 2013

What is nano treatment on tiles?

Porcelain tiles with a nano treatment are more dirt and stain resistant, glossier and have more intense colour. Nano treatment is more complex than you might have thought. It consists of applying two different compounds up to ten layers deep to the surface of the tile, polishing between each application and then firing at 1250ºC.

A non-hazardous water soluble nano polymer compound is pressed into the micro porosities of the polished porcelain tile surface. This consists of very light and hard organic nano particles ranging in size from 5nm to1µm. The surface is then polished and a second layer is applied, polished again and a third layer applied. The particles are smaller than the tiny pinholes and cracks in the tiles so they fill these gaps and these pores become permanently sealed.

The second compound applied is a solvent flourine polymer then the tile is polished again. Flouropolymers are characterized by a high resistance to solvents, acids, and bases. With repetitive plating, applied through high pressure sanding and polishing, the nano particles combine with the tile substance to form an organic nano film with a high density and stability, which achieves the distinguishing characteristics of nano treated tiles. Generally at least six layers of polymer application and polishing cycles are completed then a final water wash before high temperature firing.

The technique of application, polishing and firing ensures that the nano particles polymerise evenly on the surface of the tiles. The high surface sheen of nano tiles creates a protective layer so dirt cannot penetrate the tiles and they are easier to keep clean. The granular material of the protective layer enhances the tiles’ durability and slip resistance making them suitable for both domestic and commercial applications and, fired at 1250ºC, nano treated tiles have a hardness equivalent to that of granite.

But it’s not just a long process, it’s tricky too. The specially designed polishing heads must operate at an ideal temperature of between 35ºC and 70ºC, they must also be carefully aligned to move consistently over the surface of the tile polishing each part with the same even pressure. The amount of compound applied to the tile must also be very finely controlled to 35-50ml/mto ensure even distribution of the particles.

Nano treated tiles are harder, glossier and more resistant to staining and wearing. See the technical details in the sidebar.

Our Classic Super White, Ivory and Monza tiles are all rectified, nano treated polished porcelain. Enquiries here.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

What flooring is the most cost-effective?

When buying flooring most people, even professionals in the building industry would consider three main factors; style, suitability and cost.

Style would include the texture, appearance and in general whether the product will fit in with the interior (or exterior) design.

Suitability is a more complex issue and professional advice is necessary. For example outdoor tiles in a cold climate need to be specified as frost resistant, flooring used in commercial spaces needs to be suitably wear resistant AC4 for laminated flooring, porcelains for tiles and so forth.

Cost may seem a simple issue but it gets complicated. The cost of a flooring system per square meter (or square foot) is just the first factor to consider. What about installation costs? What about the cost and effort of cleaning materials for the floor every year. And how long is this floor going to last until it needs replacement? Taking all these factors and more into consideration the Tile Council of North America commissioned Scharf-Godfrey to undertake what is called a  Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) for 17 different floor coverings. LCCA is defined as an economic method of project evaluation in which all costs arising from owning, operating, maintaining and disposing of a project are considered important to the decision.

Costs were amortized over the 40 year average lifetime of a building. The ratings in the table below take into account a multitude of factors and reduce them to a cost per area per year.

What you may find surprising is that ceramic and porcelain tiles are the most cost effective of all. This is not to say other flooring doesn’t have a place, just that for most applications ceramic tiles give the most bang for the buck! You may want to point this out to the next customer you serve.

More next time!

P.S. By the way VCT at the bottom of the table stands for Vinyl Composition Tile. It is a finished flooring material used primarily in commercial and institutional applications. VCT is composed of colored vinyl chips formed into solid sheets of varying thicknesses (4mm is common) by heat and pressure and cut into 30cm squares. Tiles are applied to a smooth, leveled sub-floor using a specially formulated vinyl adhesive that remains tacky but does not completely dry. Tiles are typically waxed and buffed using special materials and equipment.
VCT tiles have high resilience to abrasion and impact damage and can be repeatedly refinished with chemical strippers and mechanical buffing equipment. If properly installed, tiles can be easily removed and replaced when damaged. Tiles are available in a variety of colors from several major flooring manufacturers. Some manufacturers have created vinyl tiles that very closely resemble wood, stone terrazzo and concrete. Tiles can easily be cut and assembled into colorful and decorative patterns.
Vinyl composition tiles took the place of asbestos tiles, which were widely used in schools, hospitals, offices, and public buildings up until the 1980s. Use of tiles and adhesives containing asbestos were discontinued when asbestos materials were determined to be hazardous. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Water Absorption 101

Water absorption rates are the most important measurement of a tile. Water absorption measures how much moisture a specific type of tile is likely to absorb on an ongoing basis. Some types of tile may crack if the moisture penetration is too high. In general if the tile has a low water absorption, the durability and strength are increased. Low water absorption restricts the amount of water that may cause failure by cyclic salt attack and freeze thaw. The water absorption percentage reflects the density of the tile body. Water absorption is also directly related to the suitability for interior or exterior applications. For exterior applications, the selected tiles should have a low water absorption rate, especially in climates subjected to heavy rainfall and freezing and thawing cycles. A low water absorption rate also enables a tile to resist food or beverage stains.

Testing for water absorption determines the apparent porosity and relative density as a means to classify ceramic tiles according to the international standard ISO13006-10545/98. There are four categories:
  • B2b. Non-vitreous - Low density, High water absorption of more than 6.0% (Ceramic)
  • B2a. Semi-vitreous - Medium density, Medium water absorption of more than 3.0%, but less than 6.0% (Ceramic)
  • B1b. Fully Vitrified - High density, Low water absorption of more than 0.5%, but less than 3.0% (Ceramic)
  • B1a. Impervious - Extremely high density, Very low water absorption of less than 0.5% (Porcelain)
One thing to remember is that while porcelain is often viewed by the consumer as a superior product this does not guarantee that the material is fit for purpose, or put another way, it is unnecessary to use porcelain in an interior space with low traffic that is not exposed to extreme temperatures or water.

There are 3 methods to determine the water absorption of tiles:
Boiling method
Vacuum method
Electrical method

The boiling method is used to classify the ceramic tiles and involves drying the tiles out and then boiling them in water for 2 hours followed by cooling to room temperature over a four hour period. The mass of the tiles are weighed both before and after the water immersion to determine the percentage of water absorption.

The vacuum method evacuates the air from a chamber with the tiles inside and then immerses the tiles in water. Once again the tiles are weighed before and after water immersion to determine the apparent porosity, apparent relative density and bulk density.

The electrical method requires that the tiles be immersed in water for two hours then a high voltage electric current is passed through the tiles. The measured conductivity of the tile determines the percentage of water absorbed.

OK, those are the basics, take a look at our catalogues, select a few tiles and determine a suitable application. Ask your experienced staff to check or email us and we'll answer you.

Monday, 24 June 2013

10 Top Technology Tiles

Today I'd like to give you the heads up on some truly cutting edge technology in tiles. Humans have been producing ceramics for over ten thousand years, it is one of our most ancient industries, yet today the ceramic tile industry is experiencing a remarkable renaissance by integrating several cutting edge, hi tech innovations. In this post I will review ten extraordinary technologies that are transforming tiles.

These are all real technologies that are available in the market now. While many are hardly standard stock items you will easily imagine their application to specific architectural projects. Of course as the technologies become established prices will drop and these innovations will become more ubiquitous.

Above: LED glow tiles
These tiles are just amazing and I can certainly imagine them installed in a nightclub. The tiles are independently  pressure sensitive and can be programmed to display animated graphics on walls and floors. Available in a special dance floor format they are equipped with various gaming features as well!

Anti-pollutant & antibacterial air-cleaning tiles
In April I wrote about some tiles installed as cladding on a building in Mexico City that actually clean pollutants out of the air. How do they work? Titanium dioxide is fixed at a high temperature into microscopic particles in the glaze. When the tiles are exposed to sunlight or artificial light, the particles act as catalysts, which carry out an anti-polluting, antibacterial action most importantly extracting toxic Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) from the air. In practice, it is as if the floor or wall covering turns into a tree, breaking down polluting agents and bacteria, thanks to the mechanism that works just like chlorophyl photosynthesis. It has been demonstrated that 1000m2 tiles carry out the same function as 20 mature trees, in terms of reduction of NOx, so 50m2 = one mature tree and 25m2 = one medium-sized tree!

Thermally sensitive colour changing tiles
These have been around for a while. Hot water causes the thermally sensitive dye under the glaze to change colour. The base color of the tile can match almost any color, and the temperature change point can be set to the user’s environment and requirements. The dynamic color change begins at the selected activation temperature and shimmers through three phases, one with each 6–10° rise in temperature.

Personalised print-on-demand inkjet tiles
I wrote about inkjet technology in the last couple of weeks so I won't go into detail except to say that the technology means it possible to cost-effectively produce entirely unique custom designs including say the buyers own artwork. This really is the future and will become increasingly common.

Liquid tiles
The Liquifloor is a really innovative concept The tiles consists of layers of durable PVC. The top layer is transparent and below this is a coloured gel-like liquid, which deforms and flows so the design keeps changing with the change of pressure on the tiles.

LED dot tiles
These tiles are made to entertain.Kids will love them! These LED dot tiles are exceptionally beautiful and will completely light up your house even if without power. They glows in various colours when walked upon At night they can be programmed with figures and shapes One delightful feature is that they can be set to display different colours according to the weight of the person who’s walking on them!

Info display tiles
The I-Quad is an awesome concept in tiles which comes with various interactive features. The array is made of LED back lit tiles which are framed and can display date, time, weather, the latest affairs, buzzing news, e-mails, images and plenty more. The array is USB or Bluetooth enabled.

Hydrophilic self-cleaning tiles
The diagram is pretty self explanatory. These work with a combination of the Titanium dioxide anti-pollutant technology plus a nanotech surface texture that reduces water tension allowing rain to wash the down to a submicroscopic level.Self cleaning tiles will be a major boon for bathrooms, commercial catering spaces, other hygiene sensitive industries as well as building exteriors.

Photoluminescence & touch switches
Other glaze technologies include photoluminescence for energy-free safety or informational lighting systems without electricity, and glazes that act as touchscreens for unobtrusive electrical systems like lighting or alarms with no need for switches. The bath pictured here is tiled with 1,7cm mosaic tiles that absorb energy during the day and glow at night.

More next time!

"The glaze has failed." What do you say to your customer?

The customer complaint:

Being a natural product that is fired in a kiln, there will always be some tiles in each batch that show some imperfections. Before packaging, tiles are graded and any with visible imperfections are removed and sold as seconds. Nonetheless a few will always slip through the system. In some remarkable instances the glaze may have been improperly fired to the body of the tile but this is extremely rare in modern tiles. The photo above shows massive glaze failure on tiles from the exterior of a 90 year old building. This hardly ever happens today and I think we can all agree that the guarantee, if any, has long since expired. The cause in this case was massive moisture absorption from rain seeping into the substrate which after decades eventually caused the glaze to start popping off.

Much mor common are tiles with tiny strips of missing glaze on the edges. These tiles are perfectly sound, but all the same are imperfect. International standards allow 5% of any first grade consignment to have some visual imperfections, this means that 5 tiles in each group of 100 tiles may have some imperfections. The tiler should always put these tiles aside and use them when a cut tile is needed.

If a customer complains of a tiling project that has obvious imperfect tiles installed, like glaze missing on the edges, then it is simply because the tiler has not checked the tiles as he laid them. Defect tiles can slip through the factory. Faults like missing glaze on the edge of a tile, firing cracks, craters, bubbles, pinholes or smudged patterns. are all visible things and the installer should put these tiles aside and not use them.

So what do you do?

If the tiles have not been installed they should be returned and you should exchange them matching shades for the customer. The tiler should then install the new ones. Remember that no claims can be made once tiles have been laid.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Tile Inkjet Printing
How it works

Part 2 of 2

Technology specifics
In digital printing there is no contact with the tile surface. The most popular technology adopted by most producers of machines is called Drop-On-Demand (DOD). It is based on a piezoelectric device that deforms under voltage enabling droplet expulsion. The most popular color system is the CMYK standard. This is an acronym for the colors Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (for black K is used instead of B to avoid confusion with Blue). In the CMYK system the black separation or Key Plate contains the fine details. Cyan, magenta and yellow overlap in different percentages to produce the colors in the circles below. All three overlap in the middle to produce a very dark brown, for this reason the additional black ink is used.

The image is electronically separated in a graphics program like Photoshop and a set of signals is sent to each of the different colour print heads, usually the CMYK four but on some machines six or more. The final image is reproduced by overlaying these ink colours.

Drop on Demand
The ink is made from a suspension of very fine pigment particles, at a specific temperature and viscosity. It is held in a main reservoir and fed under pressure to the print reservoir which has a tiny 0,04mm nozzle. The ink is shot from a distance of a few millimeters to the tile. Piezoelectric crystals change shape when an electric current is passed through them so a computer can minutely control the size, speed and frequency of the drops.

Variable Drop Size
A further variation on this is a technology that produces drops of different sizes from the same nozzle. This produces different colour intensities depending on the size of the drops. Larger drops will literally make bigger heavier ‘puddles’ of colour on the tile and cover better whereas a finer spray of smaller drops will give a lighter cover. Changes in drop size can be made by changing the frequency and length of pulses in the piezoelectric element. So a standard nozzle could fire one big drop or fire a burst of 6 drops in the same time but producing two very different effects. Overlapping different sized drops with different colors can create an wider range of tones and colors.

Spray on Demand
This technology uses a spray instead of drops. The ink reservoir is connected to a thin vibrating tube that shoots the spray of ink. By controlling the frequency of the vibrations the nozzle tube describes a cone so the intensity of the color can be controlled. The drops are dispersed at around 1000Hz. The spray tubes are around 10 times the diameter of DoD sytems so they use more ink but the advantage is that pigments are more stable when fired precisely because they are bigger and rougher.

Masters and variations
In ink jet printing a large Master design of the tile pattern is produced. Like this marble-look tile below. Since this is a digital file on a computer it is easy to select different parts of the master to print onto individual tiles.

Inks solvents & glazes

The slightest change in any parameter can affect color, intensity and definition of the deposited ink. If the density, viscosity or surface tension of the ink changes, the quality will change. Thus it is critical to keep both the inks and solvents used at a constant temperature. Inks are constantly stirred and recycled and the tubes and nozzles are cleaned as part of the printing process without any pause in production because solvents are essential to drop formation. The first inks used for inkjet printing on tiles were organometallic which offered low viscosity, moderate surface tension and high coverage using non-toxic solvents.
Inkjet printers use a very limited number of colours in careful combinations to produce all other colours but there are limits. Because tiles are fired in a kiln between 900-1200°C, chemical and solid state reactions occur between the body, the ink, the solvent and the glaze that cannot easily be predicted but the industry continues experimenting and advances are made all the time. For example true magenta and true black are very difficult to produce so conventional tile printing processes are used for tiles requiring these colours. Nonetheless the versatility of ink jet printing and being able to create multiple variations of tile designs means that ink jet tiles will soon be an intrinsic component of tile production lines everywhere.

We are presently in China assessing and appointing factories for our seven new ranges of ink jet tiles. Watch this blog for our new ink-jet gres porcelain catalogues coming soon soon.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Tile Inkjet Printing - How it works.
Part 1 of 2

Amazingly the concept of inkjet printing has actually been around two hundred years but the technology was first extensively developed in the early 1950s. By the late 1970s inkjet printers that could reproduce digital images generated by computers were developed.
Using the technology to print onto tiles began in 2000 where it was showcased at that year’s Cevisama exhibition in Spain. Since then there has been a steady evolution of mechanical, electronic, ink, pigment and chemical technology in a highly competitive market. Today there are a wide variety of machines being made and used across the world.
Typically print heads use piezoelectric crystals to control ink-flow out of microscopic nozzles directly onto the tile body. The technology is essentially the same as your desktop inkjet printer at home however there are significant differences in scale, resolution and speed of operation.
Instead of using four heads which scan across the page tile inkjet printers use four or more rows that span the entire width of the tiles so the inks can be laid down in succession. The array may have up to 1000 heads per row.

Inkjet printers can easily be integrated into glazing production lines and the race is now on to develop machines able to decorate tiles 24/7 at 1000 to 1500m2 per hour. The problem is that there’s a trade-off between speed and resolution or coverage, just like the printer on your desk at home, photo quality takes a lot longer than a page of black text.
Some tile printers can produce very high definition images at up to 1000 dpi which is beyond the ability of the human eye to resolve. For most tiles around 200-300 dpi is adequate, roughly the resolution a colour magazine or book. However, the most important feature is the amazing versatility of inkjet printing.

Different machines for digital inkjet printing are available with a variety of characteristics but these are the main advantages.
·         The image printed is chemically stable
·         Inkjet printing is efficient and there’s far less wastage than with contact printing systems like rollers.
·         Removing rollers from the process reduces moving parts and thus costs of installation and maintenance.
·         Excellent potential to reproduce natural stones and pictures.
·         Much faster change-over times to new colours or designs.
·         Greatly improved consistency of colour because storage and control of all printing parameters is more finely controlled and easier.
·         Because the inkjet process occurs at a distance it is possible decorate relief surfaces and up to the edges.
·         Inkjet decoration shortens the path from idea to product.
There are more advantages but we must also admit that digital printing cannot always substitute for traditional methods of printing, especially when we need higher thicknesses of paste or when we need strongly colored surface areas. Work is in progress so we can expect improvements and further cost reductions because inkjet technology is still in evolution (after overcoming initial problems). Inkjet technology is currently expanding its reach to different kinds of tile and, of course, the technology aspect itself is arousing the interest of more developers.
Part 2 next week.

Monday, 22 April 2013

How to Deal With Grout Haze

One of the most common complaints is also one of the easiest to resolve and like many complaints has actually got nothing to do with the tiles themselves. 

A typical customer complaint sounds like this:

"I had porcelain tiles laid but there is a cloudy appearance all over the tiles. I have tried several different cleaning products and residue removers but the floor still looks hazy. I got a tiling company try their cleaning and polishing solution but it didn’t help. I am now sure that it is a fault in the tiles. I am very disappointed with them."

Now this may sound like it could be optical haze which I discussed in a previous blog* but is probably not. The distinctive cloudy appearance is most likely grout haze. This is becoming a classic problem with imported modern porcelain from certain sources.

This type of porcelain tile can have many microscopic holes caused by tiny gas bubbles like the holes in a loaf of bread in the body. The polishing process removes a fine layer of the surface which can take the top off some of those holes, thus exposing them.

During grouting, the grout is smeared all over the surface and some of the liquid containing cement, water, polymers and pigments can be forced into these holes. Washing and removing the fine layer of grout over the entire surface of the tiled area is a long messy job which is often why it is not done properly or done too late after the excess grout has dried. So you end up with the tiny holes filled with the dirty residue. So, it remains there and is allowed to dry. There are so many tiny holes that when you look at the tile they all appear to merge into one like pixels on a screen giving an all-over cloudy or hazy appearance.

These tiles would have benefited from sealing prior to grouting but there are a number of things you can try. Given that you have tried several cleaners already, I can be fairly safe to assume you have tried a proprietary grout haze remover (acid based) so I would try one other thing, before moving on to a final combination approach.

Try Grout Haze Clean Up. This is actually designed to be used at the time of grouting but at full strength it can work a week or more later. If that fails, go for the combined approach:

First apply Sealer and Coating Remover neat and spread over the affected area and leave for half an hour, then, without removing the SCR, add some diluted Phosphoric Acid Cleaner, leave the two chemicals for another few minutes. The first product is attempting to break down any polymers present, this takes time. When it has done this there is more chance that an acid can now work on any cement present. Be very careful with the acid and grout haze remover. They are toxic. Wear eye protection and gloves.

Next try Nanoscrub. It is basically a cream abrasive cleaner but there are 3 components to the product: a slightly alkaline cleaning solution, a calcite (limestone) based grinding powder which won’t scratch marble, limestone or other soft stones and most importantly there’s the nano-technology. The nano particles reduce the surface tension of the cleaner so it can more easily penetrate the small pores and micro pores of the surface which makes it much more effective. As a mild cleaner in its own right, NanoScrub will breakdown mild surface soiling such as general grime and dirt, but, it is the calcite-derived abrasive that will do most of the hard work.  It will safely abrade the residue off with no ill effect on the marble’s surface. In the same way there are many surface contaminants that can be safely and effectively removed from most stone surfaces, for example, hard-water deposits or soap-scum in shower areas think of NanoScrub as an ‘exfoliating cream’ for tiles or stone.

There are some situations that cannot be saved; sometimes it is not so much the grout haze, but a very stubborn waxy coating can give this appearance. Finally, the appearance of haze could be a polishing fault in the tile, in that the tile has not been correctly finished at the factory. This cannot easily be rectified and would be a perfectly valid complaint.

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