Is waterless printing the future?

Posted on 25 Oct 2018 by Maddy White

When you think of printing, you probably do not initially think of the environmental implications that the industry has. In fact, using vast quantities of water, is essential in the printing process.

Well, actually it isn’t. So, why on earth would we waste the precious resource that is water if we don’t have to?

The printing process is often called offset lithography - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The printing process is often called offset lithography – image courtesy of Seacourt.

You might be asking, why is water used anyway? The traditional and widely used printing process, often called offset lithography, uses water that often has several chemicals added to it.

These are typically detergents, wetting agents, acids, gums, and alcohols, all to make the water wetter and to stabilise interactions with the plate and ink.

After about a week of production, the chemical solution is generally disposed of as industrial wastewater.

It is also possible to scrap these harmful chemicals too, and there is obvious benefits in doing this.

There is the total amount of water that is consumed in the printing process saved, estimated to be about one gallon for every 8,000 25″ x 40″ color press sheets, according to the International Waterless Printing Association, and removing the chemicals used results in no industrial wastewater either.

A ‘win-win’ if you like.

Waterless printing technology

One company, Seacourt Ltd, has been using a different technique for over twenty years. The company, established in 1946, has amassed numerous awards even being named as Europe’s most sustainable SME in 2017 by the European Union, and the business received the Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development, not once, not twice, but three times.

The technique they use? Waterless offset printing with LED drying.

Seacourt's waterless pritner - image courtesy of Seacourt.
Seacourt’s waterless printer – image courtesy of Seacourt.

As you can probably deduce from the title, this is a waterless printing process. The business also entirely operates on renewable energy, has zero waste to landfill, has a chemical free printing process, and a net carbon impact that is negative.


“We have saved over nine million fresh litres of fresh water since 1999, and that is just in production.” Gareth Dinnage, managing director at Seacourt, tells me. “Every year the amount of recycled paper we are using is saving over five million litres of water too,” he added.

65 litres is the average amount of water used in a typical shower, according to water conservation charity, Home Water Works. This means that one million litres of water equates to roughly 15,385 – depending on how long you shower for – showers.

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The Oxford-based business has also created patented light touch printing. In traditional printing processes, ink soaks into the paper as it dries. The light tough technology uses LED-powered UV lights to instantly cure the ink. This results in pages coming off the press touch dry and residue-free.

Seacourt's waterless pritner - image courtesy of Seacourt.
MD, Gareth Dinnage (L) is pictured outside of Seacourt – image courtesy of Seacourt.

By introducing waterless printing, Dinnage explained that “pretty much overnight” the business no longer needed five hosepipes pumping water into the printing operation, and they no longer had to put “nasty” chemicals into the water either.

“When we initially adopted waterless printing, we also reduced our volatile organic compound emissions (VOC) by 98.5%, these are potent chemicals used in the printing industry.

“We have now further created our own printing process, light touch, which further removes the remaining seals and varnishes, and other additives that are needed to print. We have re-invented the printing press.”

Taking “ownership” of their entire supply chain

Now, when an order comes into Seacourt, any energy used is 100% renewably sourced, printing is done via light touch which uses no water, and no chemicals. And, the company are producing zero waste to landfill.

Dinnage explains that the factory has been carbon neutral for around 15 years. He says how they have even gone one step further, and are now “taking absolute ownership” of not only what happens in their factory, but also in their entire supply chain.

Renewable energy such as wind power suffers from intermittant generation capacity. Image courtesy of Wikipedia - Chris Lim.
Any energy used at Seacourt is 100% renewably sourced -image courtesy of Wikipedia (Chris Lim).

“We have taken ownership of the paper, this of course a critical part of our supply chain. We went to France and asked our supplier what their energy mix was for producing the recycled paper that we buy, to make sure it is sustainable.”

Taking ownership and responsibility for their entire supply chain is how businesses should operate. However, many do not.

It is great to look at a company’s sole impact but going further than this, by looking at an entire supply chain, is just the right thing to do. Of course, it is time, energy and money, but there is more at risk than losing those: the planet.

The rest of the printing industry?

“They haven’t embraced the technology.” Dinnage says. “They don’t possibly understand the significance of landfill, or there is no external pressure.

Depositphotos ink paper
Seacourt introduced the technology two decades ago – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

“We have not done this because of legislation, we have not done this because of clients’ wishes, we have done this because we understand that this is best practice.”

Waterless printing is the next logical step for the industry and realistically, what is holding back other printing companies?

Is it cost? Lack of legislative pressure? Not wanting to change their business model?

Whatever it is, it is not good enough. If Seacourt introduced this technology over two decades ago, then there is no good or valid reason as to why other printing companies have not followed suit.

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