Environmentally eco-friendly green inks: delusion and illusion

Last year most of the wide-format inkjet industry had a focus on environmentally friendly inks for wide-format printers.

As a result dozens of companies rebranded their products with green color during 2010. Dozens of companies created new brands with the words eco-friendly everywhere. They all used the words "environmentally friendly," "eco-friendly" and all the comparable jargon..

I would bet that 90% of these claims were misleading at best. I would bet that more than 50% of these claims are fraudulent and inaccurate. Of course the US government is sitting on its political butt and not doing anything about it. Not even California has gotten tough on misleading advertising claims for environmentally friendly green inks.

Then there is also the parallel issue with biodegradable substrates. This is a whole separate additional issue that FLAAR addressed last year and will continue during 2011 through 2012 (the switch from PVC to less toxic PP and PE). But this present page is devoted to helping printshop owners (and manufacturers and distributors) understand Greenwashing.

green eco friendly inks

Suggestions how to utilize MSDS sheets and REACH data sheets to learn which inks are safer for you and your co-workers

The colorful banner-format illustrations are intended to provide food for thought. Two things caused the production of these banners. First is the systematic lack of reliable information in industry resources. Everyone publishes fuzzy Success Stories. Everyone publishes PR releases. Second is the stance of several big ink companies to push too hard on eco-friendly messages for inks that have not convinced everyone in the industry that these inks are really fully green.

Smoke and mirrors hide reality.

Wordsmithing hides more reality: what is really coated media is now called “treated.” What is a solvent chemical is called a co-solvent.

I am not a chemist, but I can still remember gagging when I walked into SGIA trade shows ten years ago, with all the screen printing machines polluting the air. And ironic that the office the university provided FLAAR in Ohio was a building that formerly housed a screen printing plant. The building was so polluted the university could not rejuvenate it. We simply closed off the rooms that had the residue of the ink on the floor and clogging the sewers. Finally we simply moved out.

If you need a full-scale chemical tabulation then you need a chemist as a consultant. Plenty are available. We use colors and graphic design to make our point. And we have only the space of a page, so all brands need to be in the same space. To see the actual chemical, electrical, physical differentiation you need to look at the MSDS or REACH documents. I looked at the MSDS of inks called water-based and almost gagged when I saw the chemical recipe, with the hazardous warnings: and I am not speaking of latex ink, I mean regular ink for Epson and HP printheads. Ink you might use in your office or even in your home.

We have not yet added UV-cured ink to the chart: the next versions will include UV-cured. Here you have mercury in the curing lamps and a significant amount of electricity needed for curing lamps; air-conditioning; and ventilation systems. But all of us agree that UV-cured is better than solvent inks.

There are a dozen ways to look at and compare each ink:
• productivity (speed): which ink allows faster speeds
• effectiveness to stick to the substrate.
• Amount of electrical energy needed; the chemicals in the ink are only a fraction of the footprint
• Toxins in the chemical composition.
• Comparative price and cost of operating a printer with a given ink

So resin ink is good in lack of known carcinogenic chemistry; resin ink is good in lack of most other chemicals that are considered nasty. But resin ink is slow when printing on PVC. Resin ink needs 50 to 60 degrees heat for curing. Solvent inks have more nasty chemicals but need less electricity and can print faster. In other words, every ink is good at something but no ink is perfect with everything. Notice that we list the downsides of resin ink. A comparison is only fair when the downsides of each ink are listed (the benefits of each ink are remarkable as well).

So our goal is not to say buy only resin ink; our goal is not to say avoid inks with solvents or co-solvents. The proper goal is to help end-users understand the pros and cons so they can make an informed decision.

I can still remember back in the 1990’s, when I was naïve and new to wide-format inkjet printing. I read every news release in every trade magazine. I was really impressed with what some technology offered.

Then I acquired this technology, on the basis of the glowing reports in Success Stories; on the basis of endless PR releases touting the benefits of this product.

But once I had the product, I learned week after week of all the things it could not do. I learned every month of how much the PR releases cheated and did not admit the downsides of the product. And most of all, no PR release and no magazine article dared tell their readers about competing products that maybe had better features.

So during these years FLAAR Reports evolved to help printshop managers, printshop owners, printer operators, students, and the entire industry to look at RIP software, inks, media, substrates, printers, and cutters from a more educational point of view (I have been a university or college professor much of my life). I can still remember the student, manager at a large printshop in Texas, who said he learned more being an assistant in the FLAAR office than he learned elsewhere (including elsewhere at his university).

We are not perfect and we definitely do not know everything. But we work hard, and year 2011 is the year for inks and media for FLAAR Reports. This is also our year for continuing to evaluate flatbed cutters. And we still intend to cover UV-cured printers all during 2011 and 2012 (since this is a DRUPA year).

Please be patient with the banners on ink, as we too have a learning curve. It is not easy to see through the thick smoke and cleverly installed mirrors. But the horizontal tabulations of inks are a first step towards helping the world of wide-format inkjet printers come to a more realistic discussion of inks.

2011 is the year of inks, since it is ink that sets the pace for development of printers. Today, as I write this, there are engineers in almost every continent developing new generations of printers for the new resin inks that are under development. And there are chemical companies developing still other inks.

How do we know? Very simple, FLAAR is a consultant for new ink development since it is our goal to help provide innovative inks for the wide format print shops as well as provide new inks to printer manufacturers. We are also consultants for many of the printer manufacturers, helping them understand what end-users are asking for (in new technology and new inks).

What is the base line for comparison whether an ink has fake ecology claims?

For the entire period of green eco-friendly claims, “water-based inks” have been conceived of as the Holy Grail. “Water-based inks” have been elevated as the most healthy, planet-friendly inks in the world.

But what if one brand of water-based ink (for piezo printheads) has Ethylene Glycol in the formulation? This ingredient rated with Xn rating (I too will need a glossary and dictionary to learn what all this means; chemistry is something I prefer to avoid learning about, but to be realistic we all need more help with understanding this).

And what if one of the best-selling big-brand name inks, for office and even home desktop computers (thermal printheads) has more than 7% of 2-pyrrolidion (Xi rating), diethylene glycol (Xn rating). What if there is an ingredient rated as toxic inside?

And what if there is a eco-friendly company that set as its goal to avoid these chemicals?

Gernot Langes-Swarovski Group set this goal about eight years ago. Today, with the European Union initiative on honesty in recognizing chemical toxins in everyday products, there are new EU regulations named REACH.

What if there was an ink that had almost no toxic chemicals? Every ink is made of chemicals, but there are thousands of flavors. It is toxic ingredients and chemicals that are harmful to air quality, ground water, and health that we should try to minimize.

What if there was an ink chemistry that had almost no chemical warnings on their MSDS sheet?

We recommend checking the MSDS sheet and the REACH information on the ink you are breathing every day. Check the MSDS sheet and REACH sheet on resin inks. The first example is Sepiax.

Greenwashing defined: glossary for greenwashing

Greenwashing is providing information in a clever manner with the hope of deluding clients to assuming that your product is safe for the environment.

Greenwashing is hiding the truth and talking only about the one single aspect of your product which is eco-friendly. So talk about lack of carcinogenic chemicals but deliberately don’t admit that your ink requires a nuclear power plant to provide enough electricity to cure the ink chemistry that you are selling.

Greenwashing is putting grass in your sign expo booth.

Greenwashing is putting flowers all over your booth at a sign expo.

Greenwashing is putting trees on your web site; on your packages, and in your booth!

Greenwashing is putting flowers, grass and cute messages on your ink packaging or on your brochures. Greenwashing is decorating your trade show booth with hundreds of meter-high flowers.

If your company sells solvent ink, and you have flowers and grass in your booth, don’t you understand that some people might consider this as Greenwashing?

Everyone wants to look environmentally friendly, but during 2011 too many booths, too many web sites, and too many ink companies were misleading the public.

There would be no need for this page if Greenwashing had not gotten out of hand in 2010. Some of the web sites, expo booth design, and packaging with green everywhere are embarrassing to the industry.

Over one million printshop owners, managers, printer operators and industry people read the FLAAR Reports. Over and over again, at sign expos, they have expressed delusion and dismay at Greenwashing they have experienced.

PVC and solvent inks still have their place and purpose in advertising, signage, and graphic display. I have no hesitation in evaluating PVC and solvent inks because thousands and thousands of printshops depend on these inks and vinyl substrates for their survival. But when I write about PVC and after-market solvent inks I don’t color my description with grass, flowers, and trees. This is the difference. It is not PVC and solvent that are bad; it is hiding them behind trees or not admitting they exist.

We apologize to companies that have been noticed as promoting excessive Greenwashing. If this could be toned down a bit during 2011 it will not necessary to point out excessive (and false and misleading and unethical) claims for eco-friendly and health-friendly, and electricity-grid friendly products.

First posted January 6, 2010 after noticing that a web site was featuring green web page design, green trees, and saying how friendly their products were to trees and plants. It was a web site from Asia that also sold solvent inks! The other stimulus for this web page was the continued misinformation all other inks. Industry analysts are as dismayed as are print shop owners and managers and printer operators. The entire industry looks like a joke. It simply went too far in 2010. The number of web sites promoting green ink is pathetic: most of them are selling the identical ink they sold three years ago but now they simply change the color of the packaging and change the brand name. It is the same with media and substrates, but we will cover this in separate FLAAR Reports.


First posted January 5, 2011