The printing process is a major source of environmental damage. The ink itself is not the main culprit, although it does produce some pollution. A bigger problem is the use of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are necessary to clean off the printing equipment.
Soy based inks are less damaging than inks that are based mainly on petroleum products. The problem with soy based inks is that many of them still contain some petroleum compounds, and according to the University of Michigan, volatile organic compound based solvents are still required to clean up the printing machinery.
Inks that contain a higher percentage of vegetable material than the soy based inks in the market may not require these damaging solvents. Some vegetable based inks can be cleaned up with water alone, or with water and a small amount of other cleaning agents. Tests of inks that contained only soy or only vegetable matter showed that these inks took too long to dry to be useful in printing. According to the University of Missouri, two inks that contain more vegetable material than other inks are INX Promark and Kohl and Madden Freedom, and the second ink can contain as much as 35 percent vegetable matter.
An printer who uses soy based ink receives the right to place the Soyseal logo on magazines, newspapers, and brochures. According to Harvard University, the ink must contain more than 20 percent soybean material before the American Soybean Association grants this right to the printer.
The use of vegetable based ink is important so that a printer or ink manufacturer can avoid federal penalties. The original reason that the Deluxe Corporation created its new vegetable ink was because of Clean Air Act regulations. The solvents that this check printing company used to clean off its lithographic plates led federal regulators to classify the company as a major emitter of volatile organic compounds.