When it comes to printing and finishing, the harsh chemicals and man-made materials used in many traditional processes can worry clients about the environmental impact of their projects. Today, though, there are so many options that use exclusively all-natural and non-toxic products; it’s just a matter of learning what’s out there.
On the printing end, there are a number of biodegradable, recycled, post-consumer waste and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified materials available as well as vegetable and soy-based inks. Some worry that choosing a green option also means sacrificing quality. When it comes to ink, that is not the case!
Soy-based inks are an excellent alternative to traditional petroleum-based inks as they are less “oily” and can even produce brighter, more vibrant colours. Meanwhile, petroleum-based inks can actually be more expensive than soy-based inks while also having a much harsher effect on the environment due to high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Vegetable-based inks are another natural alternative with less of an environmental impact than petroleum. Vegetable-based inks are more expensive than the other two options and cannot produce the same lively colours that soy-based inks can. They are, however, faster drying than soy.
On the finishing end, there are many types of binding that are glue-free and feature natural materials. For example, glue-free bookbinding options include side sewing, saddle sewing and Smyth sewing, all of which use cotton thread to bind book signatures instead of glue. These options are all very popular right now. An added benefit for designers is that threads come in a range of colours that can be coordinated with other aspects of the project, offering another visual tool to play with.
Other natural options for books include veneer or wood covers, which have the added plus of being much more durable than printed covers made from man-made materials. Another eye-catching and natural finishing technique is the use of raw, 100% recycled board screen printed with soy-based ink. The board can be used for book covers or boxes, and unlike litho-wrap covers they don’t require the use of glue.
Instead of litho wrap, book covers and boxes can be wrapped in a variety of natural materials like cork, pressed hemp and linen. In addition to being aesthetically attractive, cork is one of nature’s fastest growing renewable resources and is easy to work with. We are seeing more usage of pressed hemp, a versatile material that can be folded, sewn and stamped, and is very durable. If you’re aiming for cloth, look for environmentally friendly options like cot-linen, a 50/50 blend of natural cotton and linen that is bleach and dye-free and uncoated.
Much has changed over the last few decades. Many newspapers, for example, regularly use soy inks thanks to better print quality and brighter colours at comparable prices, and with a wide range of eye-catching natural materials and glue-free finishing there are more green options than ever before for designers and their clients.
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Natalie Roebuck, M.A., is the business development and marketing manager with Specialties Graphic Finishers in Toronto.
This column originally appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Designedge Canada magazine.