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Flexographic Printing Partnership Activities

The Flexographic Printing Partnership has undertaken a variety of activities to help printers help the environment.

Flexographic Ink Options: A Cleaner Technologies Substitutes Assessment ("The Flexo CTSA")

Environmental Education

What is the Flexo CTSA?

To protect workers and the environment, printers and ink formulators need more information about all aspects of inks, especially their chemical hazards, exposures, and risks. Flexographic Ink Options: A Cleaner Technologies Substitutes Assessment (CTSA) evaluated solvent-based, water-based, and ultraviolet-cured ink systems printing on wide-web film substrates. This study assessed the performance, environmental, human health, and cost aspects of 45 ink formulations. The CTSA provides information to help printers and formulators make responsible ink choices and consider a variety of factors when choosing or evaluating ink systems or specific formulations.

What were the Flexo CTSA's key findings?

Here are a few highlights of the Flexo CTSA.

  • No ink system was superior across performance, environmental, health, and cost criteria, but each system had advantages.
  • All ink systems contained chemicals of clear concern for health risks to flexo preproom and pressroom workers, although none showed predicted risks to nearby residents.
  • Some water-based and UV-cured ink formulations demonstrated improvements over solvent-based inks in worker safety, reduced concerns for health and environmental risk, and lower material costs.
  • Press speed, not the ink system, was the main determinant of overall cost.
  • UV-cured systems consumed the least ink.
  • Water-based systems used the least energy.

What information does the Flexo CTSA contain?

The CTSA contains a wealth of information to help guide ink choices, including:

  • Toxicity, estimated exposure, and predicted risk information on about 100 flexographic ink chemicals.
  • Health concerns relevant to press- and prep-room workers and their management.
  • Squatic toxicity information useful in the event of an inadvertent release to water.
  • Performance of each of the ink formulations on 18 different tests.
  • Material, labor, capital, and energy assessments of the three flexographic ink systems.
  • Other costs to consider when evaluating inks, including disposal, storage, and clean-up.
  • Options to increase the efficiency and control of environmental emissions from flexo printing.

Which ink system was the "Cleanest?"

The CTSA studied solvent-based, water-based, and UV-cured ink systems. Even within a single ink system, different inks showed a wide range of environmental and health impacts. Importantly, some water-based and UV-cured formulations had lower environmental and health hazards and risks. Specifically, the CTSA found that:

  • Although all ink systems showed dermal risks, these can be effectively managed by requiring workers to wear appropriate gloves when handling inks.
  • Solvent-based inks had relatively high levels of uncaptured VOC emissions, leading to inahalation risk concerns for workers that were not addressed by using oxidizers. Solvent-based categories with chemicals of clear concern for workers included alcohols and propylene glycol ethers.
  • Even without oxidizers, most water-based formulations showed less than one-fourth the VOC emissions of the solvent-based inks. Categories in the water-based inks that contained chemicals with clear worker health concerns included alcohols, amides, and ethylene glycol ethers.
  • FewerUV-cured formulations showed concerns for worker health risks than did solvent- or water-based formulations. UV ink categories of acrylated polyols and amides or nitrogenous compounds did contain chemicals of clear inhalation concern for workers.
  • Over half the chemicals in the CTSA showed a high or medium hazard to aquatic environments.

The concerns identified by the CTSA varied by formulation, and were related to the specific chemicals in the formulations. To work safely with flexo inks so that workers and the environment are protected, you need to learn as much as possible about the hazards, exposures, and risks of ink chemicals.

Worried about cost - Who isn't?

The Flexo CTSA found that press speed is likely to be the single most significant factor in determining the cost-competitiveness of ink systems, since it influences labor, capital, and energy costs. At equal press speeds, the water-based systems had lower operating costs than the solvent-based and UV-cured systems.

An important point is that inks with fewer and less serious environmental and worker risk concerns can have lower costs in many categories, such as

  • regulatory requirements,
  • insurance needs,
  • air emissions,
  • wastewater releases,
  • solid waste disposal, and
  • liability, mediation, and litigation.

To accurately determine the overall cost of any ink system, you need to analyze each step of the printing process, starting with ink systems and additives. It is equally important to include the costs of protecting your workers and the environment.

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