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Soy ink is a special kind of ink produced from the byproduct of soybean farming, making it a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based inks. 

How to make soy ink?

The same soybeans used to make tofu and soy milk are used to create soy ink, but you definitely wouldn’t want to eat it. The beans go through a process that makes them bad for eating but excellent for printing:

  1. The soybeans are first cleaned then cut into flakes and processed into oil
  2. This oil is then refined, cooked and carefully blended with pigments, resins and waxes (these are the inedible parts of the ink).

    The exact mix of oil with other ingredients can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but it's reported that printers who have switched to soy ink need to use less toxic solvents and see reduced volatile organic compound (VOC) levels.

    Arial shot of a farm

    The history of soy ink

    During the oil crisis of the 1970s, The Newspaper Association of America reacted by seeking a non-petroleum-based alternative to standard inks. New research into vegetable-based oils eventually led them to create a brand new form of ink made from soybeans.

    In 1987, this cost-effective ink was finally put into practice by a newspaper in Iowa called The Gazette. Soy ink soon rose to fashion throughout the newspaper industry and is  now used in over 90% of the US's newspapers.

    The demand for soy ink has since expanded to magazines, packaging and many other types of printing. It’s a veritable staple for commercial printers as well as manufacturers of maps.

    Advantages of using soy ink

    Soy ink has several noticeable benefits, both in its impact on the environment and the printing quality.

    1. Excellent clarity – Soy inks have a tendency to produce brighter and sharper images than regular inks. This is because soybean oil is naturally more transparent than petroleum-based ink. With soy ink, you can give your logo a vibrant look that’s just not possible otherwise.
    2. Cost-effective – The price of soy ink is comparable to petroleum-based ink. But, since printing with soy-based ink produces especially high-intensity colours, it often requires less ink than conventional printing and is more cost effective.
    3. Low VOC levels – Using soy-based ink is excellent for the environment when compared to other inks. It’s particularly notable for its low levels of VOCs, less than one-fifth of the amount produced by petroleum-based inks. VOC’s are pollutants, which evaporate in sunlight and are unhealthy for both the environment and human beings. Using soy ink ultimately produces less air pollution and health hazards.
    4. Highly recyclable – When recycling paper, any printed ink has to be removed first. According to relatively new research from Western Michigan University, paper printed with soy-based ink has a faster rate of dirt removal during the de-inking process, which makes it easier to recycle. Additionally, soy ink is more than four times more biodegradable than standard ink, so even paper that isn’t recycled with have less environmental impact.
    5. Sustainability – Naturally, soy ink is made from soybeans, a renewable resource. What’s more, it’s actually made from a byproduct of soybean farming. This means that no new crops need to be harvested to create soy-based ink. Also, soybeans require very little irrigation and only a small amount of energy to cultivate.

    Uses of soy ink

    Soy ink is used extensively in the newspaper and magazine industries. Also, because of its green credentials and excellent clarity, we use it to print all our stone paper notebooks and journals