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Running the Green Gamut

Eco-Friendly Ink

Part 1 of 4

By Thomas Franklin

Today, the term "green" encompasses a wide array of factors beyond the health effects on printer operators. An ink may be considered environmentally friendly based on the compounds and chemicals used to formulate the ink and the length of time it takes the ink to degrade in a landfill. Thereís even a case to be made for replacement solvent inks. "With mix-and-match technology you have chemical and color compatibility with the OEM formulation, so printers replace one cartridge at a time. They donít have to throw out all the inks or flush existing cartridges," says Steve Igoe, North American sales manager, Bordeaux Digital Printink Ltd. Arguing that it keeps inks out of the waste system.

Work is underway to find greener replacements for hard solvent inks that can produce the color sharpness of solvent, with its outdoor durability, without volatile organic compounds (VOCs). EFI Inkwareís Bio ink is a corn-based ink recognized by the Environmental Protection Agencyís (EPA) Design for the Environment program. Mutoh America, Inc.ís iteration handles rigid substrates, while EFI VUTEkís tackles roll-to-roll prints.

Hewlett-Packardís (HP) pigment-based latex ink was created to sideline solvent, says Rudy Herrera, business development manger, graphics solutions business, HP. The ink, which is composed of 70 percent water, contains extremely low levels of VOCs and lasts for three years outdoors without lamination.

UV ink is considered environmentally friendly for other reasons. "It has a solid chemistry, so what you put on the substrate, stays on the substrate," explains Jeffrey Nelson, digital product marketing manager, Fujifilm Sericol U.S.A, Inc. There are fewer VOCs than solvent inks and since UV printers image directly to substrates, it saves on mounting and laminating. This reduced media consumption is one benefit. The other is an emerging class of UV inks that cure with LED lights, which consume less energy than traditional heating bulbs.

Vendors hope to make UV inks even greener, according to Terry Mitchell, director of marketing, Fujifilm Sericol. The oligomers used in UV inks are typically derived from fossil fuel products, but the company is experimenting with bio-based oligomers.

In some ways, aqueous inks were the original green ink, says Michael McEvoy, director of commercialization, Sawgrass Technologies, Inc. They contain no VOCs, hazardous air pollutants, or toxic air pollutants. What had held aqueous ink back, McEvoy says, was the lack of substrates. Thatís changing as more media becomes available for water-based inks. With a grower number of textiles and fabrics entering the U.S., aqueous sublimation printing is a growing green alternative, he adds.

"Everyone strives for clean," shares Randy Rickert, VP/GM, Mutoh. "The more EPA friendly it is, the more comfortable print service providers are. A lot of our customers are in smaller locations such as strip malls, and they canít be emitting odors."

"In the past, printers adapted new technology when it made economic sense," comments Terry Amerine, segment manager, wide format graphics, Fujifilm Sericol. "If it happened to be green, it was an added bonus. But now the environment is starting to be important enough that it impacts cost analysis. A lot of printers see customers that want the eco-friendly solution."

The demand is there. With a variety of inks considered environmentally friendly it is no wonder the industry is buzz. Next week read about profiting from green inks.

Click on the link above to get more information on the vendors mentioned in this article.

Sep2009, Digital Output

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