Environmentally friendly materials for green printing

Environmentally friendly substrates are becoming more and more popular as Fortune 500 companies specify that advertisements for their products must be green and eco-friendly (a polite way of saying non-PVC and no solvent ink). At least not full-solvent.

Since the main offices of FLAAR are in a tropical country with huge amounts of biomass produced by the annual monsoon rainy season, coupled by abundant tropical sunlight, I am interested in what local materials could be used for producing natural papers or substrates with natural fibers. Sugar cane is one such material.

And in other countries that lack plentiful amounts of natural fibers, at least we can look for printable substrates that are less hazardous than PVC. PE, PP, and PET would be common non-PVC substrates for printing signage.

The importance for finding new environmentally friendly media for wide-format inkjet printers is that merely having a green ink is not enough. HP latex ink on PVC is a contradiction of terms (besides, the high heat of curing at over 100 degrees C causes a foul odor from the PVC that can be more unpleasant than the smell of solvent inks).

PVC is not convincingly eco-friendly even when biodegradable

Roland advertises “environmentally friendly, biodegradable PVC sign material.” This is sort of like calling a light solvent “eco”-solvent. Solvent ink is still solvent ink whether bio, or eco, or whatever.

PVC is still PVC whether biodegradable or not. So I am not convinced by any of this. Worse, Roland now claims its UV ink is ECO-UV. Sorry, UV-cured ink may not have as many VOCs as solvent ink, but it is not a friendly ink in any respect. Indeed Roland covers their UV ink with varnish. It would be interesting to see the MSDS of the varnish.

Roland is a successful company; their printers are popular. But greenwashing seems to be the main way their advertising slogans are aimed at covering over a lack of truly ecologically friendly products.

Why does no trade magazine ever tackle this kind of issue?

PVC is one of the most successful substrates for signage, especially billboards, banners, truckside advertisements, and comparable. Downside is that PVC contains unfriendly chemicals and the disposition of used PVC is not very friendly to the environment.

PVC-free: alternatives to PVC are more eco-friendly

PVC-free is a frequent claim in advertising alternative substrates. However these ads tend to spend all their time saying PVC-free, but they never really admit what is inside their substrate other than a lack of polyvinyl chloride. But at least it is chlorine free, which is a good start.

Polystyrene, PS: is this eco-friendly inkjet substrate?

One web site made a big deal about claiming that their polystyrene material was eco-friendly. Yuck, it reminds me of the drinking cups you get in cheap hotels or on airlines. Styrofoam and other polystyrene : hardly a day goes by that you are not drinking from this awful plastic.

But, it can be recycled, and is claimed to be biodegradable. Nonetheless it is still a rather unpleasant material when you have to drink out of it in a hotel. Fortunately a few hotels still offer glasses made of glass.

Polypropylene, PP: is this a tad more eco-friendly and green?

PP: is this a tad less yucky than Polystyrene? PP is used for bags of all kinds of sizes, as is PE, polyethylene (used for rice sacks, for example). PP can be a technical textile (woven) or a non-woven (film, no weaving structure).

PP can be recycled. In most lists of non-PVC materials PP is considered acceptable, as is PE.


Row after row of weaving stations are at work 24-hours a day. Yeong Jeou factory, 2010.

Polyethelyne, PE: How does this compare as green and ecologically acceptable?

Polyethelyne is a synthetic polymer. At both ISA and Sign UK, PE was being used with UV-cured printers. With solvent printers there is a wetting issue and corona treatment is required. Even with HP latex ink, DuPont Tyvek must be “treated.” HP carefully avoids mentioning whether the treatment is a coating or equivalent to corona treatment. DuPont Tyvek is a non-woven, and if I am not mistaken, is their name for PE film.

FLAAR is moving into evaluating PE as a substitute for PVC; our first report covers Teclon, from Yeong Jeou. This company invited us to visit their factory and spend a week evaluating their company and their products.

Trends: claiming eco-friendly but not admitting content of substrate

Over and over again, I see substrates that aggressively claim “PVC-free”. These PR releases and advertisements list everything the substrate does NOT have: “do not contain any heavy metals such as chromium or lead.”

But why do all these advertisements never list what really is present in the substrate? They only tell you what is absent? This leads me to question whether their MSDS is not as benign as might be expected.

Natural fibers for true environmentally eco-friendly inkjet prints

Jute is a great material, most commonly found in chic shopping bags. Jute, cotton, PE and other non-PVC materials are also used for shipping bags, wine bags, sling bags, etc.

Bamboo, sugar cane, and other plants provide fibers for making paper or substrates. All of this FLAAR will evaluate, product by product, material by material, company by company, as soon as we can locate the actual manufacturer so we can arrange a factory visit for each of these materials.

Beware: cotton is not only not green, it causes massive damage to the enviroment and is nasty to human health

Cotton is such a nice material. Cotton canvas has been used by artists for centuries. We all love to wear cotton blend clothes. Babies are wrapped on cotton.


Currently the companies are using the Bamboo material for displays, banners, etc. In this photo, the Drytac company showing a sample of the bamboo banner.

And now a few companies are naively listing cotton as a natural fiber material and therefore supposedly automatically as a green eco-friendly material.

Sorry, wrong: cotton is one of the nastiest products available. I would not be surprised if cotton caused more sickness and illness than PVC or even solvent ink.

What is so awful about cotton are all the pesticides and chemicals used in its cultivation. Simply Google cotton pesticides

You may never want to touch much less use cotton ever again after you read what you see.

Fortunately some countries are farming organic cotton. This is eco-friendly, albeit rare. However I have seen one company offering printable substrate from organic cotton.

Warning: most inks are not green!

Trade magazines love to accept advertising for ECO-UV inks. Sorry, no UV-cured ink is acceptably eco-friendly (especially when printing on PVC!). Claiming UV-curing inks is green is a great example of greenwashing.

PR agencies love to tout bio-solvent inks, in green plastic bottles. Yes, when this bio-ink first came out, I felt it was a great idea. But then reality set in. Today, sorry, FLAAR is not yet convinced that bio-solvent inks are either truly green (other than the fake color of their advertising schemes). We may take a deeper look if it is feasible to initiate a bio-solvent evaluation project, but so far are busy working with non-solvent inks such as resin inks. These water-based inks interest us a lot more than pseudo-green bio-solvent inks.

MuBio bio-solvent ink has not been successful despite it now being a third-generation chemistry. Mutoh spent tons of money developing a nice ValueJet hybrid printer (so the hardware is fine). But the ink is not exciting many people any more. Even the manufacturer of the ink, (EFI VUTEk InkWare) does not use their own ink in any EFI VUTEk printer at any trade show in the last two years. In fact InkWare as an ink manufacturer seems to have disappeared. So it is tough to see much future in an ink when the developer and manufacturer itself no longer features it.

Glossary on green eco-friendly substrates

FLAAR offers glossaries for almost every part of the workflow of wide-format inkjet printing, from scanning and digital photography for digital capture through color management and RIP software and then lamination and coating. So it is logical to add a glossary on eco-friendly green substrates.




Eco-Friendly_glossary_natural substrates_100

A sample of the terms that we will describe include:

  • biodegradable
  • carbon neutral
  • eco friendly
  • environmentally friendly
  • green alternatives
  • greenwashing
  • sustainable
  • VOCs
  • A sample of the materials that will be discussed include
  • non-PVC
  • PE
  • PP
  • jute for natural substrates
  • cotton, organic
  • sugar cane for substrates

Summary: evaluation of green inks, media, and substrates is important

Every time I Google green eco-friendly inkjet inks, or wide format media or substrates, probably 75% of what you see is greenwashing; And more than 75% is from PR agencies or the manufacturers themselves. One claim after the other.

Missing is an institute that is not worried about losing advertisers; in other words, an institute that can indicate which advertisements are phoney, which ads are potentially deceitful, which claims are dubious.

And which materials are indeed better than PVC and hence better for health and the environment.

So FLAAR has moved into this vacuum, so that our over 400,000+ readers on this large-format web site and our over one million readers on our wide-format web site can learn the pros and cons of green eco-friendly inks and substrates.

First posted June 7, 2010

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