Discover Great Printing

Ami Voeltz
Do It Green! Minnesota

We are all aware of the importance and power of the printed piece. We also know the power we have to make a huge impact on reducing the number of trees being cut down and lowering the amount of toxins in our waters. Energy and materials involved in the printing process, from pre-press to disposal, have implications for air and water quality, waste disposal, energy use and worker safety.

We can make the best environmental decisions by becoming and staying informed and communicating requests with the paper supplier and printer. Ask your printer to keep you informed about the latest in environmentally sound alternatives. Digital production options, recycled ink, and chlorine-free and tree-free papers are all alternatives that are available now. Many of these options will even save you money.


Plan, Define and Design

The key to effective, environmentally sensitive printing jobs is addressing issues in the design stage. Challenge assumptions about how a publication is "supposed" to look. Keep an open mind to the many possibilities that can effectively get your message to the intended audience and allow for creative, innovative approaches throughout the design and production process. You may find that limiting paper, ink or production choices because of environmental concerns gives rise to a new range of ideas that will succeed as efficiently. (See: BUSINESS: Desktop Publishing).

From Printing Choices and the Environment, Great Printers Project publication


  • Take into account the 4 R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle and renew.


  • What is the real purpose of the piece?
  • What is the lifecycle of the piece? What is the expected life-span? How durable does it have to be? What will happen to it when its intended use is over?
  • What kind of renewable or recyclable resources can I use to reduce the environmental impact?


  • Start with a good idea: Use creativity to overcome excessive use of resources.
  • Choose a medium, format and scale: Think small and avoid excess materials.
  • Determine actual size: Work with your printer to work backwards from stock press sheets to determine the most efficient configuration and dimensions.
  • Use resources wisely: Limit ink coverage, gang projects together, use both sides of the paper.
  • Maximize functionality: Combine separate functions and expand or extend the function through reuse.
  • Avoid extras: Extras such as die cuts should be added only if they will greatly extend functionality or effectiveness.
  • In the office: Proof on-screen, use e-mail, use recycled or reused materials and conserve energy.
  • Client presentation: If possible, present your ideas on the computer screen. Avoid using spray mount as an adhesive and use recyclable display boards.

Great Printers

The Great Printers Project was established in 1992 and is a cooperative partnership with representatives from all areas of the printing industry. There are over 50 registered Great Printers in Minnesota that are committed to operating in compliance with environmental, health and safety requirements. They pledge to improve employee health and safety in its facilities, and to work with vendors and customers to reduce toxicity in the printing industry.

The Great Printers Project encourages printers and print buyers to incorporate good environmental practices and help reduce the overall impact printed materials have on our environment. For a list of the current Great Printers see:

A well-conceived plan minimizes waste, delays and added costs. Work with your printer on:

  • Format: Talk to your printer about producing the piece to accommodate the sheet size, either by ganging jobs together or re-sizing a job slightly to fit the sheet size.
  • Proofing: Use proofing methods that utilize the least amount of paper, film and hazardous chemicals.
  • Printing process: Inquire about availability of these options at the print shop:
    • Dryography (waterless)
    • Computer-to-plate (CTP)
    • Direct imaging (DI)
    • Vegetable-based, low VOC press washes
    • Take time to double check your work. Write up clear production specifications and instructions. Errors and misunderstandings can create waste.


Every time we purchase paper with post-consumer recycled content, we are assuring the success of paper recycling by closing the recycling loop. Printers and buyers can go a step further and use papers made with little or no chlorine. When paper-manufacturing plants use chlorine to whiten paper, dioxins are formed which have been linked to cancer. As a result of these potential risks, a number of paper plants are switching to chlorine-free technologies. Tree-free fibers are an alternative paper that is becoming more available. Kenaf, cotton, and industrial hemp are all examples of tree-free fibers.

When choosing a paper, you will want to consider the following areas:

  • Recycled content: Highest % of post-consumer or total recycled content is best.
  • Tree-free content: For virgin papers, tree-free is the most environmental choice.
  • Whitening: TCF is best; PCF, ECF or Non-deinked are other options (see definitions below).
  • Basis Weight: Choosing the lightest possible paper for your job will use less paper, and therefore fewer trees and/or other resources.
  • Coated: Uncoated is best, One-side coated and Coated are other options.


Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) is paper produced without chlorine or any chlorinated bleaching compound. Oxygen, hydrogen peroxide, or other environmentally friendly bleaching agents are substituted.

Elementally Chlorine Free (ECF) is paper produced without any "elemental" chlorine – i.e., pure chlorine gas. However, chlorine dioxide or other chlorinated compounds are still used. ECF manufacture does reduce the quantity of dioxin and other toxins produced, but is not as environmentally friendly as TCF manufactured paper.

Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) means there are no added chlorine-base agents, but that recycled material may have been originally bleached with chlorine derivates.

Coatings & Varnishes

Before using a coating or varnish, ask yourself whether it is really necessary and how will it affect the life cycle of the piece – any coating will make recycling impossible or more difficult, in varying degrees.

Press-applied varnishes: Specify vegetable-based rather than petroleum-based. Large volumes of varnish may be problematic in the recycling process.

Aqueous coatings: Though water-based, aqueous coatings are made of thermoplastic resin polymers and other compounds that bond to the paper, resulting in a hard, protective surface that is sometimes difficult to remove during recycling. Press cleanup requires no toxic chemicals.

Ultraviolet varnish: Avoid UV varnish because it is a petroleum-based synthetic and makes waste paper virtually non-recyclable, is energy intensive, requires chemicals for cleanup and is a potential safety hazard due to the UV light rays.


Soy Inks are preferable to petroleum-based inks. In soy ink, a portion of the petroleum oil has been replaced by vegetable oil. However, soy inks may still contain heavy metals. There are soy inks available without heavy metals. When specifying ink, either try to avoid these inks or ask your ink supplier to mix a special ink to match the color you want by using substitute pigments that contain no heavy metals.

Bindings & Adhesives

Pasted bindings: When possible, specify pasted binding. Ask your printer about the availability of water-based or vegetable-based, non-toxic and/or require no special processing during recycling.

Saddle stitching: When saddle stitching is a must, consider specifying one instead of two staples. Keep in mind, anything made from metals must be mined and processed, and so should be used sparingly.

Binder glues: Many commercial glues, though generally petro-chemical based, are frequently water-soluble and somewhat recyclable. Avoid non-soluble solvent-based glues, vinyl acetates and hot-melt glues.

Label adhesives: Specify label stock with a coating of gum arabic on the back instead of crack-and-peel pressure-sensitive adhesives which hinder recycling and use a non-recyclable silicone-coated liner sheet.


Nearly 3.7 million tons of copy paper are used annually in the United States alone – that’s over 700 trillion sheets! Inform, Inc. estimated that by increasing double-sided copying – duplexing or duplex copying – to the extent feasible, U.S. offices could reduce paper annual paper use by 20%. Approximately two-thirds of all copy machines are duplex-capable. High speed copiers usually can duplex automatically. Smaller units may require manual feeding. Develop a personal or organizational policy to ensure copying on both sides of the page. Ask copy shop employees to show you how to duplex copy on their self-serve machines, request duplex-copying when you send out a job and post signs near copiers reminding employees or yourself to copy on both sides.

Consider the type of paper you use in your printer, photocopier and fax machine. Some offices go through thousands of sheets of paper each day that are made of virgin content. Think of each copy as one slice into the side of a tree. Thousands of copies will have a few trees cut down within hours. Some smaller organizations in the Twin Cities could organize a quarterly consolidated paper order from a "green" company to get a good price on eco-paper. Check with the St. Paul Neighborhood Energy Consortium, who has done this in the past.

‘Bad copies’ contribute to tons of paper waste every year. To avoid making bad copies and other copy machine tips:

  • Read the manual for the copy machine you are using or ask someone who knows the machine(s) well before getting started. Understand the features instead of guessing.
  • Always make a test copy first to avoid 50 ‘bad copies’ because the original wasn’t straight.
  • Bring your own recycled paper to a copy shop to make internal copies.
  • Ask for 100% recycled paper to make official copies. Most copy shops stock paper that is contains only 30% recycled content.
  • Use the reduction key to fit larger pages onto a standard 8.5 x 11 page, such as copying two pages of a book or periodical.

Laser Printers

Laser printers are capable of 12 or more pages per minute, a unit for automatic duplexing is typically an option. Find out if your printers have a duplexing unit installed. Also be sure to stock your printer with the highest possible % of recycled content and/or use the backsides of paper in your printer. If your printer doesn’t offer duplexing, consider upgrading your printer. This adds $350-500 to the base price. Based solely on cost savings from reduced paper use, the payback period would come after printing 200,000 sides. For short documents, or printers without an automatic duplexing option, the manual feed tray (multipurpose tray) can be used to print on both sides of the paper. Find out if the blank side of the paper is supposed to be up or down.

Ink Jet Printers
Ink jet printers do not have automatic duplexing capability. Double-sided printing can be done manually, but the ink on the printed side needs to dry – at least a few minutes.

Fax Machines
Single-sided paper can be used in plain-paper fax machines because only one "clean" side is needed.

Read Up
Act Locally

Web Resources

Printing Industry of Minnesota: Great Printers List


Print Resources

The Complete Guide to Eco-Friendly Design, Poppy Evans, 1997

The Graphic Designer’s Greenbook, Anne Chick, 1992



Minnesota Environmental Initiative
219 N. 2nd St.
Minneapolis, MN 612-334-3388

Environmentally Responsible Initiative Committee (AIGA-MN)
275 Market St.
Minneapolis, MN 612-339-6904


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