Ink testing compliance for pad printing and digital printing is an important part of ensuring that inks properly adhere to the substrate on which they are printed. Here’s what you should know about ink testing compliance for digital printing inks.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Joe Shairs, ink manager and compliance officer at Inkcups, a leading supplier and manufacturer of industrial printing equipment, digital and pad printing equipment and accessories. Today we’re talking about ink testing compliance. Welcome, Joe.
Joe Shairs: Thanks, John. Thanks for having me.
John: Sure. Joe, what are the different compliance testing protocols and why are they important?
Joe: Okay. So to understand the different testing protocols, you need to have a little bit of history here with what was going on in the United States and some of the materials that were being imported overseas. So back in 2008, George Bush enacted through Congress what they call the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. We know it as CPSIA. And what that’s intended to do is there was a huge issue prior to that of children’s items, children under 12, that some of those items were containing lead.
John: Right. I remember that.
Joe: Yeah. And without holding any country’s feet to the fire, that was basically coming in from China. So there was no way to control that, and it got to the point where there were even giveaway toys that all had contaminated lead ink. And what we know from children, the first thing they want to do is put things in their mouth.
In order to stave that off, it became mandatory that any promotional product companies producing toys for kids 12 and under needed to have a testing protocol. Then that testing protocol dictates to that promotional product company that anything that you’re decorating, any plastics that are decorated with ink, all have to go through a third-party lab testing.
So what that testing involves, is testing for contaminants of lead, mercury, and anything hazardous to children under 12. So that’s where I came in. I started doing this about 10 years ago, just as that started to come in the forefront. So as an ink manager, I’m responsible for taking all of our different shades of ink, sending them all to a third-party lab, every color, every shade, once a year to have them tested for a variety of different ingredients that should not be in your materials.
Not only do I have to do that, but all of our vendors and all of our customers who are bringing product in from overseas, the actual product, whether it be made from polypropylene or polyethylene, all of those materials also have to go through the same testing so we can all be sure that when you’re decorating and selling these items off to the general public for kids, that everything’s going to be safe.
John: So the product itself that you’re printing on, that also gets tested to make sure that that doesn’t have any hazardous materials in it. And then the ink that’s going on that product that’s tested as well?
Joe: Absolutely. That’s correct.
Joe: It’s a big undertaking. Right around January is when we start to get some of these test reports basically expiring because they’re good for one year. It’s a little bit easier for us because our formulations in chemistry don’t change from year to year. So I’m very comfortable with the fact that if we pass one year, we can certainly pass the next year and the next year. It’s just having the man hours to do all that labor.
John: You still have to do the testing. Even though it’s going to pass, you still have to get it certified.
Joe: Absolutely, every year. And so what we do here internally is, once that testing is complete, we’re as transparent as we can be with our customers. So we put up all of that testing on our website, which quite honestly, not a lot of other manufacturers like us will do that. You really have to hunt for those.
It’s almost like they hold it over your head like a carrot to get your business. We prefer to be as transparent and really proud of the fact that we’re testing every color and every ink line, and we show everybody that we’re going to be nice and green, for lack of a better term.
John: Right. So what is it that you’re looking for when you go through these ink testing compliance protocols? You mentioned lead, and what other types of things are there?
Joe: Yeah, so it initially started with an issue with lead. That morphed into a whole host of other things that the U.S. government finally realized that is not good for children under 12 to handle or, again, to put in their mouth.
So it ended up being lead. It ended up being mercury. It ended up being phthalates, selenium. The list is pretty extensive. Barium, chromium, cadmium, these are all designated by the U.S. government as hazardous to kids under 12. It’s quite honestly hazardous to anybody.
So if you’ve got an ink manufacturer, having these ingredients in your ink, you shouldn’t be decorating children’s toys for sure. So those are some of the things that they look for. And quite honestly, the labs that we work with, and I work with a variety of them, I could list off at least four off the top of my head that we work with, they all have these packages installed.
So it’s basically a North American test package, because not only does the federal government mandate this, but there are certain state regulations. Illinois has got different regulations than Maine, than Oregon, than Washington state. They all have their own various regulations. So the North American test package covers all those other States also, which is nice. It’s not an easy endeavor. It’s not cheap. But when all is said and done, we can sleep at night knowing that we did the right thing.
John: Right. So you’re sending it out to a third-party lab, you said. How do they test the inks?
Joe: Yeah. Okay. So that’s a good point. One of the things that you don’t want to have happen here is you don’t want to have cross contamination, so there’s a whole host of considerations that you need to have just to even sample out to the third-party lab.
So what we do here is, we do not put any of our inks out to a third-party lab in any plastic material whatsoever. So the best thing that we can do to get a decent result without having a false positive is I insist that all of our samples go out in a glass jar that has been wiped down with alcohol prior. So we dole out a 50 gram sample of each color to our lab, and we give our lab an item list including every color of every internal number.
From there, what they do is what they call a composite test. So if I give them 20 different samples, they will take that and they will take three colors and mix them together, then do the test. They’re trying to keep our costs down a little bit. From there, if all the tests come back negative, they issue a report back saying that you passed. If those tests results in a composite test come back higher than what is expected, they’ll break that down into individual units, by individual color.
John: Right. So if you’ve mixed three colors together and that comes back positive, now you have to test each one of those three individual colors by itself to see which one is the cause.
Joe: Correct. So you may have an instance where you have a high level of Barium, for instance, because you’re using a certain color. If you take that away from the other two colors, then you’re within the limits. I’ve seen it happen and once or twice. Composite testing between different colors may yield a higher result.
John: A higher result, okay. And then that would be okay in that case?
John: Because the individual color by itself passes.
Joe: Correct. What we could do, quite honestly, is we could just have the lab test each individual color. However, the expense of that far outweighs the cost.
John: Right. If you have 12 colors and you’re doing 12 different tests, but you can just do four tests with three, then that makes a big difference in terms of the costs.
Joe: It makes a big difference, absolutely, yes. It’s not often that we have to split up each individual color, but every once in a while. For instance, I know that the greens and blues together may cause issues.
John: Okay, interesting.
Joe: Yeah. And the lab is a third-party lab, so they have no stake in the game whatsoever, so they don’t know. They’re just giving you the results.
John: So what type of compliance should I expect from an ink supplier? If I’m looking for an ink supplier and I want to make sure that I’m being as compliant as I can be, what types of tests am I looking for?
Joe: That’s a good question. So if you’re looking for an ink supplier, they should have a protocol in place every year, just like Inkcups. Not to say that every ink line is going to be tested, because I know that there are other companies out there that would have 30 or 40 or 50 different ink lines.
What you should be looking out for is the ink lines that you’re going to be using in your products to be tested once a year and you should have those test reports on hand, just in case you get an audit or just in case you have somebody doing a secondary task and they come up with a different result.
So basically, that report is your Bible. Every ink manufacturer should have it if they’re decorating or selling ink to a promotional company that is decorating for kids 12 and under. And quite honestly, how that’s determined in the industry is twofold. It’s the product itself and the graphic on the product.
So if I’m decorating with Sesame Street characters on a water bottle, that’s deemed a children’s toy. If I take that same water bottle and put the Pittsburgh Steelers logo on it, that is no longer a children’s item. That’s an item for an adult, and that no longer falls within that protocol.
John: So there are stricter protocols for children’s products versus adult products?
Joe: Absolutely. There’s actually even strict protocol for other items, like for instance, textiles that get into infant wear, which is a whole other conversation. Any infant three months or under, they have a different threshold where their system can’t adjust to any contamination. So those threshold limits are much lower, sometimes zero.
John: Right. Can you give me a quick list of the testing methods that I should be looking for that my ink supplier should be doing?
Joe: So the testing method, the one testing method that every ink supplier should have is CPSIA, or what we call CPSIA. That’s without question. That will get you 99% there. There are other testing methods that you could do, especially when it comes to drinkware and textiles, as I mentioned. There’s a whole host of other protocols there, but if you can have your ink manufacturer test to the CPSIA protocol, you’ve done your due diligence.
John: All right. Well, that’s really great information, Joe. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Joe: Great. Thank you, John.
John: And for more information about Inkcups and Inkcups printing equipment, visit the website at inkcups.com or call (978) 646-8980.Back to Blog Home