At large scale, ink involves the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals which can have a significant overall environmental impact1. Reducing the print surface is a way to make packaging more sustainable and reduce costs.
While alternative inks like soy or algae-based inks can reduce the amount of VOCs and heavy metals, the most effective way to reduce the impact of ink is to use less of it1.
Why choose it
Less ink reduces the amount of VOCs, heavy metals and non-renewable petroleum resin, without requiring any significant shifts to your supply chain3. Ink reduction can cut down on production costs long term, especially if a less complicated design allows you to switch to more widely accessible manufacturing equipment. By extension, this can also help you reduce freight emissions.
Ink formulas for different colors contain varying levels of heavy metals. Consider the following risks when choosing ink colors:
- Reds risk containing cadmium and barium
- Yellows risk containing cadmium and barium
- Whites risk containing zinc and lead
- Metallic inks risk high levels of copper and zinc
- Blues risk container copper
Why not choose it
Compared to other properties, print reduction isn’t one of the heavy hitters. Any environmental improvement is important, but if you’re looking for one with huge impacts, other properties like recycled content, volume reduction, and weight reduction could be easy wins with larger impacts.
Print reduction may not work for your brand aesthetics. For example, if you prioritized recycled content, then your packaging could have slight color or texture irregularities that you wish to cover up with a flood coat.
If you are using a flood-coated or full bleed print with ink from edge to edge, consider these techniques to minimize ink usage:
- Use a positive print instead of a reversed print
- To lighten the load of a flood coat, use a pattern. Stripes or dots can go edge to edge and use 50% less ink than a flood coat.
- Leave unseen parts of your packaging unprinted
- If you are currently printing inside and outside of your box, consider only printing one side.
Another approach is to use fewer colors. Ink formulas for different colors contain varying levels of heavy metals.
An unprinted box exterior may seem less visually appealing, but printed stickers, labels, or tape are alternatives that can produce an appealing effect with lower impact. While they are still printed (and therefore using ink), these adhesive-backed options are more versatile and can be stuck on any packaging item.
If you are shipping in a small box where the shipping label most of your exterior, you’re a perfect contender for eliminating exterior ink.
Frequently asked questions
Ian Montgomery. Ask Lumi: Does Soy Ink Actually Make a Difference? (Lumi, 2019)
Tobias Robert. “Green ink in all colors”—Printing ink from renewable resources (Progress in Organic Coatings, 2015)
Reducing VOC solvent use in the Printing Industry (Printing Industries Association of Australia)