With Australia in the grip of its worst drought in recorded history and the widespread onset of climate change brought about by human industrial and agricultural activity, printers are among those considering alternative ways of doing business.
Among the alternatives to traditional offset printing is waterless offset, an offset lithographic printing process which eliminates the water or dampening system used conventionally.
Waterless uses a special silicone rubber coated printing plate, special ink, and generally, a means of temperature control on the press.
Whilst traditional offset requires the use of potentially harmful chemicals such as isopropyl alcohol or a substitute, waterless offset printing is carried out using a simplified mechanical process.
To achieve optimal printed results, the conventional offset press operator needs to carefully balance the delicate relationship between ink, water and alcohol, whereas to achieve the best results with waterless requires only a suitable temperature range for transferring ink to substrate.
Waterless offset is by no means new, having been around since the mid-1960s, and has a relatively small but dedicated following in Australia, though it is in more widespread use in Japan, Europe and the United States.
The water crisis, growing environmental awareness and the quest of print buyers for the utmost print quality all suggest that waterless offset, as a viable printing process may be about to enjoy a resurgence in Australia and beyond.
Though printers using waterless offset in Australia are up to this point only using sheetfed or narrow web (mainly for label production), there are many mainstream printers overseas using waterless in web offset, not just for commercial but also newspaper production.
Organisations of printers and suppliers in the waterless segment exist in the United States, Europe (Germany) and Japan, where the technology is a well accepted part of the print production mix.
Many waterless printers and suppliers in Australia are members of one or more of the overseas associations and view them as an excellent forum through which to exchange ideas and promote the technology and the opportunity.
Advocates of waterless in Australia, such as Peter Booth of Fishprint in Brighton East, Vic, believe that the technology has not got the press it deserves. He says that some suppliers have been vocal critics of waterless because its widespread adoption would mean lower paper consumption because of greatly reduced waste.
What is Waterless?
Waterless printing is an evolutionary progression in the offset lithographic process.
Traditional lithographic printing relies on water, (and additives), being applied to the non-image areas (hydrophilic), while the ink is attracted to the image areas, (hydrophobic). In waterless printing the non-image areas are left with an ink rejecting coating.
The addition of water in lithographic printing creates numerous problems that the paper maker and printer are able to overcome to a greater or lesser extent. Ink emulsification, water based back trap mottle, piling, slow drying, misregister, and wet pick are typical water based problems. The addition of iso propyl alcohol and other water additives creates some environmental issues.
To the print buyer waterless offset allows purer more saturated colours, better drying, particularly on non-absorbent stocks, tighter registration, and is more environmentally friendly.
- With acknowledgements to Raleigh Paper
Use of waterless plates results in faster roll-up to colour, thereby reducing paper waste and Booth says this means his organisation for one is using substantially less paper tonnage each year as well as thousands of litres less water than would have been used if he still printed by conventional offset.
But, says Booth, quite apart from the very positive water, paper and cost savings, use of waterless offset enables him to print jobs of a far higher quality.
Waterless plates are capable of extremely high screen rulings and, as a result, apply more ink to the printed page without the problems of dot gain encountered with conventional wet offset. This results in a much wider range of colours in four-colour process printing and an increase in colour gamut across the spectrum.
A waterless plate is an intaglio plate, not unlike a gravure printing plate. Images to be printed are actually recessed from the surface of the plate.
Since the water dampening chemistry is taken away, the printing ink cannot become emulsified, thus making cleaner, sharper images possible. This also results in a substantial reduction in dot gain and much greater control of colour densities.
Waterless offset plates were first developed by 3M in the late 1960s (they called the process 'driography'), however the product was never commercialised due to poor scratch resistance and lack of durability.
Japan's Toray Industries developed a positive working waterless plate in 1973. It featured greater scratch resistance, better reproduction and better ink repelling characteristics with longer life than the driographic plate developed by 3M.
Toray comercialised waterless plate manufacture in 1978 and developed the negative working plates in 1985 and, more recently, CTP plates.
Today, Toray's waterless plates, supplied in Australia by JL Lennard, are known to render screen rulings of up to 400 lines per inch.
Toray is one of only two manufacturers currently producing waterless printing plates. The other is Presstek of the United States (sold in Australia by GrafikaLinks).
Toray plates are available in both analogue and digital (CTP) versions.
Spectrum Printing of St Leonards in Sydney adopted waterless 11 years ago and according to director, Steve Durham, the company has saved around four million litres of water in that time.
"Apart from water savings we don't use alcohol, a volatile organic compound, which evaporates and becomes an ozone depleting gas, resulting in a much healthier environment for our printers and the community," says Durham.
"We save at least 40 per cent on paper used to set up the job and also use recycled papers where possible which add to the environmental benefits."
Whilst all waterless offset printers we spoke to were keen to highlight reduced water useage especially in the current Australian context, supplier and waterless advocate, Norm Fizell of JL Lennard says that there are plenty of other benefits of using waterless.
"There are hundreds of printers in Japan using waterless," says Fizell, "but there is no shortage of water in Japan. Printers there are using the technology simply because it is profitable and it yields a very high quality printed result with minimal waste, which is highly saleable in such a quality-conscious market."
Booth, whilst a strong advocate of the wider use of waterless among Australia's offset printing community says it would really be in his own economic interest if he didn't have a lot of new competitors.
Despite a higher price for waterless plates than for the conventional variety, Booth says he more than makes up for it with substantially reduced paper waste and the absence of chemicals, and the end result is he can still compete with good pricing from conventional offset printers, and, he maintains, beat them with much higher print quality.
Fishprint's entire print output is produced waterless, though this is by no means a standard model across the industry. Many successful printers employ both conventional and waterless technologies in their business models.
Printing without VOCs
IN addition to its other benefits, many environmentally conscious printers have been drawn to waterless offset printing because it eliminates dampening-related volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the printing process. Some VOCs have been linked to the deterioration of the earth's protective ozone layer and, consequently, to global warming.
The premier (November/December 1998) issue of the Environmental Print Journal cited that the undisputed effects of occupational exposure to organic solvents include damage to liver, kidneys and lungs, degreasing of the skin and dermatitis, mild and reversible effects on the nervous system and more severe effects from large acute exposure.
Exposure is highest when printers clean presses with highly volatile organic solvents, and that exposure increases where alcohol dampening is used.
Researchers estimate that in the United States alone, the printing industry releases more than 18.6m kilos of toxic compounds into the environment each year. According to the EPA, 99 per cent of the industry's total toxic release inventory (TRI) goes into the air, with the remaining one per cent split between land and water. Other TRI industries average 60 per cent release to air, 30 per cent to land and 10 per cent to water, making printing one of the most significant air polluters.
JL Lennard's Norm Fizell estimates alcohol usage per year on sheetfed presses in Australia at 10 per cent by volume, which he considers conservative. He suggests that actual usage is probably closer to 15 or even 20 per cent, due to the high evaporation rate of alcohol. (See table.) "There is no escaping the fact that alcohol is dangerous," he says. "All alcohol used in the printing process evaporates into the air we breath."
Whilst removing dampening from the press and eliminating the use of alcohol and of glycol ether which is present in the alcohol substitutes sometimes used will not only ease the burden on the environment, but it will also help protect and promote the health and wellbeing of printing company employees, waterless advocates claim.
Now, with the release of water-washable inks, the waterless pressroom can be virtually VOC-free. This ink technology eliminates the need for solvent-based press and blanket wash solutions, which typically account for a large portion of a printer's VOC output. A typically available press wash solution is 93 per cent water and 7 per cent mild surfactant (soap), with the ultimate goal of a 100 per cent water-washable product.
Waterless printers worldwide are winning awards in recognition of their environmental standards, with many seeking and obtaining ISO 14001 certification for their environmental management programmes.
For conventional offset printers considering waterless for their own businesses, the associations mentioned earlier have excellent, information-packed websites (see list at the end of this article) and most waterless offset printers will be glad to share their knowledge and experiences.
Among the hardware suppliers, most sheetfed offset press manufacturers have waterless machine offerings or machines which can be easily adapted for waterless. These companies include Heidelberg, KBA, Komori, MAN Roland, Mitsubishi and Ryobi and soon, Sakurai.
Printpoint is probably Australia's biggest waterless offset printer, with headquarters in Stafford, Qld. The company started out printing waterless and uses the technology exclusively. A waterless powerhouse, Printpoint conserves an estimated 80,000 litres of fresh water annually per machine (it uses a MAN Roland 506, MAN Roland 705 and MAN Roland 900 XXLi), which in turn saves the community 240,000 litres of water each year.
Meanwhile, narrow web press manufacturers including France's Codimag (supplied in Australia by Aldus Engineering) are among those equipping their machines with waterless offset capability.
Requiring a lower level of investment yet providing formidable print capacity and profit opportunities are the various DI (direct imaging) press offerings which, by definition, are waterless and serve the growing needs of the on-demand print market for short-run four-colour printing.
Whilst Heidelberg no longer builds its DI press series (and recently introduced its Anicolor variant of the inking and dampening process), other manufacturers continue to do so.
Available models include the Omni Adast DI, KBA's Karat 74, KBA Metronic's Genius 52 UV machine (sold in Australia by JET Technologies), a range of Ryobi DI presses (sold in Australia by Cyber) and Presstek's own 52DI, now distributed in Australia by GrafikaLinks.
Says GrafikaLinks' Michael Malone, "The Presstek 52DI uses no water or chemicals in its integrated on-board plate making. It employs a waterless printing system and needs no dampers or fountain solutions (allowing a finer and consistent application of ink, and those vibrant colours).
"The paper waste is massively reduced as the first sheet is as perfect as the
last. Moreover, the 52DI will handle pretty much any substrate you care to
run through it, including plastics and recycled paper up to 0.5mm thickness. The short makeready time reduces paper waste further."
Machines such as the KBA Genius 52 UV and the Presstek 52DI are bringing greater flexibility to offset with their ability to print on substrates other than paper, such as plastic, film and foil.
Annual Alcohol usage per shift
Using the same example as above (for water consumption), a mid-size conventional printer with two 40” and one 28” press would use 10,200-13,800 litres of alcohol in a year operating three shifts.
With acknowledgements to Norm Fizell, JL Lennard
Waterless in action
Elsewhere in the world, press manufacturers are working with the waterless associations to show off the capabilities of waterless technology.
MAN Roland, for example, has chosen the subject "Waterless Printing With UV" for its 10th PraxisDialog knowledge transfer event, taking place in Offenbach, Germany, on June 21.
Detlef Braun, chairman of the European Waterless Printing Association (EWPA) and spokesman for supplier, Marks-3zet, will talk about the benefits and applications of waterless printing with UV. He will also suggest which applications are ideal for waterless and which for conventional offset printing.
Meanwhile, it is estimated that 10 per cent of Japanese printers use waterless. Thought the percentage may not seem high, it is growing and given that Japan has 33,793 printers (METI Industrial Statistics, 2004) and the industry is valued at US$70bn a year, an enormous volume of print jobs is produced waterless.
It is further estimated that almost 90 per cent of waterless printers in Japan have fewer than 20 employees, and many are using DI presses. Whilst the need for water conservation is not so obvious in Japan due to its rainy climate, advantages of waterless printing sought by its printers include higher resolution capability, increased productivity, ease of registration on perfecting presses, elimination of alcohol and, when combined with CTP, ease of colour matching and reduced ink consumption.
Annual Water usage per shift
|8-unit heatset web (metre-wide)||90,000-100,000|
|4-unit heatset web (2 metre wide)||130,000-150,000|
According to these figures, a mid-size printer with two 40” presses and one 28” press running three shifts, printing conventionally, would use between 102,000 and 120,000 litres of water per year.
With acknowledgements to Norm Fizell, JL Lennard
Waterless on leading edge of environmental trends
Global environmental trends continue to support the strong environmental position of waterless printing, especially among corporate print buyers.
This is born out by the experience of Fishprint's Peter Booth and other waterless printers in Australia, who report that print buyers are increasingly taking account of their printer's environmental credentials.
According to a study undertaken by New York-based research firm, Nima Hunter, a significant number of the world's largest companies are finding that commitment to "beyond compliance" environmental responsibility and sustainability can yield increased customer loyalty as well as increased profitability.
To foster that sustainability, which is defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development as "Development that meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations
to meet their own needs," those companies are specifying environmentally preferable procurement.
DuPont, Ford, Home Depot, Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Sony, Toyota, Unilever and Xerox are reportedly among those enlightened companies.
Several of the companies mentioned are already specifying waterless printing for their printed products.
In the United States, and increasingly in Australia, marketing the environmental soundness of waterless printing has resulted in increased business and has opened doors to new markets.
Waterless Printing Association
European Waterless Printing Association