Design Strategies: Printing & Ink

Design in the era of 400 ppm (parts per million) of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere means that we are working against the clock to avoid a climate change catastrophe. To create going forward means that we have to reduce our impact and also design to renourish our planet. It means improving our air, water, and land, and then sustaining that progress. The Earth is as much a stakeholder in our design projects as our clients.

When selecting your printer, look for the following: 

  • A local printer within 100 miles of you (or better still, within 100 miles of where the final printed piece will be distributed).
  • Certified by a legitimate third-party environmental group. While it doesn’t provide a guarantee, legitimate certification can ensure your printer takes these issues seriously
  • Powered by a renewable energy source. If not directly powered by renewable energy, do they offset their energy use by purchasing renewable energy credits from a legitimate provider (Like Green-e)
  • A formal environmental policy. 
  • A formal energy reduction policy. 
  • A formal waste reduction/recycling policy. 
  • a formal benefits program and regular safety training for their employees. A printer should respect their staff as much as they respect the environment.
  • If they are willing to discuss the above policies with you. Environmentally-aware printers should be open to educating you about their processes, as well as willing to learn themselves.

Additional ways to green the printing process

  • Use our Project Calculator to minimize paper waste during the printing process.
  • Consider using digital or waterless printing to reduce set-up and trim waste and overall VOC emissions.
  • Proof on screen as much as possible to reduce paper waste.
  • Use makereadies, overruns, reclaimed materials, or other scrap paper as the base stock.


While ink chemistry changes (sometimes dramatically) depending on press type, substrate, ink brand, and individual printer practices, this list can help you choose the best options for your next project. 

  • Less is more. The more ink on the page, the more difficult recycling can be. More ink means more waste for the printer to dispose of and more energy needed (both during printing and during recycling). More ink coverage also means more solvents needed on press.
  • Plant-based ink instead of petroleum (linseed, cottonseed, tung, flaxseed, soybean, or other agriculturally-derived oils) in offset printing.
  • Emit VOC levels of 5% or less.
  • Heavy metal is for music. Omit inks with heavy metal additives (found in most fluorescent and metallic inks).
  • Be sourced from local vendors.
  • Require only nontoxic solvents and additives for offset presses.
  • Be part of an ink or toner recycling or recovery program on press (ask your printer how they handle their press waste).

For further help with your sustainable print or packaging project, you can visit the:

Paper, Printing, and Ink Worksheet

A quick reference guide for sustainable print design best practices.

Learn more

Materials Worksheet

A quick reference guide for choosing greener materials.

Learn more