Examining the options out there, Amerine argues the answer is not eco-solvents. Despite their name and reputation, he says, eco-solvents contain VOCs and hazardous pollutants. Their advantage is decreased odor that makes them easier to deal with for small shops. A small printer may be housed in a strip center next to a nail salon and a restaurant, making the odor of solvent printing unacceptable. “If they’re running a strong solvent, you’re going to smell it as soon as you walk in the door,” he says.
At FujiFilm Sericol, he and his colleagues are strong proponents of UV curable printing. Because UV curable inks are 100 percent solid, ink stays on the film and doesn’t evaporate into the air, and it cures through a chemical reaction resulting from exposure to UV light. The problem, he admits, is cost. Most UV systems run $75,000 to $100,000 on the low end, a major step up in expense from the $15,000 to $20,000 Amerine estimates many small print shops spend on each of their printers.
That’s why it’s essential to examine not just the cost of the UV curable machines, but cost per square foot to print. “UV curable printers may be more expensive, but the yields on UV ink tend to be significantly greater,” he says. “That’s the equation we always look at: your costs per square foot.”
For Beard, the prime issue still is the current economy, and the fact cash-strapped customers of shops are not willing to pay more for products generated by more environmentally friendly technologies. “There is a driving force toward more sustainable technologies, but in this economy, it’s kind of bogged down,” he says.
What will occur down the line, Beard believes, is the industry will revert more toward a hub print-only model. Sign shops, for instance, would no longer do everything themselves, and would instead have to outsource more of their work.
He cites an automotive analogy. If you had only a Model T, gasoline were to be suddenly banned, and you couldn’t afford an electric car, you’d stop using the Model T but would be forced to give up driving. The same is true if regulations made solvent printing untenable. Print professionals, Beard says, “won’t have revenue required to justify replacing those machines with more sustainable print technologies.”