Eco-friendly screen printing: top tips for creating sustainable merchandise

Eco-friendly screen printing: top tips for creating sustainable merchandise

It’s easy being green

There was a time when the only considerations for people buying clothes were price and quality. Those still count, of course, but with rising temperatures and an endless assault of natural disasters on the news, the question of environmental sustainability comes into play.

At ICON we always try to help customers make eco-friendly choices. Using ethical screen printing is better for the planet and it helps your brand, too. If you want to screen print merch which is more ecologically responsible, here are some important tips.

Choose water-based ink 

You can’t print anything without ink. There are two common types of ink used for screen printing, plastisol and water-based. Plastisol is industry standard and the default for commercial printers, but water-based inks are more environmentally-friendly and are rising in popularity, even if they can be trickier to use.

Plastisol inks

Plastisol inks are popular because they’re inexpensive, good for mass production and they don’t clog printing equipment by drying out. However, most plastisol inks contain PVC, a plastic which has been called the most environmentally damaging of all plastics. PVC causes serious health risks throughout the production process and contributes to the plastics damaging ecosystems all over the planet.

There is also a chemical in plastisol inks known as a plasticizer, which makes the ink more fluid. These often contain phthalates, a chemical known for its toxicity. Some plastisol inks are now phthalate-free, but there is still plenty of damage just from the use of PVC. Besides health risks, an issue with inks using PVC is that they are not drain-safe. Printers must use harmful chemicals to break down plastisol from printing equipment and screens.

Water based inks

Luckily, there is a much greener alternative. Water-based inks are, as they sound, pigments suspended in water with no plastics. The most volatile parts of the ink dry off, which is better for your skin and it means that the feel of the garment is also lighter and more breathable. After using water-based inks, the screens and equipment are washed with plain water, which can go down the drain unfiltered. 

However, there are a few drawbacks to consider with water-based inks. On an environmental level, garments with water-based prints are more energy-intensive to dry, requiring more carbon to cure. They cannot easily print on dark-coloured garments, so this may inform your choice. But if you’re printing on light fabrics and care about the environment, water-based inks are certainly the greenest way to go.

Print on quality blanks

If you’ve decided to use water-based ink, you then have to consider what you’re printing on. Choosing a higher quality garment will mean it will be more durable, won’t shrink and will result in a higher quality print. But most importantly, it will last longer. Cheap, fast fashion contributes to landfill – higher quality garments are always a better choice for the eco-conscious. Still, the material is also big factor to consider.

Organic cotton

If you’re printing t-shirts, try considering organic cotton. It is made with natural fibres, using less water in the process and crops which aren’t treated with chemicals. It offers flexibility, durability and sustainability. At ICON there are several options to choose from, including Stanley/Stella’s Creator t-shirt, which is made with 100% eco cotton. It is a high-end blank t-shirt which is great not only for screen printing, but also if using Direct to Garment printing.

Try bamboo t-shirts

You might also want to consider bamboo tees. It sounds strange, a fabric made from a substance as tough as bamboo, but these are actually softer and silkier than cotton tees. Bamboo is a sustainable choice because the crop grows incredibly quickly and has a much higher yield than cotton. It also hardly needs any water or fertilisers to grow. For the particularly eco-conscious, though, you might want to consider that while bamboo has a smaller ecological footprint to grow and harvest compared to cotton, the crop requires significantly more factory machinery to turn into a usable fabric.

Even if you don’t choose an organic brand or bamboo, it’s still worth considering the quality of your garment. Higher quality fabrics are more durable, which means it will last longer and is less likely to shrink. Ultimately this will reduce waste.

Get your sizing and quantities right

Your careful choices of garment and ink might be less green if your ordering contains waste in the first place. Think about the numbers that you will need. If you are printing uniforms or company shirts then find out which sizes you need, and how many of each. This will ensure everyone has a good fit, and that you’re not using energy, ink and fabric unnecessarily.

Get in touch

We’re always on hand to discuss your options and, with a decade’s experience in the printing industry, we can help you make the best choice for your job. It’s also worth bearing in mind that with screen printing, we at ICON can save your screen, meaning that if you need to order more, the second run will be cheaper. We only charge the set up costs once — because just as you care about the environment, we care about you.

Looking for t-shirt printing from the pros? At ICON Printing we offer fast turnaround printing and embroidery with a wide-ranging catalogue from t-shirts to caps to bagsGet a quote in 2 minutes online. 

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