Way back in 1971 Harold Amos was an early adopter of the original 3M “Driography” process now known as waterless printing. Unfortunately, in those days it wasn’t easy because inks were imperfect and temperature control just didn’t exist. It was not until the early 1990’s that Amos Communications resumed waterless printing with all the new tools that assured success.
Nearly 30 years later, Harold Amos and his pressmen were witnesses to a momentous event in the brief history of waterless printing: the successful trial of a water-washable ink by Sun Chemical Ink (GPI) for use with waterless plates. The positive environmental impact of this product on the printing industry is enormous.
When we say enormous we mean the potential to virtually eliminate pressroom related volatile organic compounds (VOCs, also known as nonmethane volatile organic compounds or NMVOCs) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).
The Environmental Impact of a Water-washable Waterless Ink
One way to view the amount of total VOCs reduction using the combination of waterless printing and water-washable ink can be illustrated by looking at the Model Plant Product Use as published by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). In the USEPA draft document, Control of Volatile Organic Compound Emissions from Offset Lithographic Printing, published in September, 1993, the estimates were based upon printing plants using 17% IPA (isopropyl alcohol) and uncontrolled VOC emissions (without add-on pollution control devices).
Based upon the USEPA Model Data, with all other operational parameters constant (fountain IPA, inks, roller and blanket washes), a non-heatset sheetfed printer employing 10 – 19 people produces a total of four U.S. tons of VOC per year (3.628 metric tons).
Given the combination of dampening-free waterless printing and the water-washable ink, pressroom VOCs could nearly be eliminated. In Amos Communications’ case, they print waterless on all of their printing presses, so the only VOCs that might be found are in the prepress area where film cleaners and plate processing chemistry is used (see editor’s note).
One American printer has shared data with the Waterless Printing Association that will also help put the potential reduction of pressroom VOCs into perspective. This printer reported that total VOCs related to blanket and roller washes was 6.7 U.S. tons (6.08 metric tons) amounting to 38.2% of its total output.
Harold Amos and many other waterless printers around the world will be quick to realize the added benefits of a water-washable ink product.
A Important Ink Distinction
According to Dick Drong, Sun’s Sheetfed Ink Marketing Manager, Drilith W2 is a new waterless ink which has been modified to allow the use of a “press wash solution” consisting of water and a surfactant (similar to soap) instead of VOC laden solvents. This is not a water-based ink, there is no water in the product! In addition, the amount of VOCs in the ink itself are so low that they constitute less than 1% according to the USEPA Method 24 testing procedure.
The VOC content of Sun’s regular waterless ink ranges from 15 to 24 % VOCs (by weight). On the other hand, mineral oil/printing ink distillate contents of the Drilith W2 product are only marginally higher than the Nevada Oxi and Sahara Eco-Dri inks which are claimed to contain no VOCs. These products are made by Classic Colours, a leading European supplier of sheetfed waterless inks based in England. A similar claim is shared by Akzo Nobel Inks who have also introduced a similar product based on vegetable oils called Lito Flora Dry.
Despite these zero VOC inks, conventional solvents must be used for roller and blanket washing.
Three Years in Development
Before Sun’s ink reached Amos Communications, the product had been under development for nearly three years. For about two years the product has been tested under the critical eyes of L&E Packaging in Greensboro, North Carolina. In the early stages of development the product suffered from a lack of gloss compared with conventional waterless ink.
How Does It Work?
Harold Amos and Sun Chemical scheduled the test on a clean, temperature controlled press bright and early on a Monday morning. Without the benefit of warming to proper operating temperature, experienced waterless pressmen Richard Fraas and Wally Simpson had to push more ink than normal. But once the press was warmed up, the ink began to flow normally.
A 7-color test form supplied by the press manufacturer was used for comparison purposes. Side by side comparisons on coated paper were extremely encouraging, despite the fact that three PMS colors had to be hand mixed from the process set supplied by Sun.
All were delighted to see the level of gloss rendered by the ink. Higher levels of gloss on the order of 15 units could be achieved, according to Sun, using a water based coating (WBC) application. Interestingly, when Amos applied their own aqueous coating, it actually decreased ink gloss. This was likely due to an unknown compatibility issue with the particular brand of coating being used.
Once plate temperature had reached the upper 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius), the ink seemed to perform much better. Except for solid ink trapping characteristics and the high temperature tolerance, the ink performed just like a normal waterless ink. Sun’s Dick Drong and chemist Dr. Emmanuel Dimotakis noted that more work would be done on the trapping performance. They were accompanied by Bruce Hornesz (sales Sun-Cleveland).
Drying time was quite impressive. We have no reason to dispute the claim that the rub resistance of Drilith W2 in 5 minutes is better than a conventional waterless ink after 24 hours. It should also be noted that the relative lack of mineral oils or petroleum distillates seems to ensure good press stability, i.e., the press can remain at rest for extended periods of time without drying on the rollers. The product can remain in the ink duct without skinning overnight and possibly for as long as 48 hours.
Encouraged by the test results, a live job was run for comparison on the Amos 6-color press. With outstanding results it seemed to Harold Amos and the author that trapping was only a minor issue compared to the ultimate benefit of a water-washable product. At the conclusion of the test Amos only wanted to know when he could place an order for the product.
Is Precious Metal Going to Rust?
All the press trials to date have shown that the product itself does not cause any rust on the press. Again the ink contains no water. Using the prescribed wash solution containing water and surfactant, similar to the ingredient in soap, Amos’ pressmen were able to quickly and cleanly wash the rollers and blankets.
According to Dick Drong, both the ink and the surfactant used were developed in concert with each other. Since several presses already use water as part of the washing process, the formation of rust should not be a problem. In fact, Sun’s goal is to wash up with 100% water.
A Word About Surfactants
A surfactant can briefly be defined as a material that can greatly reduce the surface tension of water when used in very low concentrations. Soap, by this definition, is a surfactant. Surfactants allow the detergent solution to wet the ink-soiled rollers and blankets so that the ink can be suspended in water and thus easily flushed from the surfaces being cleaned. Sun claims there are no HAPs in the specially formulated press wash and therefore it can be disposed of safely in landfills.
Waterless Plate and Press Compatibility
Between L&E Packaging and Sun Chemical’s own laboratory tests, the ink has worked with Toray and Presstek PearlDry waterless plates, as well as Kodak Polychrome’s plate now in beta testing.
As other waterless ink manufacturers have found, Sun anticipates that the ink will be formulated for specific press sizes. So far the product has been run on 28 and 40 inch (74 and 102 cm) presses. It has also been tested at 1000 feet per minute on a heatset web machine. There may be the potential to develop the product for UV cured applications.
Harold Amos Knows…
With 50 years of printing experience under his belt, Harold Amos knows that a cleaner printing environment will not only benefit his employees and lower his total VOC emissions, but it will also mean a lot to his customers, who are increasingly concerned about the environment as well.
Now armed with both 8-page and 4-page multicolor waterless presses, the firm’s printing capacity demands even more effort to eliminate VOCs and workplace chemical hazards.
From the firm’s base of operations in the small town of Beloit, Ohio, Amos is about an hour’s drive from the much bigger markets they serve in Cleveland, Akron and Pittsburgh. Armed with the advantages of a water-washable waterless ink, Amos should be able to capture a larger share of these markets.
Editor’s Note: Toray’s plate processing NP-1 Pre-treatment Solution waste comes under regulatory control. However, the estimated NP-1 waste generated compared to the amount of conventional printing’s fountain waste is minimal. At a rate of 300undefined40” negative plates processed per month, we estimate that regular chemistry changes would result in less than 20 gallons of waste annually. The results may vary according to plate and image sizes. Aqueous substitutes have been under study.
(Photos to come)
Harold Amos chats with Sun’s Bruce Hronesz during the momentous water-washable ink trial.
Pressman Richard Fraas cleans up with a solution of 93% water and 7% detergent.