A water-based ink vs plastisol incident.

Unlike harmful plastisol inks, water-based inks are durable, feel soft and are low-impact on the environment.

Last week I received an online newsletter from an organization dedicated to improved sustainability in the fashion and textile industries. To cut a long story short, they had done a magnificent job of producing a Tee that was as organic, eco-friendly, and sustainability-compliant as you could hope for.

It was an impressive effort, except for one thing. They claimed that part of the sustainability excellence was that the Tee had been screen printed in a manual shop using water-based inks because: “Unlike harmful plastisol inks, water-based inks are durable, feel soft and are low-impact on the environment.”

Some investigation and an exchange of emails with the newsletter editor and the printer, revealed that the water-based ink was from a small foreign manufacturer.

It has long been a problem that people assume the word “water” suggests that water-based ink is environmentally superior. Well, we drink water so it must be okay, right? No, wrong! Some water-based inks also contain nasty chemicals. And you won’t know the truth until you examine at least the MSDS.

Anyway, below is my final email on the topic which casts some light on the whole water-based ink versus plastisol issue and how some manufacturers can misrepresent the differences. Since it’s not my intention to denigrate anyone but just present information, I’ve omitted names.

Good morning Xxxxxxx:

Thank you for the response.

I have been in contact with Xxxxxxxxx and it seems that we have a mutual concern for sustainability in the fashion and textile industries. She seems to have gone to a lot of trouble to search out environmentally friendly products for her screen shop, including Xxxxxxxx water-based ink.

I dealt with ink companies for over twenty years and have to tell you that some salespeople and web sites will say anything to sell their product. I don’t believe in taking anything at face value. For instance, the only way to confirm that Xxxxxxxx’s ink has GOTS certification is to ask for the registration number and then search it on the GOTS site. I’d be interested in having this if it can be located because we’ve been unable to find them on the list of GOTS-certified manufacturers.

I visited Xxxxxxxx’s web site and have the following comments:

  • The claims about water-based ink versus plastisol are a bit misleading by virtue of the information omitted. It makes mention of plastisol containing PVC and Phthalates but fails to mention that plastisols without either of these elements have been available for years.
  • It mentions that their water-based ink doesn’t contain lead—leading plastisol brands haven’t contained lead for over thirty years.
  • It refers to plastisol ink being linked to numerous medical disorders but fails to mention those were associated with Phthalate plasticisers, which is why manufacturers moved to non-Phthalate plasticisers.
  • The non-Phthalate brand of plastisol my company carried—Wilflex Epic—is certified to Oekotex 100 (Eco-Passport) so are free of the same problems that Xxxxxxxx claims to be free of by virtue of compliance. You’ll probably find this to be true of most leading plastisol brands.
  • The site implies that plastisol can only be cleaned up by nasty chemicals. This was once true, particularly when textile printers here in Canada didn’t care (many still don’t) and used cheap, nasty solvents extensively. Now there are much safer cleanup chemicals on the market.
  • The site claims that water-based ink can be cleaned out of screens with water. This is mostly true, and it may be still be true even once the ink has dried, if you let the screens soak to soften the ink (and provided no cross-linker has been added). But here’s my concern about what’s been left out of the discussion about cleaning water-based ink screens with water . . .  It implies that you can just wash it all down the drain (but remember those pigment particles too fine for many filter systems?). In many jurisdictions, local water treatment providers make the decision on whether your ink residue is permissible in their water recovery system.  If you don’t have it checked, you run the risk of getting caught and fined if any contaminants are found coming from your facility.
  • The better ink companies offer downloadable MSDS from their web sites. I couldn’t find such a facility on the Xxxxxxxx site.

I didn’t mean to open a can of worms but since we’re all concerned about the environment and the sustainability of the fashion and textile industries, I thought it worth pursuing the topic. And I don’t mean to imply that I’m advocating for plastisol over water-based inks—I’m not (personally, I much prefer my water-based Tees). I just believe that if we are to make informed decisions about environmentally friendly printing, we need to explore the facts and not rely on salespeople and web sites with vested interests.

Regards,

Michael.