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Oct 30, 2013
Verdigris Blog: Chemical Attractions
medium_laurel3.jpg The weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

One of the best television programmes around is a surprising and pretty shocking US offering, Breaking Bad. In one of the programme’s opening scenes the protagonist, a disappointed and downtrodden chemistry teacher, asks his students what chemistry is all about. The answer he gets is, rather obviously, “chemicals”. “No,” he shoots back, “chemistry is about change”. For the graphic arts industry, which has depended on chemicals for much of its history, this is absolutely spot on but not for the obvious reasons.

Chemicals have been vital for the evolution of print. Among other things chemistry is necessary to change states on a printing plate, removing the bits that aren’t required for inking and making sure that plates stay the distance on press. Chemistry is required in fountain solutions, inks, toners, cleaning fluids and so on, either effecting change through interactions or making sure that no change occurs. Chemistry is fundamental to the printing industry, and over the years the use of chemicals has been increasingly tightly regulated in all developed markets. And regulations proliferate as technologies spread to new sectors and geographies. Chemists are hired to ensure that their employers comply with all relevant regulations and that companies can sell their consumables cost effectively, ideally without risking expensive litigations or killing anyone.

This is all well and good, except that there seems to be not a lot of cohesion in the rules governing chemical use in worldwide markets. Rules relating to their use and application, safety disclosures, handling, transportation, storage, combinations and disposal are all extremely complex and often inconsistent across trading borders. For instance in some parts of the world there are controls on chemical use in food packaging such as food contact issues and ink migration restrictions. But the rules are far from being fully harmonised.

In some markets there are also initiatives and rules for protecting the interests of downstream users of chemicals and to control specific groups of chemicals, such as biocides (disinfectants) the use of which is controlled for inks and fount solutions. Once again the rules are by no means universal. It’s a complete tangle and one which chemical companies such as Agfa and Kodak have to navigate with extreme caution. Global organisations such as these employ teams of people in order to ensure regulatory compliance wherever they do business.

Compliance increasingly requires a full blown document management system and a barrage of expensive lawyers. Manufacturers, especially of presses, platesetters, prepress consumables, inks and toners, and pressroom chemicals must bear the heavy burden of compliance and the associated expense. Those expenses inevitably end up in the customers’ laps, however the costs in some ways reflect the improving accountability of print. This industry is increasingly tightly regulated and accountable, which might perhaps be an added dimension to measures of its environmental impact.

– Laurel Brunner

Verdigris supporters who make the blog possible: Agfa Graphics (, Digital Dots (, drupa (, EFI (, EcoPrint (, Fespa (, Heidelberg (, HP (, Kodak (, Pragati Offset (, Ricoh (, Unity Publishing ( and Xeikon (
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