Colour | Printing

Colour | Printing

eco-inks: what are the options?

The inks that businesses use when printing impact the recyclability of packaging as well as its biodegradability. Jessie Paige looks into the different kinds of eco-friendly inks that packaging businesses should be using to be more environmentally friendly.

Cover image: Shutterstock

Printing inks

are made using pigment, varnish,and oil. The pigment in inks provide the colour, while the oil allows colour application. The varnish is the final component, finishing the process and protecting the colour pigment.

Conventional ink uses mineral-based oils with pigments containing metals. When packaging such as card or paper biodegrades, the oils and pigments used in the printing process do not biodegrade and so contribute towards environmental pollution.

However, different types of inks have been developed over the years and are used by different companies to make products more eco-friendly and biodegradable while still maintaining the correct colour and longevity.

These inks are becoming increasingly popular due to a rising demand for biodegradable products, according to market research company Data Bridge, which projects that the global ink additive market will be worth $993.40m by 2026. So, what are the eco-friendly inks that packaging companies can use?

Biodegradable inks

Biodegradable inks use natural vegetable oils, such as soya, sunseed or rapeseed oil. These types of inks produce vivid colours and are generally more cost-effective than traditional inks. This is because the ink flow spreads more efficiently and, therefore, means less ink is used when printing.

This type of ink is popular to use in printing because it is non-toxic. Packaging for UK-based golfing product Green Tees, for example, is made from biodegradable bamboo and is printed with biodegradable ink. The packaging, also, can either be recycled or composted.

The vivid colours that biodegradable inks produce are made using yellow, red and blue primary colours. They are less likely than conventional ink to smudge, do not emit a ‘pollutant’ smell, are non-toxic and are safe to use in packaging for both the environment and the consumer.

However, biodegradable inks also have a tendency to bleed during the recycling process, potentially making it lengthier and more expensive.

Water-based inks

Water-based inks eliminate the use of petroleum-based solvents and chemicals, which increase levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and energy consumption - factors that increase the environmental harm of traditional inks.

While these can be used in packaging, water-based inks also have applications in the fashion industry. 

In July, Milan-based clothing brand MSGM launched an initiative to eliminate all plastic from its packaging. At the same time, creative director Massimo Giorgetti announced capsule collection Fantastic Green, which consists of unisex garments featuring prints made using water-based biodegradable ink.

“With the Fantastic Green collection, MGSM kicks off a process of innovation and experimentation, which will make us reconsider all our [activities] in a more sustainable way,” Giorgetti says. “We are taking a real commitment and we sign a declaration of love to nature, which is something I felt the need to do in such a peculiar moment.”

Image of

UV curable inks

Ultraviolet (UV) curing is a process that involves using UV light to start a photochemical reaction, generating a network of polymers that quickly converts to or dries as ink. These types of inks are VOC and solvent-free, and the UV lamps used in the process are energy-efficient.

At the beginning of July, printing company Domino Digital Printing Solutions (Domino) launched a UV-curable clear ink, UV67CL, which can be used to create embellished labels, thus removing the need for plates and screens in an analog embellishment process.

“This new UV67CL ink for use without high speed, high-resolution K600i inkjet printers was developed in response to feedback from our customers, the label converters,” says Jim Orford, the k-series product manager at Domino.

“They continue to face increased demand from brand owners for enhanced label designs, which also add value to their products and brand image. Our customers wanted to be able to achieve this by delivering the highest quality, most visually striking and diverse label designs, but without compromising their manufacturing process.”

Printing without ink cartridges

Last year, Netherlands-based start-up Tocano raised €1m in funding for its ‘Inkless’ technology that enables black-and-white printing to be undertaken without the need for cartridges of ink toners.

Developed by Venkatesh Chandrasekar and Arnaud van der Veen, graduates of Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, Inkless uses laser-based monochrome printing technology to print on packaging; ideally paper products.

The founders say that the technology “represents a revolutionary new step in the history of printing technologies”, leading to a reduction in printing costs and lower environmental impact.

The technology to print without ink cartridges exists and is in development. If anything, this case simply proves that ink technology is moving towards becoming more sustainable and better for the environment, while still maintaining vivid colour quality.

Image of

Cover image: Shutterstock

Share this article