In producing our artisanal letterpress goods we have made it a priority to reduce our environmental impact and we believe this is an ongoing process of self- evaluation. The printing industry has traditionally been non-earth friendly, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We use tree-free cotton paper stock that is 100% recycled from the textile industry and we recycle our scraps. We mix rubber based inks and store left-over custom mix colors for reprints or use on other designs. Our press cleaning rags are 100% recycled as well, we save and re-use said rags for future cleaning. We also make sure our glass beer bottles get recycled too:) In short, we are just doing our best to continually find ways to reduce our environmental footprint.
The Great Ink Debate: Soy vs. Oil vs. Rubber
This is a hot topic right now and one that needs to be approached objectively. We can’t blame our customers for wanting to make sure we are environmentally friendly, so we needed to address this issue. We want to believe it that soy based inks are more environmentally friendly than oil based or rubber based. We can get oil inks out of the picture immediately because we can attain the same print quality from rubber inks and lets face it…oil based inks stink. But before we could take a stand on one side or the other (soy vs. rubber) we did our homework and found out that ink is more of a scientifically complex product than we had previously thought. Our research continued to open up more questions and we quickly realized we would have to consider the bigger picture and not just think “Oooh… soy is the hot trend, so we should put our rose colored glasses on and ignore the facts”, nope not here. We’ve read and digested the reports and feel that there are good arguments on both sides but that the difference in environmental impact between the two is negligible given the total makeup of the ink’s content. So for us it came down to which product required less ink volume to print the same job, additive requirements, overall print quality, open time on the press, and longevity of storage or shelf life. The other big determining factor was which base (ink vs. soy) was more eco-friendly to produce. For the way we print and our demands from the ink, rubber was the clear choice. If you care to read more below, you will get an idea of where our heads are at and the data we used to base our decision.
- The recent demand for soy production has prompted the clearing of rain forests to support its’ growth. The issue is so dramatic that groups like Greenpeace are urging food/product manufactures and distributors to not purchase soy from rain forest farms.
- The ink base (oil, soy, or rubber) is not the largest component of the total ingredients make up. Even oil based inks are usually comprised of linseed oil, which is plant based. The ink composition has the approximate proportions of 20-30% oils (of either kind), 10-20% pigments, 40% resins, and other ingredients like varnish or drying additives. It’s not the base that makes the real difference it’s the other ingredients in all inks that should be re-formulated.
- In the very small quantities we use, there is no difference in VOCs emitted, or other environmental standards. Soy ink is clearly superior in this area for large print runs such as newspapers, national mailings, and so forth when compared to oils, negligible for rubber.
- We have found soy ink to be the consistency of room temperature butter, and many times requires additives to bring it to the plastic-y consistency optimal for our techniques. This is more preferential in nature, but rubber inks are ready to go and reduce the chances of mixing a wasteful bad batch of ink.
- “Soy Ink Campaign”, a marketing effort prompted by a council of soybean growers. We are not about to jump on the band-wagon without doing our homework. If the soy oil base was replacing a volatile chemical or solvent that’s a different story, but it clearly is not.
- We mix inks by hand from Pantone inks, that way we don’t have to order a new can of ink for each custom color job unless the printed quantity justifies it’s use. Most jobs can be printed from a very small amount of ink- approx. the size of a nickel or quarter.
- Rubber-based inks have anti-skimming properties. This allows us to store the product longer and with less, virtually no, waste. It also stays open, or useable on the press reducing the need for unnecessary cleaning.