Weighing the Benefits of Soy-Based Ink vs. the Disadvantages of Soy Ink

The Benefits of Soy Based Ink

800px-U.S. gas rationing stamps 1974

During the late 1980s, the known benefits of soy-based ink were centered mostly on its sustainability attribute. Agricultural land dedicated to soy bean production was abundant, while the crop itself was easily renewable at very minimal costs.

Back then, the main issue to deal with was the oil crisis, including its volatile prices and the shortage of its supply. The seriousness of the problem prodded the leaders of the newspaper publishing industry to seek suitable alternatives to petroleum-based ink. Hence, they directed a team of technical researchers to conduct studies and to explore all possible sources and substances that would bring stability to their printing ink. This is how soy-based ink came to be.

Image Credit: U.S. gas rationing stamps 1974 by Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine for Wikimedia Commons

The Technical Advantages of Soy-Based Ink

448px-Web-fed offset press printing newspapers

Natural soybean oil was established as the best replacement to petroleum oil because of the following technical superiorities:

1. Soy ink used in lithographic printing processes has the ability to remain stable throughout the entire printing cycle. Thus, the press operator performs fewer adjustments, which enables him to attend more closely to the process, thus reducing the number of rejected copies.

2. Soybean oil allows the pigments to reach full vibrancy of colors in order to deliver high-quality print outcomes. This ability likewise entails additional cost-efficiency because of the reduced demand for ink application.

3. Printers have experienced more ease in changing dark colors to lighter colors, compared to the difficulty level posed by petroleum-based ink.

4. Another benefit of soy-based ink is its low-rub-off resistance as opposed to the prints produced by petroleum-based ink.

5. The de-inking of soy-based ink for purposes of pulp recovery results in less stress and damage to the paper fiber.

6. Wastes from soy-based ink could be reduced by recycling black ink with unused color inks, which also results in cost-efficiency.

7. The use of soy-based ink in industrial laser printers poses less detriment to the machine, since soy-ink responds rapidly to laser heat. That way, faster ink-absorption takes place on the paper, which results in a less likely chance of build-up on the machine’s plate.

8. The flow of soy ink adheres well to recycled paper with lesser tendency to concentrate or pick out on fibers.

Image Credit: Web-fed offset press printing newspapers by Tom T for Wikimedia Commons

The Environmental Benefits of Soy-Based Ink

800px-2005 sources of vocs

In later years, the environmental benefits of soy-based ink came into focus as studies about volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions were recognized as the number one cause of ozone layer depletion.

By 1994, the main sources of VOC emissions were established, which included commercial printing among the major sources. Thus, the federal government through the EPA heightened the campaigns against the use of VOCs for manufacturing by imposing regulatory compliance. This included the endorsement of vegetable oils to replace petroleum as a component of printing-ink formulations.

  • Plants also contribute to chemical emissions in the atmosphere, which are called Biogenic Volatile Organic Compounds (BVOC). The benefit derived from soy ink is relative to soybeans’ characteristic of having the least amount of BVOC emissions.
  • Propagation of soybeans requires 0.5 energy of the total energy used by soybean agriculture and less energy used means fewer carbon emissions.
  • Workplace safety is improved since less of the petroleum substance but more of soybean oil is being handled during the manufacturing processes. Less petroleum denotes fewer chemical fumes in the indoor air, not only for the workers of the soy ink manufacturer but also for those of the commercial printing houses.
  • The industrial wastes generated by soy ink residues require minimal treatment, because they are regarded as less hazardous. Sludge and spent washes generated by the manufacturing processes contain fewer groundwater contaminants than the petroleum-laced wastes.

Image Credit: 2005 sources of VOCs courtesy of EPA

Disadvantages of Soy Ink

800px-Bradford Industrial Museum 057

Despite its many benefits, soybean oil as a component of soy-based ink also presents drawbacks to both manufacturers and end-users.

1) The most prominent disadvantage of soy ink is its slow and poor drying ability. The longer it takes for the ink print to dry, the likelier the chances of setting off unsightly markings and creating rub-off resistance.

2) The higher costs of soy-based ink for black ink is said to be 25% more than the costs of petroleum-based ink, inasmuch as blank ink requires 80 percent of the formulation while the remaining 20 percent represents the pigment. The colored soy-ink is regarded as competitively priced because its formulations are more pigment-based rather than oil-based.

Image Credit: Bradford Industrial Museum by Linda Spashett for Wikimedia commons


3) Soy-based ink for desktop printers is still unavailable due to the complexities involved in the use of bio-based or renewable materials for manufacturing soy-based ink. Due to the high-demand for quality and performance in desktop printers, manufacturers cannot just randomly assume the requirements of soy-based ink to ensure quality output for home and office printing.

4) According to the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM), the overall manufacturing processes of soy ink for commercial printing includes the initial stages — from the soy crops’ planting techniques, fertilizer requirements and harvesting methods. This is followed by the stages of refinement, which include careful considerations for emissions, water discharges, amount of energy required and the potential by-products.

Commercial printers themselves make use of “capture and control” measures as additional assurance in minimizing VOC emissions during the printing process. The same cannot be said for printing jobs performed during home and office printing procedures; hence this entails another aspect of considerations for manufacturers of soy-based ink for personal or business printers.

Image Credit: Trommeldruckwerk by Elektroschrottsammler for Wikimedia Commons


Weighing the pros and cons of soy-based ink appears easy, since there are more benefits than disadvantages of soy ink listed. The general consensus is that the benefits of soy-based ink rest mainly in its technical superiority and agreeability with environmental policies, as far as commercial printing is concerned. One of its disadvantages, however, is that the complexity of ink production using soybean oil requires further and greater evaluation in order to meet the requirements and demand for quality by home and office printers.


  • PNEAC.org : Printers' National Environmental Assistance Center–Fact Sheet: Printing Ink lifted from https://www.pneac.org/sheets/litho/inks.cfm
  • NAPIM.org : National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers Formulating to Minimize Environmental Impacts lifted from https://www.napim.org/PublicArea/Printers/Enviro.aspx