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Eco-trends in the wide-format printing industry
 

More than just a buzzword, sustainability is considered the next big thing for many industries and businesses. With the recognition that climate change has now become an urgent matter on a global scale, corporations are being compelled to play a role in coming up with more sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions.

While it may still take several decades before sustainable practices become the norm, more and more industries – including the industry of wide-format printing – have started to adopt “greener” practices. What are the ways in which wide-format printing can be done more sustainably without compromising on quality?

The role of wide-format printing in sustainability efforts

The industry of wide-format printing, despite the ubiquity of its products, has mostly flown under the radar when it comes to public pressure to become more sustainable. This isn’t a knock on wide-format printing. It’s just that there are other, more visible targets such as food producers, product packaging, transport companies, and energy companies.

This fact does not absolve the wide-format printing industry from the same level of accountability. Industrial-scale printing is a large consumer of non-sustainable, petroleum-based raw materials such as solvents and plastic substrates. Products made by the industry are also non-biodegradable and may have toxic components that can contaminate soil and water even when they end up in landfills.

Fortunately, technology is catching up with the need for more sustainable alternatives for the wide-format printing industry.

Solvent-free inks

Solvent-based inks used to be the standard for industrial printing. They were cheap, reliable, and dried quickly. Unfortunately, they also came from non-sustainable sources. These inks were also typically toxic, which made the disposal of discarded signages problematic.

As an alternative, leading industrial ink manufacturers have begun to formulate water-based and UV-curable inks, which have become quite popular in the last couple of years. These inks do not use any solvents and result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing. They are also designed to break down into non-toxic components during recycling, making it possible for discarded prints to be 100% recyclable.

All these benefits come with practically zero compromises on quality. Eco-friendly inks, such as the ones sold by Needham Inks, are just as easy to use, permanent, and long-lasting, even when exposed to outdoor conditions.

Sustainable substrates

The substrate for wide-format printing – the material that gets printed on – has traditionally been plastic-based, such as PVC or polystyrene. While these materials have been preferred due to their durability, weather-resistance, and affordability, they are also highly non-sustainable. Solid plastic waste is one of the more pressing issues facing our environment, with most of them endangering wildlife and contaminating water and soil.

Tension fabric systems, a relatively new technology, seeks to offer an alternative to plastic-based substrates. A fabric panel serves as the substrate for the ink (ideally an equally eco-friendly one), which is then mounted onto an aluminum frame with silicone edging. Fabric panels are lighter than PVC sheets, just as durable, and have a visually striking appeal.

While PVC panels are typically discarded at the end of a campaign, fabric panels can be recycled. The fabric itself is biodegradable, and the frames used to mount the fabric panels are endlessly reusable.

More efficient printing equipment

Sustainability efforts aren’t just about materials – the equipment that wide-format printing companies use have also evolved to lessen their impact on the environment. Although most trends in innovation are still geared towards better productivity, such as improved quality or reduced printing time, there has also been a concerted effort in the past few years to come up with more efficient printing equipment.

How does improved efficiency help the advocacy for sustainability? Modern printers have introduced a variety of power saving modes which they claim can result in more than 90% reduction in energy consumption compared to traditional printers. Printing technology has also become more economical in terms of ink usage, able to print the same jobs with a reduced amount of ink.

Summary 

Going green indeed has its business benefits. Customers nowadays are more discerning with the products they buy and are keener to support companies that adopt sustainable practices. However, there’s another side to the equation – that of our shared responsibility to preserve a healthy planet for future generations.

Initiatives in the wide-format printing industry may seem like a drop in the bucket, but it’s going to take a concerted effort from everyone – consumers, manufacturers, and governments – to turn this dire situation around. More than just a business strategy, going green is our responsibility.

 

 
 
 
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