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.
Why choose it
Alternative inks can lower the carbon footprint associated with raw materials, alleviate toxicity concerns during printing, and improve the recyclability of paper, especially during the de-inking process1. 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. For example, inks can be designated as “soy based” in certain applications with as little a 6% of ingredients2. Companies may not prioritize inks because of the opaque, often misleading market. The inks can also be cost prohibitive.
Frequently asked questions
Tobias Robert. “Green ink in all colors”—Printing ink from renewable resources (Progress in Organic Coatings, 2015)
Soy Ink Seal (ASA)
Gulnur Mertoglu-Elmas. The Effect of Colorants on the Content of Heavy Metals in Recycled Corrugated Board Papers (BioResources)
ISO 16759:2013 (ISO, 2013)
Quality of Chemical Safety Information in Printing Industry (Ann Occup Hyg, 2016)
Environmental Impact of Printing Inks (EuPIA, 2013)
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)
Brian Dougherty. Green Graphic Design (Allsworth, 2008)