environmentally friendly printing

I have read the various arguments for and against the various types of inks, etc and am just so confused. I want to be able to print quality products while trying to make as little an impact on the environment as possible. I had considered soy inks but hate having to throw away all the gunk that skins in the can and I don’t know how I feel about virgin rainforests being cut down to grow soy crops. I currently use rubber based inks and like them. I wonder ultimately if they are a better choice or not. I also try to clean the press with crisco and then follow up with mineral spirits. Is there a better & more sound option than that?

I understand that some people may not be concerned with environmental aspects and that is fine. But I am so I would like some good suggestions for options. Thanks.

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I’ve thought of getting large bore plastic syringes with stiff dispensers that have caps to store ink. Like the ones used in two part epoxy sets. I don’t need vast amounts of ink to start with and I though this would prevent the waste from skinning.

I use whatever ink the shop I work at is buying. We have all our ink waste hauled off by a recycling company, so I just wait until I fill a 5lbs can up, then bring to work to dump in with the rest. Same with my rags. I just store them in a metal can until it’s full then bring them back to the shop for the rag co to take.

Make friends with a local printer, it can go a long way.

The Environmentally Friendly Letterpressman

Being someone who actually makes/builds/creates things with my own hands, I tend to look at all of life with a bit of a pragmatic approach. I don’t get too caught up in Al Gore’s rhetoric, or the latest “cause du jour”. I view much of the hype as just that: hype. BUT at the same time I don’t really want to create a black-hole of pollution either. THUS I have pondered the “Earth Friendly” thing as it relates to Letterpress Printing. This is what I’ve decided along those lines:

1. The modern alternatives to small letterpress, such as Laser / Inkjet printers, or photo-lithography are far nastier to the environment. Do you have any idea what’s inside a toner cartridge? ALSO when you factor in infrastructure and maintainence, it takes more energy to send an e-mail than it does to print a broadside.

2. More than 90% of our machines are over 40 years old, and will probably last for another 40 years. This longer lifespan directly translates into less raw materials and energy consumed over the long run. Also, since they are mostly left-over relics of an abandoned industrual process, we can safely say that most of us consumed virtually zero raw materials and energy (other than sweat and/or transport) in setting up our shops. This is VERY Earth Friendly.

3. Virtually all of our wasted materials can be recycled. Our old paper, composition rollers, type, and even the cast iron itself can be reused when it’s worn out. Computers, copiers and digital printers on the other hand, are so full of toxins that they are considered by the EPA to be one of our worst problems. (Lead type, by the way, is not considered to be a problem by the EPA or OSHA, as long as we wash our hands before we eat. )

4. The energy requirements of our shops are far less than that of even a modest copier, computer, or photo-litho shop….. OR the computers in our living rooms. All I have in my shop that takes electricity are a few lighting fixtures, an AC unit, and one 1/4 hp motor that gets run about 4 hrs a month. Everything else is hand-operated. This directly translates into lower CO2 emissions. ALSO, since I spend so much time in my shop, I don’t watch TV…. which is good for the planet AND prevents my brain from rotting.

5. Since many of our machines are hand-operated, they are actually good for us. I know that printing a sizable run on a Kelsey requires a lot of effort, gets my heart rate up, and works my muscles…. all of the same results one would get from working out at the gym.

6. Our consumable supplies, even if we use mineral spirits and oil-based inks, are considered by the EPA to be an “insignificant point source” for pollution. We simply do not use enough of it in our small shops to create a problem. According to their publications, all of the stuff under our sinks and in our garages is a far bigger problem.

SO… I don’t worry about it. I can confidently say that Letterpress, as most of us practice it nowadays, is VERY Earth Friendly.

THUS If one of us is truly concerned about the planet, that person should embrace letterpress… and use it to print broadsides, booklets, and letters telling folks to quit using their computers, clean out their garages, and set up more letterpress shops. It would benefit the planet.

As the Winking Cat says, we small letterpress printers are already doing a lot of conserving. But for those of us that don’t like to deal with ink skin (for various reasons, including the amount of ink wasted), I have been putting a variety of ink into quarter-pound tubes and making it available. Mostly oil base, some soy base, and some other including some rubber base. Whenever possible I use ink that was surplus to some bigger printer’s needs and may have been saved from going to the landfill or hazardous waste disposal, and I have a nice, dense, black ink that the maker says is at least 2/3 recycled. If you’d like a list of what I have, please e-mail me at Ink(at)ORCHIDesign.com

Thanks! Dave R.

Winking cat, I like your thinking.

I guess I am trying to figure out how to reconsile my role as a consumer, a producer, a polluter etc…. I certainly don’t want to jump on the soy bandwagon just because people assume soy = natural. As a vegetarian and major consumer of soy goods, I have been reading about several issues concerning the soy industry as well. I would rather research and find the best sources that I can.

My problem is that I have customers that are under this ‘soy spell’ assuming that it is the only natural and environmentally sound option. I am trying to educate them as to the various options but I guess I want to know what my best options are. All good advice above….

My next issue. How to explain to customers that I need to put their 100% cotton card & post-consumer waste envelope into a clear poly bag for sale in stores. Ugh.

Thanks, Chop. I take that as a high compliment.

The real truth of the matter is that if you exist on the planet, you are a consumer of resources. There is no way around it. The trick is to be well informed about what you are doing, and then think it through…. weighing the alternatives objectively.

Unfortunately, in today’s world of hype, semi-truths, and political correctness it’s not always easy to do. Folks get all stirred up on the latest bandwagon…. like Ethanol Fuel or Soy Ink without really thinking about the science behind the hype. I am sure that some of the older folks here remember many, many such bandwagons from the past…. I know I can think of a good dozen or so.

Now… about the discussion of the “naturality” of soy ink. It, like any other manufactured material, has it’s share of problems…. and is no better or worse for the Earth than Linseed Oil based. Yes the finished ink does have lower VOCs than most oil based inks, but it takes more energy to produce and the manufacturing process generates it’s own form of pollution… plus it takes away materials that would otherwise go into food production…. so it’s a wash, as far as I can see.

I routinely run into a similar discussions with consumers…. especially since I am as much a printmaker as a printer, and sell a lot of prints to art collectors. As a group, they are quite dedicated environmentalists. I point out to them that the black ink I use is composed of carbon in the form of powdered charcoal, and boiled linseed oil….. and is quite biodegradeable.


What brand of inks do you use?


Chop….As far as store-bought ink goes, I use Faust Carbon Black ink mostly. It prints very well, plus it’s been certified safe by some prestigious organization. You can order it directly from them via their website.

I also make my own tints and inks using a very thick linseed oil called “stand oil” and powdered pigments and/or Windsor& Newton Oil Paint. These are fairly standard artist’s materials, and can be found at Art Supply houses in major cities.

Hi Chopsockey,

Re: My next issue. How to explain to customers that I need to put their 100% cotton card & post-consumer waste envelope into a clear poly bag for sale in stores. Ugh.

Check out this new Biodegradable Clear Bags…

OK… I had to revive this old topic….

Mood Ring- you don’t have to put your work into Earth Unfriendly plastic bags. Recently I’ve been wrapping my work in paper, and gluing one copy onto the front as a label. It’s the way printers did it waaayyy back when, and it is a lot more visually attractive at art shows and on the shelf.

We’ve taken the process one step further, and print background designs onto our wrappers…… the end result is very appealing.