Are Vinyl Based Inks Dangerous?
There has been a long running debate in the printing industry centered around PVC based textile inks, namely they can be harmful to young children and infants, causing many different medical problems. For over fifty years, PVC based inks have been the industry standard and were lauded as the perfect ink due to their long pot life, making them able to be left out in screens for days at a time on long production runs without drying, as well as their high opacity and low bleed through properties. However, in the late1990’s, we became aware of the fact that PVC inks contained phthalates, lead, cadmium, and other heavy metals and many want to remove them from the marketplace entirely. Proponents of Plastisol inks (PVC based) say they can be made less dangerous, and are not necessarily dangerous to the environment. “Just because something contains PVC does not disqualify it from being an environmentally friendly product,” says Craig Dasse, of 3G Mermet. On the other hand, environmental proponents argue that in addition to containing toxic chemicals that come into contact with the human body and can possibly be absorbed, Patty Grossman and Leigh Anne Van Dusen of O Ecotextiles, Inc. point out, “the US EPA reports that over 33,000,000 lbs. of toxic chemicals were released by US textile mills in 2005: that’s 33,000,000 lbs of just the chemicals classified as “toxic” by the not very aggressive US government – and those are the toxic chemicals released in the US alone.”
Water based Ink Proponents say their inks are just as good and eco-friendly.
Permaset Aqua Ink boasts on their website, “Permaset Aqua inks do not contain ozone-depleting chemicals such as CFC’s and HCFC’s, aromatic hydrocarbons or any volatile solvents. They don’t contain lead or any heavy metals. In fact, Permaset Aqua inks do not contain any toxic chemicals at all! Not even white spirits like other water based inks on the market. It passed the O Ecotextile Class 1 standard (with 60% to spare!) and is safe to use on underwear, swimwear and even baby clothes. Why doesn’t everyone use water-based inks? Good question. Water based inks can be difficult to use. They air dry and can clog up the screen during printing. It takes a bit of getting used to but we think it’s worth it. Traditionally water based inks were not as hardwearing and durable as plastisol inks and weren’t as opaque but things are different now.” They overlook the fact that the additional time spent maintaining the screens on the presses, preventing them from clogging with drying ink reduced output and productivity, which increases the price of the shirts on top of the more expensive ink.
Plastisol supporters say PVC is not the worst, and it lasts a long time.
“For the applications studied, does the available evidence indicate that PVC-based materials are consistently among the worst of the alternative materials studied in terms of environmental and health impacts?” asked Chairman Malcolm Lewis. “How does that help direct …designers to better materials if all you have to do is avoid PVC? What if they choose something less environmental?” wonders Alan Blakey, senior director of public affairs for The Vinyl Institute trade association. Noting that there is no LEED credit for durability, he further asks, “Isn’t durability an example of conserving resources?” [Read the whole article] Obtusely ignoring the fact that the health risks of their products are undeniably real.
There IS a middle ground!
Dow Silicone based inks have all the benefits of both Plastisol and water based inks, without their negatives. They are environmentally friendly, do not contain toxic chemicals, and are easy to clean like water based inks, and they are slow to dry, highly durable and elastic, and have the opacity and anti-bleeding qualities of PVC based inks. Additionally, they are economical, and efficient so printing with silicone based ink is very cost effective, and falls into the middle ground not only of the pros and cons of the other two ink types, but in cost and profit margins as well.
Here is a short video from Dow corning at the 2011 Imprinted Sportswear Show in Long Beach, California, where the new Silicone based inks were unveiled.
Are Silicone Based Inks the long awaited answer?
Surprisingly, proponents of both water-based and PVC inks are so entrenched in their own arguments, and so fiercely loyal to their brands, that they have largely not given silicone based inks a second glance, much less a chance. Some of the environmentally conscious printers have begun using silicone when they can, but the public still has not caught on to the new phenomenon and often request water based inks, despite their inferiority. Many PVC printers carry water based inks for customer requests but haven’t made the jump to move to silicone either, even though the change over would be much easier than switching to water based ink.
What do you think?
You’ve seen some of the pros and cons of both of the old guard inks, and have been introduced to the new silicone inks, which are a great compromise of the two. Which ink would you want on clothes that you are wearing? Leave us a comment and let us know; Your opinions on the matter!