Inks—their gamut, durability, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are key considerations for shop owners as well as their customers.
Employee health, image quality, and environmental impact are all factors. Not only do we need to protect our employees; our consumers want to dispose of finished signage without harming the environment.
Environmentally friendly inks are considered "the fastest growing segment of the wide format inkjet printing market," shares Rak Kumar, president/CEO, Raster Printers, Inc.
Aqueous, bio, latex, and UV-curable inks are considered the most environmentally friendly inks. With less VOCs and easier disposal, sign shop owners are adding them to their shops—and ink manufacturers are catering to the demand. Christopher Howard, senior VP, sales & marketing, Durst Image Tech-nology US, LLC, believes going "green" is increasingly becoming a requirement, "as the momentum grows to utilize eco-friendly imaging processes."
At Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) pre-drupa event held March 10 to 12 in Tel Aviv, Israel, HP announced its revolutionary latex inks, which are pigment and water-based. These aqueous-dispersed, polymer technology inks—according to HP—provide print durability comparable to solvent inks. At the event, HP’s Stephen Nigro, senior VP, graphics and imaging business, reinforced that "HP’s intent is to be the leader in digital graphic arts."
The "Why" Factor
"Customers can help do their part by purchasing and using the most environmentally friendly inks that meet their needs," explains Brad Kisner, president, and Ken Kisner, senior VP/CTO, Triangle Digital INX Co. Consumers are major proponents for environmental initiatives, pushing state and federal governments to take action.
In Europe, government regulations have been in place for awhile. For example, Durst, a European based company, worked with the European environment council as far back as 1999 to ensure its inks, like the Flexible Ink Set—a UV ink—were VOC-free in accordance with European standards.
The U.S. recognizes the importance of environmental preservation and is becoming more involved. Linda Carlisle, director of marketing, Sawgrass Technologies, Inc. explains, "We anticipate consumer demand, government regulations, and printing industry self-policing constraints to dramatically increase in the near future."
"Environmental regulatory bodies worldwide will soon implement stringent VOC guidelines for print shops to protect the environment and the ozone layer. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have already been cracking down on polluters and excessive VOC emitters," echoes Tom Reilly, VP marketing, Gandinnovations.
Gandinnovations recently launched two versions of its Premium UV-curable inks. Created for the Jeti UV True Flatbed printers and Jeti UV roll-to-roll devices. These inks are 100 percent solvent-free, with no VOC emissions. The inks are guaranteed for stock or rigid substrate and are suitable for outdoor applications such as billboards and vehicle wraps.
"The use of UV inks is a breakthrough that provides environmentally conscious companies the ability to match eco-friendly inks with ‘green’ fabric and graphics substrates for printing dynamic applications that en-hance our world while protecting our environment," says Richard Codos, executive director, North American development, Leggett & Platt Technologies (L&P).
Hanan Yosefi, president/CEO, Matan Digital Printers, outlines the benefits of UV inks. "With UV inks, there is no waste, you can print all day without having to purge the ink once, and there is no need for a special disposal mechanism. Also, if you print and require the ink to dry faster, you do not need to worry about the media becoming ruined from extra heat and air blowers like in alternative print techniques."
Matan manufactures UV inks for its Barak superwide format printer line. Its 200 UV and 300 UV inks print on a variety of media—PVC, banner, mesh, glass, wood, and more. One benefit of UV inks is the minimal interruption between the ink and media, allowing for the wider media gamut.
As VOC rules become more stringent, sign shops may face their own legal issues. Health scares involving the byproducts of inks in the workplace could force employees to demand a healthier work environment.
"Solvent inks often contain dangerous contents such as MEK, cyclohexanone, or isopropanone," explains Esmeralda Desart, VP sales and marketing, FILLINK. The byproducts of solvent inks are a hazard, especially over long periods of time.
Another "green" alternative to solvent ink is aqueous ink, which companies such as Sawgrass Technologies manufacture. The "fume free nature of water-based ink provides a safer work environment for production employees," shares Carlisle.
Sawgrass’ SubiM sublimation inks, designed specifically for wide format printing, were developed in Europe—where VOC standards are currently higher than in the U.S. Despite being aqueous, which may send up a warning flag for some printers, these are durable inks. Says Carlisle, "SubiM scored extremely well in ISO ratings in regards to light fastness, washfastness, and alkaline fastness."
Harmful byproducts both at the manufacturing and printing stages along with the affect on humans are a major reason why companies use "green" inks. "For PrintVillage, ‘green’ goes beyond the air we breathe or the water we drink, but it includes what can be absorbed in our bodies through skin contact," shares Michael Labella, US Sublimation brand product manager, PrintVillage.
Not only will employers create a healthier environment, when adapting "green" inks, they will also develop a social reputation, according to Nils Miller, Ph.D., ink/media R&D and technical environment strategy, graphics & imaging business, HP, "In implementing ‘green’ inks, the sign shop owner creates an opportunity for promotion as a print service provider concerned with the environment."
From the trend of the concerned sign shop, another is evolving, "‘Green’ printing is moving beyond small do-good companies and activist groups to corporate and government agencies that now have mandates to purchase greener goods and services," shares Gary Rudnick, product manager, Mutoh America, Inc.
Rick Scrimger, VP/GM, Roland Color Products Division, echoes this sentiment, citing the original claim that "green" is driven directly by the consumer. He elaborates, "Consumers are increasingly concerned about how businesses and organizations impact the environment and are motivated to purchase products that they view as ‘green’—at even a higher price tag." Retailers are asking for environmentally friendly products. Recently, Al Gore’s Live Earth concert and the committee for the Beijing Olympics inquired about "green" signage options.
It Isn’t Easy Being Green
"Green" inks are ideal for environmental reasons, but what about the output? "It’s important to remember that this entire discussion is taking place in the context of satisfying the end user’s requirements and running a successful business. Clients want to ‘go green,’ but they also want image quality, on-time delivery, and the rest. Printers want to ‘go green,’ but they also want to meet operational goals," explains Howard.
Many shops are concerned that "green" inks will not deliver the same quality and performance as solvent inks. To not address this concern, according to Terry Amerine, segment manager, wide format graphics, Fujifilm Sericol, would be impractical. He says, "Many ‘green’ or bio inks have shown that they do not deliver the necessary performance to meet the requirements for many applications. As Fujifilm looks at developing ‘green’ solutions, we are targeting developing inks that are both truly ‘green’ and will meet the requirements for the end applications."
Currently, Fujifilm Sericol manufacturers a wide range of UV-curable inks, for screen, flexographic, and digital printers. "We were the first traditional ink supplier to provide UV-curable digital inks and sell a viable platform on which to use them in 2001. We did this because it offered a ‘green’ solution to our customers and enabled them to improve the efficiency and print quality with this comb- ination. It is a true example of providing a practical solution that improves the environmental footprint as well as their bottom line," adds Amerine.
Manufacturers ack-nowledge the durability issue, believing that you can’t go "green" without sacrifice. FILLINK announced its solvent bio ink line last year. Suitable for grand format solvent printers without any need to modify, FILLINK bio inks are made of corn and are 100 percent recyclable. "Bio inks are durable as they use the same pigments as solvent inks," shares FILLINK’s Desart. "They might, however, not adhere on a range of special substrates as wide as solvent inks."
Others, such as Gandinnovations’ Reilly, argue that the durability question is no longer relevant, "It may have been a year or two ago, but the ‘green’ ink ingredients available these days do not compromise quality and durability issues."
UV inks are incredibly similar to solvent inks in both durability and appearance. Take for example Triangle Digital INX’s UV curable products, ideal for outdoor applications. Recently, Kisner and Kisner had a customer use Triangle UV inks and express delight in the final output, admitting it had a solvent look. "He said the colors were ‘more vibrant, with more color depth,’" they comment.
Bio inks, which represent less then .5 percent of the market today, according to a study by FILLINK, are also considered as durable as solvent inks. EFI/Inkware’s BioVu ink is the first environmentally friendly solvent ink. Made out of corn, cotton, and wood pulp, 80 to 85 percent of the ink is renewable.
"With BioVu inks the print quality isn’t compromised. They use the same pigments found in solvent inks, the same machine, and the printed output looks the same as solvent," explains Scott Schinlever, VP/GM, EFI/Inkware. These inks are durable, bond to uncoated surfaces, come in a range of colors, and have a fast drying time. The same pigments found in solvent inks are in BioVu inks allowing for some form of resistance to UV light and mechanical wear.
Aqueous inks, although some may question their fade resistance, also have their benefits. HP just introduced HP Latex inks to its aqueous based line. "They provide the benefits of solvent ink technology—such as outdoor durability—without imposing the typical environmental, health, and safety considerations," explains Miller. There’s no need for air ventilation equipment, no need to deal with hazardous waste. What’s more, our new ink cartridge design is based on recyclable cardboard."
Output created with HP Latex inks withstands outdoor elements without compromising the image quality desired for indoor applications. Guaranteed for up to three years unlaminated, they are scratch, smudge, and water resistant on a range of HP media. The inks will eventually be used with HP Wide Scan Printing Technology, a new platform of industrial and commercial printing solutions that leverages HP Scalable Printing Technology.
Roland’s Scrimger cites that aqueous inks are best suited for photograph and fine art giclée, posters, POP, and other indoor/temporary graphics. Aqueous inks featured in Roland’s Hi-Fi JET Pro II 54-inch printer are one option. For durable graphics, Roland recommends its ECO-SOL MAX inks, which are free of harmful VOCs. ECO-SOL MAX inks dry quickly and deliver the scratch, water, and alcohol resistance required for durability outdoors. The inks are part of Roland’s ECO-labeled printer line compliant with ISO 14021 standards and support coated and uncoated media, including biodegradable options.
While many are adamant "green" inks are durable, others believe durability isn’t an issue at all. If a customer only needs a product for a short period of time, they shouldn’t have to worry about ink fading or corroding. PrintVillage’s Labella gives an example.
"A banner announcing a grand opening or sale will not be used for ten years and even if the customer wished to use it for that long the material it is printed on will probably not last. The reality is that consumers need the product to serve its purpose and in most cases all they really need is a few months out of the product they are purchasing."
Making the Grade
Many manufacturers deem their ink "green," but there are guidelines. "VOC emissions, the types of dyes and pigments used in the ink, the manufacturing process—byproducts, and disposal effects," is a small list of criteria explained by Labella. However, some argue that these guidelines are vague, creating a varying opinion on what is truly considered "green."
A technical definition given by Gandinnovation’s Reilly, "To qualify as a ‘green’ ink component, the raw material must not be in the EPA—or any governing body—list of restricted materials due to their safety and environmental risk and must not exhibit excessive volatility—which is a measure of a material’s propensity to evaporate on its own at room temperature."
Multiple definitions raise a complicated issue. "Often times the [‘green’] definition is relative to other ways of producing a print, such as with another device or technology," explains HP’s Miller.
"Unfortunately, within the overall market defining ‘green’ is very difficult. The end result of this lack of clarification is that there is a great deal of misinformation and marketing hype around ‘green’ products," admits Fujifilm Sericol’s Amerine.
According to Scrimger, the properties of green inks are still being determined worldwide. This is based on a continuum of criteria and varying levels of performance. How do UV, bio, and aqueous inks stack up in comparison?
"UV inks produce virtually no VOCs since the majority of the ink solidifies immediately into solid ink components in the UV curing process," explains L&P’s Codos. L&P’s Virtu Printing System’s BioHueV UV inks are curable, pigmented inks with light fastness, abrasion resistance, and durability.
Mutoh MuBio inks, made up of more than 80 percent of renewable substances, certainly qualify as "green" inks. After creating its BioVu inks, EFI worked with Mutoh to develop MuBio inks for flatbed printers, allowing print shop owners to print on rigid applications while keeping their work environment healthy. These inks offer one to two-year outdoor durability. Mutoh’s MuBio inks are recognized by the U.S. EPA Design for the Environment Program.
All of US Sublimation branded inks are aqueous-based so they have no VOC emissions. Due to careful attention in the selection of pigments and dyes, the chance of allergic reactions is reduced if skin contact is made. The manufacturing process, the water-based nature of the ink base along with the dyes and pigments used in their dye sublimation line of products, such as its US Sublimation LFP, the new S4 series, and the UVmax line of UV enhanced dye sublimation ink, help achieve the "green" effect.
Save a Landfill, Recycle a Cartridge
Dry ink or toners and cartridges, while not necessarily "green" in their emissions, are recyclable. LexJet offers an Inkjet Cartridge recycling program. "The program greatly expands the re-use and recycling of the plastics used to manufacture original cartridges. The majority of returned cartridges are re-used for the production of ink replacement cartridges," shares Regan Dickinson, marketing communications specialist, LexJet Corporation. Cartridges that qualify include Canon, Epson, and HP.
Media Street also runs a recycling program for Epson cartridges. "Our Niagara systems and our refillable cartridges are ecologically friendly since they eliminate waste to our landfills by having a refillable system instead of throwing away cartridges," explains Alan Kessler, director sales/marketing, Media Street, Inc.
Xerox’s cartridge-free solid ink technology is as environmentally friendly as they come. A print using solid ink produces 90 percent less waste than a laser printer. When compared to a color laser printer, which products 157 pounds of waste after 100,000 prints, a solid ink printer only produces five pounds.
According to Anne Stocum, manager, environmental market support, Xerox Corporation, solid ink is just as durable as a color laser or LED printer. She adds, "Solid ink is not water-soluble and will not run or bleed, making it a valuable solution for customers that use documents in inclement weather."
Based out of both Los Angeles, CA and Toronto, Schawk Inc. is an international brand imaging solutions provider. They became involved with bio solvent inks in late 2006 when they decided to be a beta site for EFI/Inkware’s BioVu products. It all began when one of their clients requested a "green" campaign.
After initial testing, one of their three VUTEk 5-meter devices became dedicated to running "green" inks. "All ‘green’ efforts should be embraced," explains Emily Hansen, grand format department manager, Schawk Inc. "This includes efforts made by manufacturers of inks, materials, equipment, etc."
Hansen continues to notice a variety of benefits since implementing BioVu in their workplace. For one thing, the BioVu guarantee of up to two years outdoors is extremely reliable. Schawk creates billboards and other outdoor applications for the entertainment industry, one of their many clients.
Additionally, the color gamut, is similar to solvent inks. "We were very impressed by the color gamut of the BioVu inks as compared to traditional solvent inks like VUTEk’s UltraVu 5 inks. There is not a hugely notable difference."
With the durability and color gamut already there, Hansen looks forward to the ink’s increasing functionality.
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits is that Schawk is now able to produce a product that is fully biodegradable. With this in mind, the shop focuses on using these inks with outdoor campaigns that run on Ultraflex’s BioFlex vinyl.
In 2006, UK-based B&P Lightbrigade Group, released an environmentally friendly ink and media package, entitled Greengraphix. "We are very aware of the environmental impact of the choices we make in our business and feel others should follow. We make every attempt to track our carbon emissions and are trying to live carbon-neutral," explains Pete Winter, marketing manager, B&P Lightbrigade Group.
After testing their inks for over two years, the shop found that they were just as durable, if not better than the previous inks they had been using. They are in the process of converting all their printers over to bio solvent inks—eliminating the hazardous substances throughout the workforce.
One of the more recent high profile projects B&P worked on was graphics for Live Earth 2007 in London. A 24-hour music event, its main mission is to combat the climate crisis. The customer specifically selected B&P because of their Greengraphix solution.
Winter hopes that more clients become attracted to their bio solvent ink options. "We are constantly trying to convert our client base to our Greengraphix package of bio inks and environmentally friendly materials."
Green Means Go
"Going ‘green’ is not just a cliché, it is a responsibility," says Gandinnovation's Reilly. He echoes a sentiment that proves how focused manufacturers are on providing eco-friendly materials.
As shops go "green" at all levels of production, you can bet consumers will notice, says Fujifilm Sericol’s Amerine, "This trend is expected to continue and gain in momentum."