Beginners guide to eco & sustainable print graphics

One of the positive things we’ve noticed while this strange year has unfolded is a growing interest in environmentally friendly graphics

Before the pandemic hit we would receive one enquiry a week, perhaps a fortnight for sustainable print. But now, we probably get at least one a day. Emails lead with a reference to eco graphics in their subject matter. The world, it seems, has woken up to sustainable large format print and display graphics.

So you’re ready to use eco print… what do you need to know to get started?

As to provide a helping hand for anyone wanting to do ‘the right thing’ and are new to environmentally-friendly display graphics, below is an overview of what you need to think about when choosing a supplier and materials. As always, we offer advice to our customers to provide the best solution and product that we can. So if you are unsure, we’ll talk you through the process, sharing and advising what we feel is the right route to go, along the way. And don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’d like to know more.

Ink

There are many inks on the market and in use for large format inkjet printing. Latex is one of the greener options and consisting of up of 70% water, considered a better option than traditional solvent-based ink. Whereas solvent penetrates the media, latex sits on top and doesn’t react in the same way, which is better for recyclability. Latex is also completely biodegradable, which happens even sooner when exposed to sunlight. Given the right conditions, latex can biodegrade at about the same rate as a leaf from a tree — around six months.

Eco-solvent printing

Standard solvent printing can be pretty bad for the environment, as they use harmful inks. Our direct-to-media printers ticks as many boxes as we can for eco-printing. The ink used in our flatbed printers has been given the environmentally friendly Gold Award from Greenguard. It has a less harmful chemical makeup than many other printers in circulation and includes up to 50% naturally-derived monomers and oligomers from renewable resources, such as plant or biomass. The inks also contain virtually no VOC’s, heavy metals, SVHC’s or greenhouse gases. We also use a LED lamp system for ink drying, instead of the standard mercury-based cooling. This means we are using up to 82% less energy consumption than other non-comparable solvent machines might. You can read more about eco-solvent printing here.

Materials

A question you may want to ask is, what materials are on offer, and what substrates are suitable for the graphics I need? A lot will depend on what you’d like to produce, the environment it will be used within, as well as how long it needs to last. Luckily, compared to a few years ago, there are a variety of environmentally-friendly materials available now to use.

Closed-loop graphics

Another important question is, can a graphic be reused, or used to print on again? Two of the boards mentioned above can be — Foamex, Di-Bond. While Foamex is a PVC-plastic material it is long-lasting and can be re-used as a board for new graphics, and to be re-used as a display product if the design is compatible for multi-use (i.e. doesn’t have fixed information like dates on it)

Waste disposal & recycling

Let’s not forget waste and recyclables and how they can be managed by a supplier. Here’s how we do it at The Graphical Tree — In Central London, we use a waste collection supplier called First Mile, which separates and dispose of all waste in the most eco-friendly way available. This includes burning unrecyclable waste to generate clean energy and collecting food waste for composting, all instead of landfilling. Our West London site’s waste is collected by Hillingdon Council, one of just 74 out of 345 local authorities in England who collect collects dry recyclables.

In a nutshell

Ultimately when thinking about sustainable graphics you are doing so because you care about the planet and the environment. Depending on the job’s brief there are a few key questions to you may consider, such as — Can you re-use a product again and again? Can it be recycled? Are the materials PVC-free? Are the graphics hazardous heavy metal/VOC/SHVC-free? (feel free to ask us any more)

Industry-leading specialists in large format print & display, including sustainable print offerings / thegraphicaltree.com