Water Based vs. “Regular” Screen printing. Which is greener?

6 color water based print for Vaute & Earth Day New York

With the environmental concerns we currently face , many consumers are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint in all facets of their lives including putting their money behind greener products, whether it be solar energy, hybrid cars or graphic tees . Over the last decade , we have a seen a dramatic rise in demand for greener or environmentally safely printed  teeshirts , totes etc.  Many of our clients even pride themselves on using ONLY sustainable and environmentally responsible  methods and inks  to print their custom goods, and even make it part of their mission statement and branding.

Many clients associate water based screen printing ink with being more “green” then standard plastisol ink (the ink most printers use by default unless you specifically request otherwise). The truth is a little more complicated.

Thanks to todays’ stricter environmental laws and market demands, plastisol ink manufacturers have started to formulate inks without Phthalate , which is a plasticizer harmful to humans and the environment. These inks are as environmentally friendly as water based inks and some indirect ways more so.

The potential environmental problem with water based ink is not how it is manufactured but the way it is disposed of. Plastisol ink is typically scraped out the screen and the remainder cleaned out with a rag and screen-wash solution and the soiled rag thrown in the trash. However water based ink (whats left after a print job is completed) is often washed out of the screen using a hose or pressure water in a slop sink and ends up going down the drain. The pigments in water based inks, although harmless when used appropriately , are non the less toxic and and the filters in most sewage systems are not fine enough to filter them out so they end up in the river, canal or wherever the city water goes once it has been used. Another word, back in the environment.

The appropriate way  to dispose of leftover water based ink is to use a spray bottle with water and a rag and wipe the screen clean while its still on press and throw the rag in the trash or save for later use. The more costly solution would be to install a special filtration system on your washout tub/sink but this is cost prohibitive for many small shops.

As responsible citizens of planet Earth, we have been striving to utilize only the greenest screen printing products and practices. We use both water based and plastisol screen printing inks, the plastisol inks we use are as clean as the water based products.

So in the end, both water based and plastisol inks can be environmentally clean and both can cause damage if used irresponsibly.

The choice really comes down to aesthetics of each which will be an entry in the near future.

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