A customised printer coupled with new ceramic technology should make memorial headstones a less grave affair.
Promarc International used $100,000 of Technology New Zealand money over three years to create a world-first colour printer that can print on ceramic pigments. The Marton-based company has also developed a ceramic — permanite — that it says is tougher than granite and marble, onto which images can be printed.
The products were developed with Christchurch-based photo-ceramicist Bill Wallace, who is now a partner in the six-staff company.
The printer is driven by standard software and operates like an ordinary laser or bubblejet, the company says. Pictures can be "fired" onto the new ceramic, "which then bonds them and they are there forever", says Promarc head Peter Cousins.
He says any digital picture can be used, including templates and photographs taken from the Internet. The memorial market is changing, especially overseas, says Cousins. In Australia, for example, large cemeteries sell more colourful headstones, as the bereaved see funerals as more of a celebration of life.
The products were launched last month at the Australasian Cemeteries and Crematoria Conference in Christchurch, and samples of the ceramic headstones have been sent to 40 Australian cemeteries. The plaques cost $250-$1,500, depending on size, and smaller wall plaques can be made as keepsakes.
Next month the www.permanite.net site will be launched and allow potential customers to design memorials online.