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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 ‘Ceramic Printing’ Category

Custom Printing: A Collection of Promotional Glass-Printed Items

Thursday, December 1st, 2022

Photo purchased from …

For about thirty years, I’ve believed that everything is advertising. Everything you present to someone from a business card to a mug sells your brand, broadcasting all aspects of your business from your values to your attention to detail.

That said, a physical object that your prospective client can actually use says more than just a promotional brochure on paper or an email sent to a client over the internet.

In this light, when I was casting about for a PIE Blog article subject this week, my fiancee handed me about ten printed glass bottles. They range from a milk bottle to a Whole Foods bottle promoting both Whole Foods in general and the Whole Foods Beer Market in particular.

An Antique Bottle

The Sealtest milk bottle is an antique, and for me it brings back memories of a simpler time when our milk was delivered to our door (even in our apartment building, even as late as the 1960s).

From the vantage point of a student of commercial printing and a student of graphic design and marketing, I think this is an interesting artifact for a number of reasons.


As a marketing piece, it reflects not only the overall Sealtest brand and Sealtest’s dairy products, but it also gives a nod to the Western Maryland Dairy in Baltimore, MD. Printed notations on the bottle not only identify the dairy location but also speak to the science behind the milk product (in terms of its quality checks and its being pasteurized).

So a cursory reading of the custom printing on the bottle links healthfulness and reliability with the Sealtest brand and the Western Maryland Dairy brand. If you had been a child or adult back in the 1960s and had found this bottle outside your door, you would have relied on it as a healthful and tasty addition to your meal. Such advertising is priceless.


This bottle exemplifies custom screen printing. If I closely examine the printing with a 12x printer’s loupe, I can see that an initially thick film of ink had been applied to the bottle (presumably) 50 or 60 years ago, and that this film had been scratched away in places over these five or six decades through heavy use and overall age. To me it almost looks like pigment that was scratched off a layer of glue, and if I didn’t know better I’d assume the writing was an applique attached to the glass bottle after the molten glass had cooled. However, I know that for multiple decades custom screen printing has been the method of choice (prior to digital printing) for decorating glass.

Why? Because once the screen-printing frames have been prepared and the stencils attached to the mesh, this is the most economical way to print on glass. Also, the thickness of custom screen printing inks lends itself to rich, dynamic colors. And yet screen printing multiple colors requires a lot of make-ready. So the fact that the Sealtest bottle is printed only in the Sealtest brand color red would lend further credence to my guess that the commercial printing was done via custom screen printing (also known as serigraphy).

The bad news is that custom screen printing is ideal only when printing a few colors (and simple graphics). The good news is that it is perfect (and cheap per unit cost) for simple graphics and mid- to long-run jobs–even at the present time, and even with the availability of digital glass printing.

A Shot Glass, Frosted Absolut Glass, Two Beer Glasses, and the Whole Foods Beer Bottle

What all of these have in common, and how they differ from the Sealtest milk bottle, goes way beyond drinking milk vs. drinking alcohol, although this is a part of the story.


Milk (and the staid nature of the branding on the bottle) is for people of all ages. It is a staple of one’s diet, and the tone of the marketing on the bottle is serious, reflecting Sealtest’s reliability and the healthful nature of the milk the bottle contains.

In contrast, the Blue Bell shot glass, with its frosted ultramarine blue background and its silhouette of a young girl in a bonnet leading a cow by a rope (plus the words Blue Bell printed below the image), suggests a transition from milk (the cow) to alcohol (the shot glass). The branding, while traditional, is more dramatic in nature, given the contrast between the ultramarine background and the white, thick, screen printed ink (this time I’m sure, because the ink is so abundant).

And there’s a little humor in custom printing milk imagery on an alcoholic shot glass. Beyond everything else, if you can make someone laugh (as a marketing professional), you have their tacit approval. You’re half way to the sale because the prospect is having fun.

The frosted Absolut glass takes the same marketing route. The vertical lines of the mixed drink glass echo the vertical lines of the Absolut Kurant Imported logo typescript. (The marketing artwork is an ad in black and purple printed on an opaque plastic applique, a bit like a shrink sleeve.) The background black script typeface and a line drawing of a leaf with currant berries make the whole glass into an advertisement. But it looks upscale, so if you’re holding the glass, you can be a part of the leisure class.

The two brown beer glasses and the Whole Foods Beer Market bottle form the final group of glassware. The background glass color is a deep brown, and there is a nice heft to all three pieces. The custom printing is all in white, except for the blue Whole Foods logo on one side of the bottle. On one of the glasses, there is a chatty tone in the printed commentary about making beer glasses out of beer bottles. On the other glass is a notation about how if you can read the type on the glass (which is upside down), then you’ve spilled your drink.

So most of this is light, chatty, and above all funny. Humor, as noted above, sells. Remarkably well.


Since all three of these final pieces were crafted close to the present time (when compared to the Sealtest bottle, the shot glass, and even the Absolut tumbler glass—presumably), it is much easier to see what techniques were used for the custom printing work. In fact, I would venture that all of them were printed via custom screen printing. Why? Again, because of the thick, rich application of ink. There is something opulent about such a generous laydown of pigment. Like butter.

What Are the Printing Options?

Here’s the rundown:

  1. Custom screen printing is great for printing a few colors (the beer glasses and bottle all have white ink on the brown glass).
  2. Screen printing is great for mid- to long-run printing. If you’re doing a short run of bottles for a craft brewery, consider UV inkjet or digital ceramic printing.
  3. Unfortunately, since custom screen printing is time consuming to set up, it requires long runs, and that might lead to extra storage costs (warehousing, inventory, etc.).
  4. Screen printing is not great for multiple colors or photo-realistic imagery.
  5. Screen printing is out of the question for variable data.
  6. UV inkjet is an ideal option for short-run, multi-color, variable-data printing on glass. The UV inks cure instantly when exposed to UV light. And you can use a non-permeable substrate (like glass).
  7. Unfortunately, UV ink application just sits up on the surface of the glass, so it can be scratched off over time. Longevity and hard use must be taken into consideration.
  8. That said, there are ways to digitally print ceramic inks on glass (containing “frit,” actual particles of glass along with the pigment). Using ceramic digital inks you can print the glass and then fire it such that the printing actually becomes a part of the glass. (The ink doesn’t just sit up on the surface of the glass as it does with UV inkjet printing.)
  9. When all is said and done, if you want to pursue a less high tech (and presumably less costly) route, you can always print and apply clear-backed labels. These would probably be printed via flexography (water based ink printed with rubber printing plates). Unlike screen printing inks, however, flexographic inks are not particularly opaque, dense, or rich because they are not as thick as custom screen printing inks.

The Takeaway

So at least you have some options. And, as I’ve noted regarding the various printed glass items my fiancee gave me for analysis, what you’re selling (the brand, the product) and the image you’re trying to convey will be as important in choosing a commercial printing technology as are the length of the press run, the detail in the imagery, and the number of ink colors you want to use.

Custom Printing: How Do They Print Ceramic Tiles?

Sunday, December 5th, 2021

Photo purchased from …

A prospective client recently asked about inkjetting ceramic tiles (or, more specifically, about inkjetting tiles using UV ink). Since I was a little rusty on the process, I went to school on the subject of ceramic tile printing. This is what I found. (more…)

Custom Printing on Ceramic Tiles

Friday, June 21st, 2013

I’ve been fascinated recently with the convergence of industrial printing and digital inkjet technology. Over the last several years, I have become aware of the vast store of commercial printing that has nothing to do with marketing goals or editorial commentary: the arena of functional, or industrial, printing. (more…)


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