Printer's Resource FAQ

Is there an organic textile ink available?

There are several definitions for "organic / non-organic". For chemistry, organic materials are those containing carbon; non-organic materials do not contain carbon. Both organic and non-organic materials can be made synthetically or harvested from the earth. In reference to pigments or dyes used to color the inks, almost all are synthetically produced. 'Organic' with regards to chemical make up or production of raw materials is not a reference to environmental concerns, which the question implies.

In the case of organically grown materials, these materials are produced according to certain production standards eliminating of use conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers, human waste, or sewage sludge, and processing without ionizing radiation or food additives. Within the textile printing market, garment is considered 'organic' in reference only to the fabric made with materials following specific standards. The ink and its method for application would be concerned with the lowest environmental impact.

As a printer, you need to understand the environmental benefits of the various types of inks and their overall impact to processing.

There are 3 general types of textile inks: Solvent-Based, Water-Based, and Plastisol.

Solvent Ink
Solvent-based inks are considered the least environmentally friendly due to the VOCs (Volatile Orangic Compounds) given off during printing and drying. The petroleum-based binder used in many solvent-based inks could be replaced with renewable resources such as vegetable oil or soy. The downsides are that the inks dry very slowly are less durable, and still contain solvents emitting VOCs during printing.

Water-based Ink
Water-base inks are a good alternative in that a) water not solvents, evaporate during the ink's drying and b) now available are newer, safer formulations geared towards the elimination of PVC and phthalates.
There are two types of water-based inks: Traditional, air dry ink and Discharge ink.

* Traditional water-based inks soak into and become part of the cloth itself and provide good color-fastness and wash-ability.

* Discharge ink removes the original dye/color from the garment and replaces it with a color/pigment. Discharge inks are now available in formaldehyde free formulations, such as the Magnaprint ULF Series by MagnaColours, making them safer for the user and the environment.

Water-based inks are screen or digitally printed. Digital printing is perceived to be more environmentally friendly. An excellent example is the Brother GT-541. The GT-541 is faster and less expensive to operate than traditional screen printing machines because there is no set-up, tear-down, clean-up, screens, squeegees, or pallet adhesive. The GT-541 water based ink can be cured by a standard heat press, eliminating the need to purchase a conveyor dryer.

Plastisol Ink
Pigments are either organic or inorganic; an ink series may contain both organic and inorganic pigments depending on color.

There are no industry wide definitions to qualify an ink or the printing method as organic. As a printer, be sure to research not only the ink, but also its environmental impact within the overall printing process. Be sure to evaluate the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and Technical Processing Instructions for any materials used throughout production of a garment.