What is a sustainable ink?

What is a sustainable ink?

Soy-based. Vegetable-based. Water-based. What are these inks and which is considered to be the most sustainable option?

First, you need to understand the make-up of inks. They contain three main components:

1. Pigments: these give inks their colour and account for about 10-20% of the final product

2. Additives: these improve performance, like smudging and drying time, and are around 5-15% of the product

3. Carriers: these transfer the ink onto a substrate and then evaporate, leaving only the pigment and additive behind. They are the largest component of an ink at 70-80%

Petroleum-based carriers are usually referred as solvent-based inks. When solvent dries, it releases volatile organic compounds into the air, which can be harmful to those working in printing factories. They also require printers to use chemical cleaners on their printing plates and equipment, which increases the total amount of VOCs emitted.

This is why it’s important that a printer can demonstrate they hold credible certifications, such as Reach SEDEX and ISO14001, so you can be confident their workers are protected and all chemicals are used/disposed of safely.

The good news is that Checkpoint has transitioned to vegetable, soy and water-based inks, wherever possible. These new inks feature carriers that are plant or water-based, though the additives and pigments largely remain the same, as there is no ink currently available that is completely free of chemicals. However, these inks are easily recyclable.

So, how do you know that you are getting the most sustainable option for your products?

Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all. It depends on a range of variables, including the type of material and printing process used to make your labels and packaging.


Here is a simple guide for apparel retailers and brands who need a better understanding of their ink usage:

Offset Litho Printing

This printing method is commonly used to print paper packaging, like swing tickets or sock riders. You can use water, soy or vegetable-based inks, while if your design needs a UV varnish it can be cured using UV light.

Flexographic printing

Stickers and base stock are often printed Flexographic. On uncoated paper you can utilise water-based inks, while if you prefer a coated or plastic label a UV curable ink is the most eco-friendly option, as this has no carrier at all. However, it can be more expensive.

Screen printing

This is used to print on some fabrics, like cotton labels or tapes, but also on packaging and tags, where you need a light colour on a black paper. These processes can use solvent, soy or plastisol inks (which are cured), but the choice depends on the substrate and end use of a product. It is, therefore, best to discuss this type of printing with an expert first, as you do not want to specify a soy-based ink, only to find the ink smudging onto your garment!

At Checkpoint, we recognise that businesses have an important role to play in conserving the planet’s precious natural resources and safeguarding the environment for future generations. We are also committed to helping our customers meet their sustainability targets and collaborate to develop products that are more sustainable. We hope this information is useful and please contact us if we can help you with any part of your sustainability programme.

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About Checkpoint Systems

A division of CCL Industries, Checkpoint Systems is the only vertically integrated RF/RFID solution provider for retail. With consumer demands accelerating at an extraordinary rate driven by technology, Checkpoint delivers intelligent solutions – bringing clarity and efficiency into the retail environment anytime, anywhere. Through a unique offering of software, hardware, labels, tags and connected cloud-based solutions, Checkpoint optimizes retail operations and efficiencies with real-time intuitive data delivered throughout the supply chain and in-store resulting in improved profitability and an enriched consumer experience. Checkpoint’s intelligent retail solutions are built upon 50 years of radio frequency technology expertise, innovative high-theft and loss prevention solutions, market-leading software, RFID hardware and comprehensive labeling capabilities to brand, secure and track merchandise from source to shelf.