Becoming Eco-friendly

I have been using California Wash for a while now and am wanting to become more eco-friendly. I have heard of printers using Canola Oil for cleaning ink off of their press/rollers. How does this work with printing multiple colors back to back? Does the oil come off well enough to continue printing? I have also heard of printers using Bio Kleen Citrus Soy Solvent to clean metal/wood type- will this work well with cleaning ink off the press/rollers as well?

Does anyone have any other suggestions that can help make the eco-transition smoother?

Thank you for your time!

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Cocadinha- I admire your desire to make your shop more eco-friendly. My own shop (which is both a commercial business and a printmaking studio) is as environmentally clean as we can make it…… and we are constantly working to find even better ways to print cleanly. We even go so far as to use manual equipment rather than electrically powered when possible, and we make our own power with solar panels.

However….. before you make a transition to being Eco-minded, I’d recommend that you research the products being offered before you use them. Don’t buy into the hype and marketing that is currently all the rage among the uniformed masses. Many, many of the alternative materials are actually worse for the environment than the tradtional ones….. and the majority of the hype is designed to sell products rather than to help the planet.

First and foremost, I’d stick with mineral spirits for cleaning rollers. Yes, it is a VOC…… but used in the small amounts that a one-press letterpress shop uses, it’s not an environmental problem according to the EPA. Some of the other solvents…. such as California Wash, Simple green, or Bio Kleen may not be able to say that. Read the MSDS sheets for these products and you’ll see what I mean. Some of the chemicals in the alternative products are downright nasty.

I don’t recommend using cooking oil for cleaning rollers either. It’s just not a good solution to the problem, in spite of what your Art teacher or some inexperienced person has told you. (You can read that debate in all sorts of postings here in Briar Press)

Now…. if you want to be trendy and fit into the current fad of “pseudo-Green”, you can use these alternative products. BUT don’t think you are actually doing any good for the planet. You won’t be.

Soooo… how to be REALLY “Green” as opposed to a pseudo-green fad groupie?

1. Recycle all of your paper…… and use recycled paper in your work. If you make that one change, you can cut your enviromental damage by 60% since papermaking is the biggest environmental damager related to printing. Unfortunately, some of our favorite letterpress papers are actually the worst ones from an environmental standpoint.

2. Use as much handmade paper as possbile. while it’s more expensive to buy, the end products almost always sell for more, so you can achieve a net increase in profits…. AND it’s a lot more Earth friendly

3. Use as many manually produced printing plates as possible such as wood-cuts, or handset lead type. I love Photopolymer plates for their versatility….. but Earth-Friendly they ain’t! The big problem with them lies in where the washout water goes. Some of the makers are great, but others just run the goop down the drain where it can damage the sewer plants and get into the groundwater.

4. use your old makeready over and over again…. and then use it for clean-up after there is no more area to print upon.

5. Don’t use rubber-based offset litho inks. While some of them print well, they contain all sorts of nasty chemicals. Some oil based inks also contain nasty chemicals…. but they tend to be in lower concentrations. We use a lot of Charbonell inks in our shop….. they are as basic as an ink gets. (BUT some folks have had drying problems with them on some papers.)

5. Oil based inks using linseed oil and carbon black are the most environmentally friendly inks. Whites using titanium dixoxide and the second most friendly. Yellows using chromium are the worst. Get a good “pigments” book at your art supply house and read it. You’ll be amazed at what some of the stuff is made of!

5. Soy inks offer no environmental advantage to a letterpress operation. Chemically they are almost identical to linseed oil based inks…. but typically cost more, and don’t seem to print as well.

6. Don’t use your rags and then toss them out. Use them over and over and over again…. and then send them out to be washed at a reputable rag service.

7. don’t use disposable shop towels for press clean-up. when you do, you are simply tossing the afore-mentioned heavy metal laden ink residues into a landfill….. where they can leach into the soil.

8. Cut down on your electricity usage: Try to print using as much daylight as possible. Open the shades, and let that light in! Electric lights are great… but they also drink a lot of electricity. Also, try to use as much manual equipment as possible.

9. Turn off your computer when you aren’t using it…. and unplug all of those stupid black transformer power supplies when they aren’t being used. Those dangged things suck power down all the time!

Being truly “Green” in a printing environment is not an easy task….. like I said, if you want to be a “pseudo-green” person, then just go buy some alternative goop and and go for it. BUT if you REALLY want to be Environmentally Friendly you’ll have to put a lot of thought and effort into it.

Excellent, excellent points Winking Cat.

one correction to point #5-

Oil based / carbon black ink is not the absolutely best ink. That would be a starch based /carbon black ink like that used in Japanese printmaking. It doesn’t print well on letterpress, though. I’ve tried.

AND yes….. I know there are two point number 5’s. Oh well… maybe I need an editor.

Ha, well still good points none the less!

winking cat- I’m going to be moving to Georgia in about a month, and I’m setting up a shop when I get there (currently I’m in Massachusetts with everything needed to set up my shop sprawled around my living room…)

You mentioned a reputable rag cleaner, and I was wondering where you get them cleaned, and what type of rags you use?


Paul, I’ve been eating sushi for years and to my knowledge
(nori) is seaweed. Back to the topic if you think about it
not much of human activity is eco friendly. james


The confusion between nori and nori comes from the way the Japanese language works. Many words that share phonetic pronunciation can refer to different kanji (chinese characters).

Nori as in seafood is a combination of no and ri, represented by 海苔.

Nori as in glue is 糊.

It’s all about the context!


@winking cat press- GREAT, helpful tips! I really have to look into the rag cleaning services. I am guilty of tossing used rags :(

Any specific brand names of mineral spirits or other washes in particular you are partial to? Can I find them at my local Home Depot?

Thanks for all of your advice!

Home Depot, Lowe’s, or any local hardware store should carry low-odor mineral spirits. Great post winking cat! I can check all but one of your suggestions - I’ll have to work on the ink! Best of luck going green cocadinha!

Cocadinha and MLK…. the best way I know to find a good rag service in your town is to ask around among garages, and printing shops. There’s always a company in town…. or one who picks up and delivers in town weekly. Just be sure to specify that you don’t want rags from a machine shop. Those have metal bits in them and can damage your rollers.

PaperS is right….. simple mineral spirits from Home depot will work just fine. I use the de-odorized variety.

Ink is indeed the toughest problem. Many pigments are inert, and pose no threats. Some however are not so good, and it’s hard to tell which is which without studying the reference materials.

Paul is correct when he says that the same pigments are used throughout industry….. but we know from history that some of the paints of yesteryear like lead oxide, and those containing hexachromium are quite unfriendly. In the paint world, many of the bad pigments are now outlawed in the US and Europe. Unfortunately in the US there are fewer laws regulating printing inks….. and manufacturers can use pigments and driers that cannot be used in paint.

BUT…. many, many inks are environmentally sound. All it takes is a few mintues research to determine which ones should be avoided. If you don’t already know, they are generally listed right on the ink cans with a nomenclature like “PB-47” or “Y-12”. You can look up the pigments in a pigment book, and see if they are a problem or not.

Finally, James makes an excellent point: much of what we as humans do has a negative environmental impact of some sort. You cannot be 100% friendly, no matter how hard you try. The idea is to be as good as you can be, while still contributing your skills and efforts to society.