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					Printing and the environment
The printing process and the way in which individual printed projects are designed both have an
impact on the environment. However, there are many ways in which this impact can be reduced. The
printing industry itself has come a long way over the past couple of decades in changing the way it
works to reduce its effect on the environment, mainly through the use of new technologies that have
become available. These technologies have reduced the environmental impact of printing
considerably and it is important to understand them so that designers and printers can work together
to continuously improve the environmental performance of the printing sector.

How printing is minimising its affect on the environment
There are several different types of printing process. The main ones are:
   gravure, mainly used for things like magazines, holiday brochures and other items that have lots
    of pages and are printed in large quantities; it can also be used for printing onto flexible
    packaging such as plastics;
   offset lithography, usually just called ‘litho’ printing, used for all sorts of things, ranging from
    magazines and brochures, through advertising mailings to writing paper and forms;
   flexography, mainly used for printing packaging, carrier bags, labels and wallpaper;
   screen printing, for printing posters on almost any material (textiles, ceramics, glass and many
    other substrates), to print anything from shop displays to printed circuit boards, and
   digital, which is growing very fast and can be used for printing most anything in smaller
    quantities, from books to giant posters.
As most work produced in the UK – over two thirds - is by litho printing, this is what I will focus on.
Your project would most likely be produced by this method.
Printing uses a lot of energy. Litho printing presses are large pieces of mechanical equipment,
bearing no resemblance to the types of printers we use in our homes, schools and offices. They
produce many thousands of sheets of paper per hour, and the larger presses are so big that even if I
knocked all the walls down in my house and my neighbour’s house, and knocked down the wall
between us, the press still wouldn’t fit in there.
Presses used to have to run for quite a long time while they were adjusted to get the right amounts of
ink in the right places, to get the printing plates lined up properly and all the other adjustments that
make a good job – but with computerised controls this has changed. Modern presses can be set up in
just 10 minutes or so – saving energy, saving ink and chemicals and saving paper.
Some of the things designers want to do involve other pieces of equipment. Most items will need
trimming to the right size – using an electric guillotine – but if fancy shapes are wanted, or cut-out
holes, or perforating, or the types of clever folding you see in direct mail items that come through the
post, or special features like sections to be rubbed off with a coin, this adds to the amount of energy
used. The work has to go through another piece of equipment and this may even be in another
factory, so as well as the energy of doing the work there is the energy of transporting it.
This is where computers have made an amazing difference. In the past, to get something ready for
printing, all the text had to be stuck to boards and photographed onto a large piece of film. All the
pictures had to be photographed several times through filters to get a separate piece of film for each
of the printing colours that the colours you see are made up from: cyan (blue), magenta (dark pink),
yellow and black. Then all the films for each colour had to be put together (using sticky tape – very
Blue Peter) and re-photographed to get one piece of film for each colour. Each time this happened,
the film had to be developed – so we had lots of film, lots of developer, lots of waste. Then the films
were used to make the plates, one for each colour – again photographically – and the plates

developed using chemicals again. These plates are what get the inked image onto the paper,
transferring it via another, softer, surface first to get a better result.
Now, we can make everything up on computer, with all the pictures in place, create the separations
(the different layers for each colour) and make plates directly from the digital data. No more film, no
more film developing chemical – and far less waste. New technology just starting to be taken up by
the industry means that plates can now be made with no chemicals at all needed to make them ready
for use – so even less chemicals used.
Other chemicals used in litho printing are a form of alcohol. The process works on the basis that oil
and water don’t mix. The area on the plate carrying the image you want to print attracts the ink, which
is oil-based, and repels water. The plate is flooded with water during printing, keeping the other areas
clean of ink. To help this, alcohol is added – this breaks the meniscus, the surface tension that makes
water form into drops instead of just spreading. It is now known that when this alcohol evaporates, it is
harmful to the environment – so again the industry is developing ways of reducing its use and people
are using much less. Some printers have even managed to stop using it entirely but, generally, for the
industry as a whole to do this will take time, as presses are not replaced very often, being very
expensive and built to last, and newer equipment works better for printing this way.
Cleaning chemicals, for press cleaning, are also something the industry has been looking at, to
develop ways of using less, of using them in such a way that they evaporate less, and of filtering them
and cleaning them to use over and over, instead of using them once and then disposing of them.
Finally, waste. The printing industry is pretty good at recycling. Printing plates are usually made of
aluminium, and if you go to any printer who uses them, they will be keeping such plates separately to
recycle them. Paper is also recycled – many printers even separate out the paper trimmings with no
ink on them from paper that has been printed to help with this. More and more printers are now
separating out other wastes to recycle too. But the industry also needs to reduce the amount of waste
created in the first place.
It has reduced a lot – the chemicals and film mentioned previously, the waste that was created in
getting the presses set up. Computerised controls are also reducing waste during printing, by giving
better control at every stage of the job. But each time a piece of work has to be put through another
piece of equipment, waste is created in setting that equipment up – simple jobs are far less wasteful
than complicated work. Complicated shapes are also more wasteful – the paper comes in rectangular
sheets, and if a design, when laid out flat, is not a rectangular shape, there will be paper wasted from
the sheet. If you print several thousand sheets, that can add up to a lot of waste.

How your choices as a designer make a difference
You can see from the first section how your choices can be important in saving energy, waste and
transport. There are also other choices that are important.
Choosing paper
There are two things to think about here: what it is made from and how it is made. Choosing recycled
paper is obvious. But if you can’t get recycled paper of the type that’s needed for your design, you
need to think about where the trees used to make the paper have come from. It’s important they are
properly looked after, to protect wildlife, plants, rivers and soil, and the people who live in the forests.
When paper is made, it uses energy, can cause air and water pollution and creates waste. So it is
important to choose paper made by a company that is careful of the environment.
Ways you can tell
Companies who are working to reduce their affect on the environment will usually be running what is
known as an environmental management system – to help them understand what they need to do
and to do it properly. There are two main systems that are recognised internationally – ISO 14001
(world-wide) and EMAS (Europe only). If they are running these, they can ask to be inspected and
certified to demonstrate that they have a good system. So when a paper mill has done this, it’s a good

The paper itself can also be awarded environmental labels. These are for different things – for
example, an FSC label shows that the wood fibre used comes from a forest carefully managed to
protect the environment, wildlife and people. It may have a second label included, with a triangle
made of three arrows chasing each other – this means some or all of the content is recycled. There
are other labels to let you know about recycled content in the paper, how well energy and pollution
are controlled and so on.
You can find out more about how paper is made at
Choosing a printer
Some printers will also have certified environmental management systems, but not many yet. They
are usually much smaller companies than those that make paper and a lower proportion are certified,
although this is growing fast. When choosing a printer, you can, however, start by asking them what
they are doing to save energy, to reduce the chemicals they use and to reduce and recycle waste.
You can ask them to advise you on paper – those that are working on protecting the environment will
usually be learning more about how to choose paper to help with this, and so will be happy to talk to
you about it.
If you get to visit a printer, you eyes will tell you a lot too. If they have bins for used cleaning rags, are
the lids on? And are the lids on any containers of chemical that aren’t being used. This helps reduce
evaporation and air pollution. Is their yard neat and tidy? Rain can run through waste waiting to be
collected and then into the drain, polluting nearby rivers or streams. Storing waste carefully helps
avoid this. Do they store liquids on or in containers that would catch any leaks? This is very important
for liquids that could pollute. And, of course, do they segregate waste carefully to help with recycling?
And finally…
Think about your design. Does it waste paper by being a complicated shape? Does it need lots of
different processes, such as those needed to make fancy shapes or cut holes in it? Simple is usually
good! The way you use pictures, colours and shapes on the page can make a lot of impact without
adding to energy or waste.
Information kindly provided by Fujifilm Graphic Systems


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