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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: Printing Your Jobs with Less Ink

Photo purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

They say that “less is more.” This is a truism.

But in commercial printing, it actually improves both the product and the process if you can print with less ink. It saves money, in some cases actually improves the final printed product, and uses less energy for the manufacturing of the printing ink. Reducing ink consumption also saves storage space in your printing plant.

In light of this, I recently found an article on wideformatimpressions.com, written by Kristin Adams and published on 08/04/2020, in accord with Kao Collins (The Ink Tank). It’s entitled “How to Use Less Ink When Printing,” and it offers a number of suggestions for printing with less ink and also addresses some of the benefits of doing this. Moreover, it also distinguishes among the various commercial printing technologies (such as offset and digital printing) when providing these suggestions. (To these thoughts and insights I have also added my own views.)

Printing Workflow Benefits

Kristin Adams’ article begins by describing the production workflow savings of using less ink, noting two benefits:

  1. Using less ink reduces drying time. If you’re using either a sheetfed press or a web press, less ink requires a shorter drying time, whether you are using LED lamps or heat ovens to cure the ink. Less drying time means shorter exposure times for the LED light or the drying ovens, and this reduces the overall energy expense. It also extends the life of the LED curing lamps and the drying ovens.
  2. Using less ink speeds up production. You can’t print the back of a press sheet until the printing on the front is dry. Although a web offset press does print both sides at once–so both sides do have to dry, and using less ink does improve the drying time–on a sheetfed press, once you have printed the first side of a sheet, you have to wait until the entire stack of press sheets has dried before you can “back up” the sheets (i.e., print the opposite sides). Using less ink speeds up overall print production because it reduces drying time. In addition, reducing overall printing time also reduces labor costs.

Adams’ article then moves on to issues of print quality:

  1. Using less ink improves the quality of the printed product. Using too much ink on a web press, particularly a newspaper press, causes such problems as ink show-through or bleed-through (from one side of the sheet to the other) or muddy halftones and 4-color images, or even damage to the commercial printing paper. (There’s only so much ink that either uncoated paper can absorb or coated paper can hold up on the surface coating before the paper decomposes.) This limit for the ideal amount of ink is called total ink coverage or total area coverage, and using less ink minimizes the potential problems of over-inking.
  2. Using less ink improves images. For halftones (black and white or 4-color), the halftone dots that comprise the image will spread to a certain degree when printed. (This is known as “dot gain.”) It is normal, but too much ink makes dot gain worse. It can not only make the images seem heavy or muddy, but it can also change the perceived color (or even add a color cast to a neutral color composed of all four process inks, for instance). Using less ink minimizes this problem.

Environmental Benefits

“How to Use Less Ink When Printing” then goes on to mention the benefits to the environment of using less ink in the commercial printing process.

Using less ink means less energy is required to produce the ink. It also means fewer natural resources are needed for ink manufacturing, less plastic will be used for inkjet and toner cartridges (for digital printing), and less metal or plastic can be used for offset ink storage containers.

And as noted before, using less ink can reduce the required ink storage space and the associated heating and cooling costs.

How to Reduce Ink Consumption

The goal is worthy, but how do you achieve it. Kristin Adams addresses this question next in “How to Use Less Ink When Printing.”

But to begin with, Adams notes that a savings of up to 20 to 30 percent is possible. So in terms of reduced production time, improved print quality, reduced labor costs, and environmental benefits, ink usage reduction is definitely a worthwhile endeavor.

According to Adams’ article, here are some things to consider:

  1. Choose the right resolution for images and line art. If you’re printing a barcode, it has to be crystal clear to be read accurately. So use a higher resolution. On the other hand, if you are printing line art (text) and halftones, you can use a lower resolution (discuss this first with your printer). This is true for inkjet as well as offset lithography. Use only the resolution the reader’s eye will perceive. Choosing a higher resolution uses more ink.
  2. Consider both UCR (undercolor removal) and GCR (grey component replacement) in preparing and printing 4-color images. In different ways (but for the most part in shadow areas and neutral tones containing a lot of cyan, magenta, and yellow), both UCR and GCR involve using computer algorithms to reduce cyan, magenta, and yellow ink and replace them with black ink. When these changes are reflected in the resulting printing plates, the overall amount of ink used on press is reduced. One of the additional benefits of GCR is that there is greater “edge definition” (perceived edges of objects in the halftones where different values, or tones, meet).
  3. Be mindful when choosing fonts. Some fonts are heavy in appearance and therefore use up a lot of ink when compared to thinner fonts. For instance, a heavy serif face, with the extra flourish of the serifs, will use up more ink than a thinner sans serif typeface. This may at first seem to be a minimal savings, but ink usage based on these minor changes can add up throughout the course of a long book, for instance, with a long press run or on a long press run for a transpromo product (a combination bill and marketing mailer). Adams’ article does note, however, that a prudent designer will weigh ink savings with readability in choosing fonts. (For example, serif faces are easier to read in a book or other long document, so keep the reader—and the reader’s age and eyesight—in mind when attempting to save ink.)

Final Thoughts

“How to Use Less Ink When Printing” ends with some more technical information on saving ink:

  1. Make sure your printheads (for inkjet equipment) are clean. When ink dries in the printhead, it takes extra ink to clean out the clog. So the ink drying time is an important consideration, particularly with solvent inks used in large-format inkjet printing.
  2. New ink and toner cartridges are often more functional than remanufactured cartridges. If a cartridge fails, the ink still in the cartridge is wasted.
  3. Bulk ink and toner containers are apparently more efficient in using the last bit of ink and toner. (That is, if you leave a little bit of ink or toner in multiple small containers, this will add up to more waste than the little bit of ink or toner left in a single, much larger bulk container.)
  4. Choose the correct ink for the substrate on which you’re printing.
  5. Track your efforts at saving ink. You’ll see what does and doesn’t work within your own commercial printing workflow.

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