PNEAC Fact Sheet
Printing Inks
By Todd MacFadden, Michael P. Vogel and Ed.D.

Commercial Printing

Printing inks may contain material that makes them hazardous, such as metals used for coloring and solvents used to accelerate drying. In addition, because most printing inks are petroleum-based, they may have significant volatile organic compound (VOC) content. The Clean Air Act Amendments regulate overall VOC emissions from printers, so the extent to which inks contribute to VOCs is important (see Fact Sheet #10: "Printer's Guide to Environmental Regulations"). In response to increased demand and more stringent regulations, ink manufacturers are making a concerted effort toward eliminating VOCs. This fact sheet describes some of the pollution prevention and waste management options for printers related to ink.

Best Management Practices

Printing inks are expensive and any opportunities to minimize waste ink can help save money. Waste ink is generated through color changes, press cleaning and poor ink management, which allows drying and skinning. But effective management techniques can help reduce waste ink. Don't treat excess ink as waste ­ instead, manage it like a product that should be reintroduced into the system when possible. Best management practices to help avoid waste include:

Reuse Excess Ink

Excess ink is the result of overestimating ink usage at the press or at the time of ink purchase. Whenever possible, return unopened cans of excess ink to the supplier. Reusing excess ink can reduce both disposal and purchase costs. Some options:

Soy and Vegetable Inks

Soy- and vegetable-based inks were popular during the oil crisis in the early 1970s. But as presses became faster, petroleum-based inks displaced slow-drying vegetable-based inks. Now increased emphasis on improving worker safety and reducing environmental emissions has sparked renewed interest in vegetable oil-based inks, and many printers and suppliers are trying to address quality concerns found in early versions of these and other alternative inks. Vegetable oils can reduce total VOCs in an ink formulation. Among the vegetable candidates for oil base in ink, soybean oil is the most promising. Some advantages of soy-based inks:

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But there are drawbacks. Soy ink often costs more than conventional inks, but the cost is expected to decrease. The drying times for soy inks are considerably slower, particularly on coated paper. Thus, pure soy-based inks cannot be used in the heatset process. As a result, soy-based oils still contain a certain percentage of petroleum. The American Soybean Association (ASA) has developed a "Soy Seal" certification program. Table 1 summarizes the percentages of soy content necessary for qualification. Another disadvantage is that soy inks may still contain small quantities of hazardous substances, and may have to be managed as hazardous waste.

Summary of Product Substitution Alternatives to Solvent-Based Inks

Alternative Applications P2 Benefits Operational Advantages Operational
Disadvantages
Cost Product Quality Limitations
Vegetable Oil Heatset Inks Lithographic web presses Reduced VOC emissions and worker exposure to petroleum oils Less ink build-up; greater stability; increased flexibility Slower drying time; poor drying can result in set-off, marking and poor rub resistance No capital cost; ink cost can be 5%-8% higher Similar quality Heatset requirements limit replacement of petroleum oils; ink dryer contributes to VOC emissions; ink waste may still be hazardous
Vegetable Oil Non-heatset Inks Lithographic non-heatset web and sheet-fed presses Reduced VOC emissions and worker exposure to petroleum oils Can provide better print quality, brighter colors, better pickup and transfer Slower drying time No capital cost; ink cost slightly higher Similar quality; brighter colors and improved clarity Usually some petroleum oils; ink waste may still be hazardous
Vegetable Oil Newspaper Inks Lithographic web presses Reduced VOC emissions and worker exposure to petroleum oils; 100% replacement o petroleum oils possible Better color reproduction; better color control; less rub-off; less tendency to build up or skin over; greater stability; smoother flow; better coverage; greater ink-water balance parameters permit greater flexibility Usually slower drying time No capital cost; higher ink cost may be offset by reduced newsprint spoilage Higher quality color printing; similar quality black printing May contain some petroleum oils; ink waste may still be hazardous
Vegetable Oil Form Inks Lithographic non-heatset web presses Reduced VOC emissions and worker exposure to petroleum oils Smoother flow; better coverage Slower drying time Slightly higher ink cost Higher quality color printing May contain petroleum oils; ink waste may still be hazardous
UV Curable Inks Lithographic web and sheet-fed presses No ink-derived VOC emissions or worker exposure to petroleum oil; reduced process waste No ink drying on press reduces frequency of press cleaning; rapid curing; no set-off; no need for ventilation of printed sheets
Capital equipment cost; high ink cost; lower energy use than thermal drying; increased productivity Good gloss and durability; print quality may be less clear; possible adhesion problems on some materials (aluminum, steel, some plastic Workers must be protected from UV light; some toxic chemicals in inks; may cause skin sensitivity; ventilation needed to reduce ozone buildup; paper difficult to recycle
EB Curable Inks Lithographic web and sheet-fed presses No ink-derived VOC emissions or worker exposure to petroleum oil; reduced process waste No ink drying on press reduces frequency of press cleaning; rapid curing; no set-off; no need for ventilation of printed sheets
Capital cost; considerably higher ink cost Print quality less clear Workers must be protected from EB light; some toxic chemicals in inks; may cause skin sensitivity; often degrade paper; paper difficult to recycle
Water-Based Inks Flexographic and gravure presses Little or no ink-derived VOC emissions or worker exposure to alcohol; replacement of solvent-based cleaners and fountain solutions with safer substitutes Hold color and viscosity longer during press runs; more coverage per pound of ink; reduces the need for make-up solvent during printing More frequent equipment cleaning; less forgiving of equipment imperfections, may cause paper curl May require new capital equipment; greater energy use; reduced hazardous waste disposal and liability costs Similar quality with new equipment; low ink gloss on porous substrates May contain low level of solvent; ink waste may still be hazardous; greater energy use for drying

(Source: Alternatives to Petroleum- and Solvent-Based Inks, TURI Fact Sheet 6)

Radiation-curable Inks

Ultraviolet (UV) and electron-beam (EB) inks cure by polymerization upon exposure to UV or EB energy. They contain no solvents and therefore release no VOCs. They will not cure until exposed to the energy source so they can be left in the fountain for long periods of time, thereby reducing cleanup. They can be used on both web and sheetfed presses.

The major drawback is cost. Small printers will not be able to afford the $1 million starting price and the inks are more expensive than conventional or soy inks. Also, there is the risk of employee exposure to UV and x-ray energy, so safety devices are necessary. Finally, paper printed with these inks are often difficult to recycle because of the high molecular weight and difficult fiber/ink separation.

Vendors and Suppliers

Indication herein of specific vendors and suppliers does not imply endorsement, nor does omission imply a refutation by the Montana State University Extension Service Pollution Prevention Program.

Ink
Reclamation Systems
Separation Tech, Inc.
740-H South Van Buren
Placentia, CA 92800
(714) 632-1306
Semlar Industries, Inc.
3800 North Carnation
Franklin Park, IL 60131
(708) 801-5650
Ink
Reblending
Mixmasters, Inc.
11 Colmer Road
Lynn, MA 01904
(800) 332-9321
 
Water-
and 
Soy-Based Inks
Flint Ink, Corp. 
1812-B Mactavish
Richmond, VA 23230
(804) 353-1231
Sun Chemical
3435 West Leigh Street
Richmond, VA 23230
(804) 355-8068
 
Ink
Recycling
3R
800 Vinial Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
(412) 323-1733
Pro Active Recycling, Inc. 908 Niagara Falls Blvd. N. Tonawanda, NY 14120
(716) 692-0465
 
Inks Resourcenet/Dixon Paper Co.
1495 Monad Road
Billings, MT 59102
(406) 252-2103
Gans Ink & Supply Co. 1919 W. 2300 S
Salt Lake City, UT 84119
(800) 453-8242
Gans Ink & Supply Co 3448 NW Yeon   Portland, OR 97210
(800) 624-6393
Gans Ink & Supply Co
1701 Fourth Ave.  Seattle, WA 98134
(800) 435-0045
VanSon, Holland Ink Corporation  92 Union Street Mineola, NY 11501
(800) 648-3937

Sources:

Alternatives to Petroleum- and Solvent-Based Inks, Fact Sheet 6, Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute

Guides to Pollution Prevention: The Commercial Printing Industry, EPA, August 1990.

Moscuzza, S. "Environmentally Friendly Ink Products," GATFWorld January/February 1996, p. 30.

"The Printer's Ink: Towards a 'Greener' Pressroom," Graphic Arts Journal, November 1994, p. 23-24.

"Soy Ink: Just Full of Beans?" The Printing Manager, July/August 1991, p. 4-6.

"Waste Reduction Evaluation of Soy-Based Ink at a Sheet-Fed Offset Printer," Environmental Protection Agency, Project Summary, September 1994.

Primary Authors

Todd MacFadden
Pollution Prevention Technical Specialist

Michael P. Vogel
Pollution Prevention Director

Ed D.
Pollution Prevention Director

Other PNEAC Contacts

Debra Jacobson
University of Illinois Sustainable Technology Center
djacobson@istc.illinois.edu
630.472.5019

Gary Jones
Graphic Arts Technical Foundation
GJones@printing.org
412.741.6860

Wayne Pferdehirt
Solid & Hazardous Waste Education Center
pferdehi@epd.engr.wisc.edu
608.265.2361

Written: June 1996
Updated: July 6, 2011

Produced with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Note: Reasonable effort has been made to review and verify information in this document. Neither PNEAC and it's partners, nor the technical reviewers and their agencies, assume responsibility for completeness and accuracy of the information, or it's interpretation. The reader is responsible for making the appropriate decisions with respect to their operation, specific materials employed, work practices, equipment and regulatory obligations. It is imperative to verify current applicable regulatory requirements with state and/or local regulatory agencies.

© 1996 PNEAC