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Defining sustainable inks

Graphics | November 1, 2009 | By:

In order to keep up with today’s demand for sustainable processes and products, manufacturers of digital printing inks are creating products that have labels attached to them like “safe,” “green” and “eco-friendly.” The question is, just what are they calling safe, green and eco-friendly, and what exactly do those terms mean?

Graphics One LLC president Dan Barefoot says an ink might be considered sustainable but still not be safe to use for all applications. In order to differentiate, a printer needs to know which standards the ink has met. The Oeko-tex standard that originated in Europe is widely accepted for sustainable designation, but for apparel products a fabric must be APEA-free to be considered “safe.”

Some inks, such as Mutoh’s Mubio ink made from a corn-based product, Barefoot says, are truly “green,” and are gaining customers who are interested in working with eco-friendly inks and fabrics.

In a May/June 2008 article in Fabric Graphics, Daniel Slep, director of technology at Hilord Chemical Corp., said UV inks offer a promising sustainable alternative, especially as the technology improves and more printers become available.

That is exactly what is happening. Mimaki demonstrated the UJV-160, a hybrid UV LED-curing printer, on the show floor at this year’s IFAI Expo. The printer turns out banner-sized images on a variety of fabrics in one pass with no moisture, no heat and no odor.

It remains to be seen what the actual carbon footprint of UV-curable printing is, according to Slep. More study is needed, and we can assume it will continue as commitment to sustainability in the industry mounts. In the meantime, it is reasonable to expect your ink source to provide current, verifiable information about the safety of its products. But you have to ask the questions.

Janet Preus is associate editor of Specialty Fabrics Review, a publication of the Industrial Fabrics Association International, and contributing editor for Fabric Graphics.

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