Mohawk Blog

What are Eco-Friendly Inks?

The Office of Ordinary Things

Eco-inks are vegetable and algae-based printing inks for paper and planet.

As we all become more eco-conscious, selecting paper that's made with the earth in mind is a more important consideration than ever. Mohawk Renewal's line made with hemp, straw and recycled cotton fibers is a logical choice when it comes to paper. But did you know that you can do more with your materials to tell your story and be a steward to our planet? Say hello to eco-friendly inks.

Mohawk Options Vellum 100% PC White 130DTC
Printed using inks that are 70% vegetable-based and contain extremely low VOC content (less than 1%)

Worldwide, 9 billion pounds of printing inks are used every year. While there are alternatives to the approximately 1.8 billion pounds of petroleum-based pigment contained in all that ink, each comes with its own challenges — especially when it comes to satisfying customers' print needs on press. Here's what you need to know about alternative eco-inks.

Business Cards
Offset printed with Toyo Hyplus 100, low-VOC (less than 1%), vegetable-based inks (70% biorenewable content)
Beauty + Sustainability
Beautifully textured 100% postconsumer recycled stock. The paper is uncoated (which is best for recyclability) and manufactured in the United States.


Exploring Alternative Materials

Vegetable-based inks, which forego petroleum oil in favor of more sustainable sources like soy, linseed, tung, cottonseed, and china wood oils, have been around for decades. In fact, they were invented in response to an oil crisis in the early 1970’s—suddenly, petroleum was in short supply, and ink manufacturers had to get creative. 

While vegetable inks, including the most popular variety, soy ink, avoid the environmental pitfalls of using the earth’s limited supply of petroleum as an ingredient, they require special knowledge and treatment on press. For example, they often take longer to dry than traditional inks, and they can translate into slightly different shades than their conventional counterparts. 

However, the benefits are enormous. Like, when the Los Angeles Times switched to soy ink from the petroleum variety they were using, they won an air quality award for reducing their VOC emissions by 200 tons per year. 

It’s important to note that while vegetable inks are a step in the right direction, some do still contain petroleum, depending on their formulation. Some may also contain heavy metals. You can ask your printer to help source vegetable-only inks and inks without heavy metals, if that’s what you prefer. 

Living Ink
This booklet is the first commercial offset printing to use ink made with algae.


Truly "Green" Technology

The newest alternative ink, which has been turning heads in the printing world, is made from a plant that grows without fertilizer, herbicides, or genetically-modified seeds, and in fact, is so abundant that it’s sometimes considered a nuisance. The plant is algae, and the ink alternative was developed by two researchers who met while completing their Ph.D. programs at Colorado State University while exploring alternative biofuels. While the colors are limited, this exceptional new technology is already in use by several companies.

“If your message is one of environmental consciousness, choosing a greener ink can be a valuable way to tell your story in an authentic way.”

When Patagonia asked The Office of Ordinary Things of San Francisco, CA, to design a printed guide for them, they knew they had an opportunity to "push the sustainability envelope." The end result is an amusing yet handy pocket guide that’s also the world’s first use of algae offset ink. 

"Algae-based ink is significant because it replaces the petroleum-based pigments used in conventional offset ink and has a smaller carbon footprint," states Ordinary Things. "'World’s First Algae Offset Ink' sure sounds cool but the potential for the technology is substantial (i.e., it’s a big frickin’ deal)."

Algae Offset Ink
Biobased alternatives like algea are a renewable, biodegradable, compostable alternative, and may help reduce our dependence on petroleum.

As with any project, designers, printers, and brands have to choose their materials based on their values, goals, and limitations. If your message is one of environmental consciousness, choosing a greener ink can be a valuable way to tell your story in an authentic way. And who knows—you might just help save the planet while you’re at it. 

Want to know more about sustainable print?

Connect with a Rep

Production Notes

The Office of Ordinary Things

Suggested Articles