Think green: Guide to environmentally friendly screen printing inks

Why use environmentally-friendly screen printing inks?

‘If we want to move towards a low-polluting, sustainable society, we need to get consumers to think about their purchases.’ — David Suzuki. These words by environmentalist David Suzuki ring true, especially when it comes to the choices we make in the world of screen printing.
There has been a growing awareness about the environmental impact of various industries, including printing. As a result, more and more businesses and individuals are turning to environmentally-friendly solutions, such as organic screen printing and sustainable screen printing ink. In this blog, we will explore why it is crucial to use environmentally-friendly screen printing inks, delve into some of the different types available and provide valuable insights on how to choose the right sustainable screen printing inks for your projects.

Eco-friendly screen printing inks

With the eco-friendly movement now mainstream, many people are more Earth conscious and choose to buy products that help conserve the environment. As corporate sustainability has moved from option to necessity, the use of environmentally-friendly screen printing inks should be the new normal for companies choosing to go green. So, what are the technologies that businesses are using as eco-friendly inks for textile printing, fabric printing and paper printing? 

We’ve rounded up three of the most widely known eco-friendly screen printing inks: soy-based, water-based and UV curable screen printing inks. These options offer a range of benefits, from reduced environmental impact to improved worker safety and vibrant print results.

Soy-based inks

Soy-based screen printing inks, at first blush, offer a compelling alternative to petroleum-based inks, as they are derived from soya beans and may be blended with other environmentally friendly compounds like waxes and resins. While the farming processes associated with soybean production have raised some major concerns, the use of soy-based screen printing inks still presents significant advantages. 

When used, these inks emit less than 5% volatile organic compounds (VOCs) compared to solvent based inks, greatly reducing pollutants released in the workspace and into the atmosphere, thus benefiting both staff and the environment at the point of use. Soy-based screen printing inks also boast favourable properties such as viscosity, vibrant colours, and durability, making them suitable for a variety of substrates. From promotional materials to packaging, soy-based inks can be employed in various use cases, offering an apparently eco-friendly option for those looking to reduce their ecological footprint. However, the truth is that both the carbon and water footprints from soy farming is considerably worse than fossil fuel based polymer.

Water-based inks

Eco-friendly water-based inks are witnessing a remarkable surge in usage for fabric printing, with an expected increase of 30% over the next five years. This growth can be attributed to the multitude of benefits they offer to artists, manufacturers, employees, and end customers alike. One of the key advantages of water-based ink is its ability to produce soft-feel prints on garments, which is highly preferred by customers. Moreover, these sustainable screen printing inks are easy to use and clean up, making them a convenient choice for artists and professional screen printers.
By eliminating the need for storing and using harmful chemicals in the workplace, water-based inks not only contribute to a safer working environment but also enhance overall comfort. With properties like lower viscosity, vibrant colours, and durability, there are many great reasons to change to water-based inks. They are particularly well-suited for fabrics and offer a range of creative possibilities for artists and professional screen printers. To delve deeper into the pros and cons of water-based inks compared to plastisol inks, we invite you to read our informative article, “Water-based vs Plastisol Inks: the pros and cons of these ink types.”

UV inks

UV curable inks offer a unique solution in the realm of screen printing inks. These inks are supplied in liquid form, then undergo curing when exposed to UV light. During the printing process, UV inks are applied like conventional inks, but cure within seconds upon exposure to the UV light. Thus, using UV curable inks yields faster turnaround times, as they cure rapidly to a handleable and stackable stage, leading to increased production speed and reduced costs. When it comes to properties, UV inks exhibit vibrant colours, durability and adhesion to a wide variety of substrates.

Another advantage claimed of UV inks is their freedom from solvents that evaporate (volatile organic compounds or VOCs), releasing compounds into the atmosphere that are known to be harmful to users and to the environment. However, it is important to note that concerns have been raised about the neuro-toxicity of UV curing agents, particularly among long-term users.
The low VOC of UV curable screen printing inks arguably position them as contenders for eco friendly inks for brands and logos, but their neuro-toxicity and the health effects attributed to their long term use should also be borne in mind.

How to choose the right eco-friendly ink

To choose the right eco-friendly screen printing ink, including eco-friendly varnishes for outdoor use, you should conduct thorough research on available options, considering factors such as biodegradability, VOC emissions, and sustainability credentials. Additionally, considering the type of substrate, checking certifications and conducting tests will all help ensure that the selected ink aligns with your environmental goals and delivers optimal performance.

1. Research your options

When choosing environmentally friendly screen printing ink, it’s important to conduct thorough research to understand the available options. Familiarise yourself with different types of inks such as soy-based, water-based and UV curable inks. Learn about their environmental benefits, manufacturing processes and performance characteristics. Consider factors like their biodegradability, compostability, VOC emissions and other sustainability credentials. This research will enable you to make an informed decision and select the sustainable screen printing ink that aligns with your environmental goals.

2. Consider the substrate

Take into account the substrate you will be printing on. Different eco-friendly inks may perform better on specific materials. For instance, soy-based and water based screen printing inks are known for their versatility on various substrates, including fabric and paper. Water-based inks are particularly favoured for their excellent results on fabrics, while UV curable screen printing inks offer exceptional adhesion on rigid substrates. Understanding the compatibility between the ink and your chosen substrate will help you achieve optimal results and durability.

3. Check certifications

Look for certifications or eco-labels associated with the ink products. Certifications such as Eco Passport by OEKO-TEX® or EcoLogo® can provide further assurance of the ink’s environmental compliance. These certifications indicate that the ink has undergone rigorous testing to meet specific eco-friendly standards. Checking for these certifications adds an extra layer of confidence in your decision-making process, ensuring that the ink meets recognised sustainability criteria.

4. Test the ink

Before committing to any print run, large or small, it’s advisable to test the ink on a small scale. This allows you to evaluate its performance for colour vibrancy, adhesion and overall suitability in your specific application. Conducting tests helps identify any potential issues and allows you to make adjustments if necessary. By testing the ink, you can ensure that it meets your expectations and delivers the desired results.

As processes can drift during long print runs, it is also advisable to check settings and performance and the odd printed item at various stages of the print run.

Doing your bit for the environment

By choosing environmentally friendly screen printing inks, you are doing your bit for the environment. These inks offer numerous advantages, from reducing VOC emissions to promoting worker safety and producing vibrant, durable prints. With the ‘eco-friendly movement’ gaining momentum, businesses and individuals alike are recognising the importance of making sustainable choices in their printing practices. So, whether you’re a business owner, artist, or print enthusiast, take a step towards sustainability and embrace the power of environmentally friendly screen printing ink.

Discover our range of eco-friendly inks

Discover our wide range of water based, sustainably made, eco-friendly ink products, including PERMASET AQUA® for light coloured fabrics, PERMATONE® for a colour matching system to be used on fabrics, PERMASET SUPERCOVER®  for use on dark fabrics like T-shirts and PERMAPRINT® Premium for paper, board and other rigid substrates to elevate your screen printing projects with sustainable, vibrant, and environmentally friendly solutions.