Design with Intent

Katy Devlin
September 4, 2014


Interior glass connects, bringing daylight and views to building occupants. Interior glass communicates, allowing designers to incorporate branding, signage or message boards on their glass wall surfaces. Interior glass protects, providing privacy and sound attenuation. And, interior glass offers near unlimited art and image possibilities.

The design community looks to glass for multi-purpose solutions for their interior environments, industry sources say. From a corporate logo on an entry glass wall, to decorative glass partitions that divide a space while permitting natural light, interior glass provides aesthetics and function.

“Architects, designers and property owners … are looking to glass to increase both the sophistication and the functionality of their designs,” says Alysa Hoffmeister, vice president and general manager of North America for Dip-Tech.

The Atrium Restaurant at Crown Metropol in Burswood, Western Australia, features a multi-purpose all-glass wall of digitally printed decorative glass that incorporates technology and divides the host stand from the restaurant interior. Cooling Brothers Glass Co. was the glass fabricator for the project, using digital printing technology from Dip-Tech. Photo courtesy of Dip-Tech.

“Designers want glass to cover more area, to add the design element, and to create a function with glass,” adds Mandy Marxen, vice president of marketing for Gardner Glass Products Inc. “It’s almost as if all surfaces are required to do more than one thing—they must be more than just beautiful. They need to be easy to clean, incorporate technology or branding, or add an additional function to the design.”

Signage is one of the fastest growing multipurpose applications for interior glass. For many architects, glass has become the new material of choice for presenting corporate logos, lobby directories or wayfinding signs, sources say. Designers are using back-painted glass with text or logos, and incorporating lighting into their signage.

Gardner Glass,, supplied more than 1,000 square feet of Dreamwalls Color Glass for the interior of Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, N.C. Designers specified two custom colors of “brilliant” and “medium” blue for the glass, along with Dreamwalls True White. The glass walls feature precise water-jet cut-outs for the installation of touch screens, as well as selective-painted panels for the addition of back-mounted video screens. Gardner Glass fabricated the glass panels using its dual-coat, heat-cured process, and mounted the glass to a ½-inch plywood backing with edge banding to ease installation. GlassTech of Greenville, N.C., completed the installation.

“The possibilities for [glass] signage and lighting are very exciting, with backlit and frontlit effects creating two very different looks,” says Ellen Blakeley, designer, owner, Ellen Blakeley Studio.

Interior glass is a growing solution to privacy, energy and occupant health concerns. Architects that want to bring natural daylighting further into a space, while still offering a level of privacy for occupants, are specifying decorative glass partitions, doors or wall systems.

GGI worked with renowned graffiti artist WeRC to create the digitally printed art glass installation in the 4-story stairwell at the El Paso City Development Headquarters. The 40-foot-tall glass art installation doubles as a light box, illuminating the staircase, while highlighting the graffiti art designs printed on the glass using GGI’s Alice direct-to-glass printing system. “The installation … demonstrates how we are pushing the boundaries of how art, light and glass can work together,” says Stephen Balik, director of marketing and architectural sales, GGI.

“Interior designers now design for how you function and live in space, versus just ‘having’ the space,” says Eric Wroldsen, global marketing director, interiors, Guardian Industries Corp. “In furniture design, we hear about the ‘death of the cubicle.’ Glass allows separation without separation, so to speak. Patterned glass, acid etched glass and switchable glass are all excellent choices when a space calls for both light and privacy.”

Demand has also increased for glass floors and stair treads, which are available in any range of decorative patterns or designs. “There are so many options available today [for glass flooring],” says Chris Mammen, president, M3 Glass Technologies. “Starting with a basic double- or triple-laminate, we can now incorporate color, patterns, full color printing inside the laminated lite, basic traction control, and full-color MPrint traction control. The glass flooring product can serve many purposes, including branding, signage, corporate history and daylighting.”


Today’s multi-functional glass capabilities were made possible because of rapid advancements in decorative glass technologies in recent years, sources say. “As glass manufacturing technologies continue to advance, the role of glass has expanded beyond decorative,” says Joe Green, president of GlasPro Inc.. “For architects and designers, it has become a communicative tool in their design vocabulary that incorporates imagery, graphics and color in new and exciting ways.”

Back-painted glass from GlasPro was used to communicate through color themes at the University of Arizona medical center in Phoenix. Each level of the center features its own custom color theme, highlighted using back-painted glass wall cladding throughout hallways and elevator corridors. GlasPro also supplied light-weight back-painted glass panels for the elevator interiors. Photo by Anthony Wallace.

“New technologies allow for precision cutting to create decorative shapes and also for full color, digital printing that makes glass a stunning canvas for art, custom patterns, branding, education and exhibitions,” adds Stephen Balik,director of marketing and architectural sales, GGI. “Glass is no longer something to simply see through, but is a material with endless aesthetic and structural possibilities.”

The expansion of digital printing on glass, for one, has helped to drive demand for decorative glass interiors, sources say. The printing technology allows for custom, one-off designs to be created more efficiently and cost effectively, Hoffmeister says. “Glass is an economical material option and with digital in-glass printing it can serve as an alternative to many high-end interior building materials, while enabling architects and designers to use printed glass to express themselves and their ideas by adding both a functional and aesthetic purpose to virtually any interior glass,” she says.

Decorative glass provides privacy, while maximizing natural light. Pictured is Guardian Berman Glass Edition, Etre pattern, from Guardian Industries, installed in a café.

“More architects, designers and owners are willing to spend money on decorative interior glass, now that fully customizable products are available,” Mammen adds.

Improvements in color—both in glass clarity and in paints—have opened the door even wider for glass as a wall, panel or message board solution.

“There are so many [paint technologies] that were not available five to ten years ago—from paint mixing and color matching, to the precision application of paints, to the wide range of paint chemistry available,” Marxen says. “The complex pearlescents, metallics and other finishes were all so difficult to achieve for glass a short while ago. Now there is a variety of paints, films and interlayers that can all perform unique jobs. The proliferation of glass as a message board surface with magnetic options [is] thanks to the availability of rare-earth magnets that have the right interaction with the glass.”

The Mixer Design Group office in Austin, Texas, features a wall of bent, tempered, acid-etch glass, with a digitally printed ceramic frit of the company’s logo. The glass serves as a central design element of the office, while providing privacy and branding, according to officials from M3 Glass Technologies, the glass fabricator for the project. Photo by Matt Storey.

Several sources attribute the success of colored glass, particularly in terms of color matching, to the availability of low-iron, ultra-clear glass. “A big part of fulfilling design issues is ‘truth in color,’” Wroldsen says. “A lot of material, when you paint it, doesn’t show color in truest form. Low-iron glass is the exception. Back-painted glass allows architects and designers to meet their specification in color.”

New inks for digital printing have also expanded interior glass capabilities. “The [slip-resistant] ink is ideal for exterior and interior flooring applications,” Hoffmeister says. Inks with a matte finish have also expanded opportunities for glass signage. “The matte, non-glare finish … is beneficial in reducing reflections. The reduced sheen allows the printed glass to be seen clearly from any vantage point, which is essential with signage,” she says.

Katy Devlin is editor for Glass Magazine. E-mail Katy at

  • What does the future hold for multi-purpose interior glass design?

    “There is a point coming fast where technology and glass will meet head-on. Let’s say you have a TV embedded into a piece of glass to move a presentation from your iPad to the wall. Glass is the only substrate to reflect that technology. The marriage of technology and design is the next phase in great design utilizing glass.”

    Eric Wroldsen, global marketing director, interiors, Guardian Industries Corp.

    “Interactivity. Switchable glass is already a hugely growing segment, but I'm seeing interest in the addition of thin films that allow for touch screen interactivity to be added to any glass surface, as well as the addition of charging areas for devices, where you just lay your device down on the surface and it immediately links up.”

    Mandy Marxen, vice president of marketing for Gardner Glass Products Inc.

    “It is anticipated that glass will become a primary building material used to create everything from building façades and office furniture to interior structural and aesthetic décor, with improved sustainability and advanced results not achievable with many of the materials commonly used today. Digital architectural glass allows architects and designers to create high-end elegance on a tight budget by matching the look of textiles, wood grains, natural stone and so much more.”

    Alysa Hoffmeister, vice president and general manager of North America for Dip-Tech

    “Our ink partner is constantly developing new applications [for digital printing on glass], such as the recently released full-color traction control and also a new first-surface ink. Conductive inks and other special inks are in the pipeline for the future.”

    Chris Mammen, president, M3 Glass Technologies

    “We see continuing advancements that allow glass to be used in ways that are exponentially more complex and exciting. Two key areas that will give architects and designers even more options are precision CNC machinery that allows for advanced fabrication of larger and larger pieces of glass, and custom design options that improve color rendition and print durability. It seems every day, we can ask more and more of glass as a key design material.”

    Stephen Balik, director of marketing and architectural sales, GGI