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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Archive for the ‘Architectural Printing’ Category

Custom Printing: Digital Printing in Architectural Design

Monday, January 6th, 2014

I read an article in MyPrintResource tonight called “House of the Future = On-Demand Architecture.” (, 12/11/13, Ron Gilboa and Arianna Valentini). I found the title intriguing, in light of recent advances in 3D custom printing. In the recent past, I had also read articles about fantasy environments created with the new additive manufacturing jet printers, but I had not realized that digital custom printing has such a bright future in so many different aspects of architectural design.

“House of the Future = On-Demand Architecture” showcases the digital offerings of The Architecture Boston Expo (ABX). The ABX website promotes this venue as “one of the largest events for the design and construction industry in the country, and the largest regional conference and tradeshow.” In their article, Gilboa and Valentini note the following arenas of architectural design influenced by digital printing.

Architectural Glass

Both traditional and digital techniques can be used in tandem to make anything from a glass privacy partition to a solely decorative glass panel. As an example, Gilboa and Valentini note that texture could be added to one side of a glass panel using traditional methods while a design is digitally printed on the opposite side of the glass.

Customized Flooring

“House of the Future = On-Demand Architecture” also describes the offerings of a flooring vendor called We Cork that displayed products at ABX. The firm creates a wood base for their flooring materials, then adds a layer of cork with digitally printed wood grain, and then covers the product with a protective coating for durability.

In addition to allowing customers to specify the appearance of their floors, the company offers a product that is ideal for sound proofing and insulating. (I would think it would also be comfortable to walk on due to the resilient nature of cork.)

Digitally Printed Laminates

The article goes on to describe laminates in which digitally printed layers of imagery can be combined with successive layers of material and then treated with high pressure to become cabinetry, walls, and counter tops (displayed at ABX by Formica Envision).

Ceramic Tiles

Gilboa and Valentini’s article then describes ceramic tiles by Best Tile that had been digitally printed to provide the “look and feel of Carrera marble.” The technology is reaching the point that the consumer can no longer distinguish between traditionally produced ceramic tiles and digitally produced tiles.

Looking Beyond The Architecture Boston Expo

I thought back to other digital large format printing articles I had read about such topics as fabric printing and wallpaper printing, both of which are increasingly dependent on digital inkjet technology, and both of which have architectural applications as well. For instance, anything from sheets and bed-covers to drapes can be digitally printed on large format printing equipment. As architects envision the outer structure of a building, they can also consider the interior design treatment of the walls, floors, and furniture.

I also thought back to the articles I had read about entire fantasy environments created using 3D custom printing equipment to produce components that would then be assembled into much larger living spaces. It seems that these techniques would find application in more utilitarian architectural design as well as fantasy environments.

Implications of Digital Printing in Architecture

What this article began to awaken in me was the awareness of interior and architectural design as two sides of the same coin, with artistic merit both in the aesthetics of its three-dimensional structure and in the artistic treatment of its surfaces.

More specifically, as 3D custom printing matures, it will be necessary to consider the item or architectural structure you want to print, and it will be equally important to consider the designs, colors, and textures to apply to the surfaces of the architectural structure.

Unlike ink on paper, or even large format printing on paper, vinyl, or canvas, which focuses predominantly on imagery printed on a flat (albeit sometimes textured) surface, the future of architectural design will focus in a more dimensional, or sculptural, way on physical items in three-dimensional space.

To put this in perspective, this has already been done in the area of product design. Think about Apple’s computer offerings, which depend as much on aesthetics (color, texture, shape, weight) as on their operational features.

Or consider OXO Good Grips, a series of kitchen tools created to be functional, ergonomically sound, and aesthetically pleasing. The list goes on.

In this light, between the digital options for surface printing (such as ink jet and dye sublimation printing) and the digital options for producing substance and structures (3D digital printing), the horizons are limitless.


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