Properties >

Alternative inks

Uses vegetable or soy oil as a base, rather than petroleum.


Ink is composed of pigment for color, a binder to merge the ink with the substrate, solvent to disperse the ink, and additives to prevent the ink from cracking.

There are carcinogenic VOCs (volatile organic compounds) released by solvents during the printing process1. Alternative inks like water-based or UV-cured inks avoid the need for these solvents, which means less toxic printing and lower carbon emissions.

Traditionally, ink binders have been derived from petroleum1. Recently, alternatives to petroleum based binders including soy, linseed, castor, tung, canola, and safflower oil have gained popularity, however these new binders also derive from carbon intensive monocropping operations. Even if an ink uses a soy-based binder, the ink may still contain pigments, solvents, and other additives derived from petroleum1.


Through sustainably managed sources and reuse, some materials have a lower environmental impact.

Why choose it

Alternative inks can lower the carbon footprint1 associated with raw materials, alleviate toxicity concerns during printing, and improve the recyclability of paper, especially during the de-inking process. If the materials allow, companies might print with alternative inks to improve recyclability, biodegradability, or especially compostability.

Why not choose it

Due to the complex and often misunderstood composition of ink, this area is ripe for greenwashing. Inks can be designated as “soy based” in certain applications with as little a 6% of ingredients2 being derived from soy.

Companies may not prioritize inks because of the opaque, often misleading market. The inks can also be cost prohibitive3.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, the more petroleum based ink components on your package, the more difficult the package will be to recycle or compost

Yes. White pigment often, but not always, contains lead4. Cadmium is present in many yellow and red pigments, and copper is present in many blue and green pigments.

Look for a non-fossil-fuel-based binder and a pigment with healthy levels of metals. If your substrate allows it, seek out water-based or UV-based printing methods.

ISO 167595 is the standard methodology for conducting a lifecycle analysis around ink.


  1. Tobias Robert. “Green ink in all colors”—Printing ink from renewable resources (Progress in Organic Coatings, 2015)

  2. Soy Ink Seal (ASA)

  3. Soy-Based Inks vs. Petroleum-Based Inks

  4. Gulnur Mertoglu-Elmas. The Effect of Colorants on the Content of Heavy Metals in Recycled Corrugated Board Papers (BioResources)

  5. ISO 16759:2013 (ISO, 2013)

  6. Quality of Chemical Safety Information in Printing Industry (Ann Occup Hyg, 2016)

  7. Environmental Impact of Printing Inks (EuPIA, 2013)

  8. Duane A. Tolle, David P. Evers, Bruce W. Vigon, John J. Sheehan. Streamlined LCA of Soy-Based Ink Printing (Int J Life Cycle Assess, 2000)

  9. Brian Dougherty. Green Graphic Design (Allsworth, 2008)