Friday, 22 February 2008

Envionmental Printing - Useful Things to Know

Alcohol-free or low-alcohol printing

Lithographic printing that uses reduced amounts or no isopropyl alcohol (IPA), thereby reducing VOC emissions.

Dampening (or fountain) solution

This is used to keep the non-image areas of the plate moist, preventing them from accepting ink. Dampening solution usually contains high levels of a solvent called isopropyl alcohol (IPA) which contributes to VOC emissions. Some are available with a low IPA content or are IPA free.

Waterless printing eliminates the need for dampening solution altogether.

Heavy metals

Heavy metals are natural components of the Earth's crust. They cannot be degraded or destroyed. Tiny amounts are essential for human health, but at higher concentrations they can lead to poisoning.

Heavy metals may enter the body in food, water, air, or by absorption through the skin.

Heavy metals such as barium, copper and zinc are contained in certain ink pigments, particularly metallics. Studies have linked the use of heavy metals in some inks to an increased risk of printers developing bladder cancer.

IPA (Isopropyl alcohol)

Isopropyl alcohol is commonly used as a cleaner and solvent in industry. Lithographic printers combine it with water to create ‘dampening solution’ which repels the ink in non-image areas.

IPA contributes to ground level ozone which can effect plant and crop growth and poses a potential health hazard to printers as it can lead to, amongst other things, asthma.

Mineral oil based inks (also known as petroleum based inks)

These are the most commonly used inks not least because of their quick drying time. The pigment is suspended in petroleum with Isopropyl alcohol as the solvent (see above). As the ink dries, alcohol and petroleum evaporate, releasing VOCs.

Added to this – petroleum is a non-renewable resource.


A solvent is a liquid substance capable of dissolving other substances. Solvents used in the lithographic print process include:

  • mineral oil which is used to reduce the viscosity of ink
  • Isopropyl alcohol (also referred to as IPA, see definition above) which is toxic to aquatic life
  • Toluene which is used in cleaning solutions and contributes to the formation of ozone
  • Methyl Ethyl Ketone which is used as a solvent for lacquers, adhesives and inks and is also toxic to aquatic life

Vegetable based ink

Vegetable based inks can be made from a variety of vegetable oils including soy-bean, corn, and linseed oils. Replacing mineral oil with vegetable oil means that you can reduce or even cut out VOC emissions.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

These are carbon-containing gases and vapors that are released from solvents used during the printing process.

The most significant environmental impact of VOCs is their formation with vehicle exhaust to form photochemical smog. However, in liquid form VOCs can effect water and soil quality.

They also have an effect on the health of pressroom workers and have been linked to breathing difficulties, liver and kidney damage.

Waterless printing

Waterless printing is basically sheet-fed litho printing using different printing plates and a method of transferring the image to the paper without using water.

Removing water from the process means that you also eliminate the problem of achieving the correct balance of ink and water on press. It also eliminates the need for IPA (see above).




This stands for the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme, an initiative designed to improve companies’ environmental performance. EMAS sets the highest environmental standards of all the environmental management schemes (EMS). Its aim is to recognise those organisations that go beyond minimum legal compliance. In addition, it is a requirement of the scheme that participating organisations regularly produce a public environmental statement that reports on their environmental performance. It is this voluntary publication of environmental information, whose accuracy and reliability is independently checked by an environmental verifier, that gives participants in the EMAS scheme enhanced credibility.

IS0 14001

This is an internationally recognised scheme. It provides a framework for environmental awareness, monitoring and continual improvement. The three key areas to be managed are:

  • Compliance with environmental regulation
  • Prevention of pollution
  • Improvement in environmental performance
  • The emphasis on continual improvement means that standards may vary as the longer a printer has been in the ISO14001 scheme, the more progress they will have made.

Green Dragon

This scheme is for Welsh companies that wish to improve their environmental performance but don’t have the resources for ISO14001. There are five levels, each one contributing towards the achievement of international and European environmental standards, ISO 14001 and EMAS. Green Dragon Level 5 is in fact a slightly higher standard than ISO14001, partly because it takes carbon emissions into account.


This was developed by the London Environment Centre (LEC), part of London Metropolitan University and is more appropriate for smaller companies who lack the resources for IS0 14001. All participants enter the scheme at Level One where you must demonstrate that you are taking responsibility for your environmental impacts. Further levels involve recommendations being made and targets being set and met for reducing environmental impact.

FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Chain of Custody

If a printer holds the FSC Chain of Custody and the paper being used in a project is FSC certified or FSC recycled (100 per cent recycled post-consumer waste), the end product can be labelled as FSC certified. This certificate is about the fibre tracking process only and ensures that there is no contamination between FSC and non-FSC material.


The following three terms, ECF, PCF and TCF, are commonly used, but since no papers are made in Europe using chlorine bleaching, all European papers are either ECF, PCF or TCF. So when choosing a paper, bear in mind that these terms cannot be used as a differentiator.

Elemental chlorine free (ECF)

This term is used to mean paper that is made from virgin or recycled fibre and bleached using alternative chlorine compounds as a substitute for elemental chlorine. See note above.

Processed chlorine free (ECF)

This is used to mean paper that is made from recycled post-consumer waste (PCW) and bleached without chlorine, or left unbleached. See note above.

Totally chlorine free (TCF)

This term is used to mean paper made from 100% virgin fibre that is bleached without chlorine, or left unbleached. It isn’t applied to recycled papers, because the source fibre cannot be determined. See note above.

Post-consumer waste

This is when the end product has reached the consumer, been used and then recycled.

Pre-consumer waste

Also known as post-industrial waste, this describes printers’ waste such as off-cuts and unused copies which may have been over-ordered.


The Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification Schemes is an international forest industry initiative that acts as an umbrella for many smaller national forestry schemes.


The Forest Stewardship Council is an international, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting responsible management of the world’s forests and is the only certification scheme endorsed by NGOs worldwide.

The number of FSC-certified forests is growing rapidly, covering 84 million hectares worldwide – about 10% of the world’s production forest.

Forests are inspected and certified against the 10 Principles of Forest Stewardship, which take into account environmental, social and economic factors.

In addition to forest management and certification, the FSC Chain of Custody tracks the timber from the forest to the paper mill and then to the printer.

If a printer is FSC certified, then the end product can carry the FSC label ensuring that there has been no contamination between FSC and non-FSC material. However, the Chain of Custody is broken if the manufacturing mill or printer is not FSC certified.

There are three types of FSC Certified paper:

FSC Mixed Sources

The Mixed Sources label states that at least 50 per cent of the virgin fibre must come from FSC certified forests with the remaining percentage from 'controlled sources'. Recycled waste can also be included up to a maximum of 90%. The majority of FSC certified materials featured on Lovely as a Tree carry this label.

Controlled sources exclude:

  • illegally harvested timber
  • forests where high conservation values are threatened
  • genetically modified organisms
  • violation of peoples’ civil and traditional rights
  • wood from forests harvested for the purpose of converting the land to plantations or other non-forest use

100% FSC

No explanation needed!

FSC Recycled

These papers are made from 100% post-consumer waste by FSC accredited mills.

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