Ink and the Environment

Last month I went to the Imprinted Sportswear Show in Long Beach, California. I noticed a lot more Ink Companies than before.  It make sense, considering all the new fabrics being introduced to the industry, that there would need to be inks to print on these new fabrics. The other force driving companies to produce new inks is the concern for the environment. Many customers are asking for garments and inks to be more environmentally friendly.

Solvents, toxins, and phthalates are the major concern because they produce pollution and carcinogens. Plastisol inks, commonly used for textile printing and especially for t-shirts, are a PVC-based ink composed of a clear plasticizer fluid, pigment and PVC resin. The major health concern about plastisol inks is not that they are PVC-based but that they contain phthalates. These phthalates used in plastisol ink to make the PVC flexible are carcinogenic. Plastisol is a thermoplastic ink, meaning it is necessary to heat the printed ink to a temperature high enough to cause the PVC resin and plasticizer to cure. Because both PVC and phthalates are chemicals of concern, many companies are offering phthalate free plastisol inks. These non-phthalate inks are not as easy to work with as standard plastisols, but it is possible to use them to accomplish most of the common printing techniques.

Some companies use water-base inks because they think it is safer and more environmentally friendly. However, the water-based ink is not just water. There are pigments, binders, thickeners, and sometimes, even co-solvents in the ink residue. Solvents can be highly volatile and toxic. You need to be aware of what is in your ink.

Silcone ink is considered the most environmentally friendly because it is solventless, waterless, no PVC, phthalates, organotins or formaldehyde. It use to be very expensive and hard to work with, however that no longer is the case. It works great on all types of fabrics. However it does use a catalyst.

Most problems with inks pollution is in the drying or reclaiming process. Drying produces air pollution. Reclaiming causes solid waste and water pollution. So please handle these processes with care.

With all this said, it still comes down to what your customer desires are for fabrics, feel, design, durability, looks and price. I have requested many samples from the show. I will let you know what I find out in future newsletters.

Until next month.

Cora Kromer