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Are your inks eco-friendly?

Short answer: yes. Want a longer answer? Read on!


We are interested in doing our part to preserve this beautiful planet. Part of that means being sure whether we are contributing to “green washing” (supporting green hype that’s not grounded in facts). We use a type of ink called “plastisol”, and while we offer water-based ink, we take the position that water-based ink is less eco-friendly than plastisol.

Water-based ink

We can use discharge and water-based inks for you, the cost is just a little higher. The industry calls water-based ink eco-friendly, but I think they are not, really. This is why:

  1. Water-based ink is not some organic, naturally-occuring thing like fruit. It still has a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), it still can’t be poured down the drain safely/legally, at least in the state of California. It doesn’t have components classified as hazardous, but it’s not exactly something you’d want to drink.
  2. Discharge is more noxious to work with than plastisol, so it’s not as friendly to the health and comfort of the workers who do the printing for you. 
  3. The colors fade faster in the wash. Arguably, this makes the life the garment shorter. If you figure it lasts only ¾ as long, that means that for every 3 plastisol shirts you make, you’ll make 4 water-based shirts, if you’re keeping your customer clothed over time.
  4. The mass of the final product is more than 95% shirt, less than 5% decoration. (Realistically, especially if there’s no underbase, this is more like 99.5% vs 0.5%.) Considering the shirt-longevity issue from #3, you’re creating more landfill waste with water-based ink than with plastisol. If you want to make a positive ecological choice with your shirt, the garment is where the impact is. Consider organic, local, and long-lasting garments.
  5. Water-based inks have an incredibly short shelf life, so we end up throwing them out with some regularity. Plastisol lives for years, even unsealed, so we waste almost none of it. 
  6. Water-based ink on colored shirts requires discharge, so you are relying on the color of the underlying cotton for your color base. Cotton is not consistent in color, so exact color matching from job to job, even from shirt to shirt (including the same brand/style) is simply not possible with this medium.

Soy-based ink

There are some soy inks on the market, but at this point they don’t actually work on garments. We are hopeful that someone will develop an ink that will last on garments and actually be more eco-friendly than plastisol, but it’s not on the market yet.