Printech Archives, October 1997: Re: Promote Vegetable Based Inks as P2

Re: Promote Vegetable Based Inks as P2

Wayne Pferdehirt (
Tue, 14 Oct 1997 17:28:00 CST

I thought folks might appreciate seeing some further guidance on the
issue of ink slecetion. The following excerpt is from the Blue
Ribbon Task Force's Print Buyer's Guidelines, produced by the
Minnesota Environmental Initiative. For the full document, point
your Web browser at:


Except from
Blue Ribbon Task Force's Print Buyer's Guidelines, produced by the
Minnesota Environmental Initiative, 1997:

Reduce Volatile Organic Compounds by Making Appropriate Ink Choices

There are three general areas of concern which relate to the
composition and environmental impact of printing inks : volatile
organic compounds (VOCs), non-renewable resources, and heavy metals.

Volatile organic compounds are carbon containing compounds that
contribute to air and water pollution when they escape into the air by
evaporation. These are mostly derived from petroleum products and are
used as solvents.

Request inks which emit low amounts of VOCs (volatile organic

Ask your printer what percent of VOCs are emitted when the ink dries,
and how that compares to other inks. The amount of VOCs emitted will
depend on the type of printing (for example, sheetfed or web off-set),
but the following can serve as a recommended guide: less than 10% VOCs
for sheetfed printing and less than 30% for heatset printing.

Request inks made with renewable resources, such as oils from
vegetables, soy, linseed, and other agricultural products.

Vegetable based inks such as soy based inks are made with a certain
amount of vegetable oil rather than petroleum oil. These inks are
better for the environment because they are partially made with
renewable resources such as soy, linseed, and corn, and use less
non-renewable resources, such as petroleum oil. In order for the inks
to work well and dry efficiently, vegetable based inks still contain
some amount of petroleum oil. If no petroleum oil were used, the
energy use in the print shop would increase because more heat would be
needed to dry the inks, thus counteracting the environmental benefit
of using vegetables instead of petroleum. In that regard, the American
Soybean Association established that in order to use the soy logo, the
ink solvent must contain a minimum amount of soybean oil depending on
the type of printing, meaning that a large percent of a "soy ink"
solvent can be made from petroleum. That is why it is important to
specify inks which emit low amount of VOCs.

Vegetable based inks may also reduce the levels of VOCs and other
pollutants emitted in the printing process.

Technologies are quickly adapting to combat quality problems that were
originally associated with using soy or other vegetable based inks.

Vegetable based inks can be used with overprint coating processes.

Currently, vegetable based ink prices are competitive with petroleum
based inks.

Inks should not contain any intentionally added heavy metals.

Alternative pigment color choices are available which almost always
can be closely matched to the color you want without using heavy

Pigments give the ink its colors. Certain pigments are formulated with
metals which can result in environmental and worker health hazards
when metals are extracted, processed, or disposed. Try to avoid using
inks with added antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead,
mercury, as well as metallic colors. Using substitutes for these
colors are better for the environment, and these ink colors may
require additional steps in the press cleaning process which may be
hazardous as well.

Reused Inks

Some printers are now able to capture old ink and reuse parts of the
ink. This saves the earth's natural resources and reduces the amount
of ink requiring disposal.

Reused "black" inks will not hinder the quality of your published
piece, depending on the process your printer uses. Talk with your
printer about the options that exist.

Ink Coverage

Try to use less ink coverage.

Heavy ink coverage uses more resources and creates more waste. Heavy
ink coverage also may impact the recycling opportunities by increasing
the amount of sludge created in the recycling process.

Wayne P. Pferdehirt, P.E., AICP



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