Green Series: Environmentally-Friendly Ink

August 23rd, 2010 by

As environmentally consious designers, Double 6 understands that we need to do more than just opt for recycled paper. We also need to prefer inks that don’t leave an ugly stain on the world.

Printing inks can contain three main types of ingredients that threaten the environment:

1. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) come from inks that depend on petroleum-based solvents to disperse pigment and accelerate drying. When used, these inks emit VOCs in vapor form. VOC vapor harms print shop workers and contributes to the formation of smog.

2. Certain colors of ink contain heavy metals that are associated with various health hazards, such as cadmium, barium, copper, and zinc. These elements leach into groundwater and contaminate the soil.

3. Petroleum use isn’t sustainable and you don’t need us to tell you that. Petroleum-based inks also require more water to remove from paper you’re trying to recycle.

The good news is that vegetable-based inks either avoid or vastly decrease our dependence on these ingredients.

As an added benefit, vegetable-based inks are also naturally clearer. This clarity makes it easier to produce bright colors with less pigment (and so we need less heavy metal use). Some printers report that vegetable-based inks spread farther than petroleum inks, further reducing the amount of ink required for a job.

Still not convinced? Consider this, then. When the Los Angeles Times switched to soy-based ink, their VOC emissions went down by 200 tons per year.
We’re glad you see the light!

Now that you’re with us, you’re probably wondering how to compare the various vegetable-based inks. Is soy better than other vegetable oils for ink? The short answer is that different vegetable oils are better for different things.

Linseed (flax), tung (Chinawood), castor, canola, safflower, and soy are all used as bases for inks. Many ink manufacturers like soy for its stability, but most inks are made of a blend of oils, taking advantage of the specific benefits of each type.

When possible, using a vegetable-based ink of any variety is better than using a petroleum-based ink. However, because they lack evaporative solvents (VOCs), these inks dry slowly, and this can create issues when you print on coated paper. We recommend talking with your printer, letting them know your preferences, and doing what you can to create the best possible product using the most environmentally friendly ink.

Next up in our Green Series: find out how refreshing waterless printing can be!