On Printing and the Environment

Recycling, energy use, water and chemicals: print companies have choices when it comes to lightening their footprint, both through the equipment and procedures they use.

GOOD Company recently had an enlightening discussion with Brian Sew at Acorn Graphics, and we thought we’d share some of his knowledge here. Be warned –  if you aren’t one to care about the technical details, you may want to skip this post because it’s full of them!

Acorn Graphics provides printing using offset and digital processes. Here are some basic points on the way they compare from an environmental standpoint.

Toner and Ink

“We use a Xerox 800 for our digital press work. Xerox has made strides in ‘cleaning up’ the toner that they use in this particular model. This new toner is made of plant-based polymers instead of petroleum-based ones. It’s cleaner, non-toxic and does not require oil to fuse onto the sheet.

Vegetable-based inks used in offset printing are made with oil such as soybean, linseed or canola (not “vegetables” per se – we don’t get it either) and are used as a substitute for petroleum. These inks significantly reduce the amount of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) released into the air during printing.”


“Digital printing uses less paper, hands down. It requires far less setup (essentially “practice sheets”) than offset printing, which means less waste. However, 100% post-consumer paper typically doesn’t run as well on digital machines, so there isn’t wide usage of post-consumer content paper being used on digital presses right now.”

Chemicals and H20

“Digital printing does not require any chemicals or water during the printing process (except the occasional WD-40 to get rid of unwanted squeaks). Offset uses chemicals like blanket wash and solvents to clean up the rollers. Offset also uses water, both in the run and in the clean-up. The only instance in which we use water for the digital side of printing is in trying to keep the humidity at a minimum of 25% in the room that the printer is in. Our room isn’t very big, so it doesn’t take much. This keeps the air moist, which helps the paper stay moist, which means that it keeps a better electric charge, which helps the toner stick to the paper better, which produces a better image when it is fused. Does this sound like magic? That’s because it is!”

The decision to print using either press is based on factors like turnaround time available, quantity being printed, desired quality and special techniques that may be an option on one press but not another. And there are other things to consider too – like how up-to-date a shop keeps its machinery and what their internal procedures are for dealing with waste. All to say that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to printing and environmental impact, and hopefully as technology advances, so will opportunities to advance both methods environmentally.