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Tagless PrintingFebruary 11, 2020

Sustainability In The Printing Industry (PODCAST)

Tagless Printing
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Matthew Yates of Inkcups discusses sustainability in the printing industry, specifically the waste inherent in heat transfer printing for tagless apparel. Matthew explains just how much waste is generated by heat transfer, and how much power is consumed, and compares that to the much more eco-friendly and sustainable pad printing options.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher and I’m here today with Matthew Yates, Global Tagless Director at Inkcups, a leading supplier and manufacturer of industrial inkjet printing equipment, pad printing equipment, inks and accessories. Today, we’re talking about sustainability in the printing industry. Welcome, Matt.

Matthew Yates: Hey, John. Thanks for having me.

John: Sure. So, Matt, why is sustainability important in the printing industry?

Matthew: John, that’s a good question. With the renewed interest in the global environment, sustainability has become the new hit word, I guess, for lack of a better term. But obviously, sustainability, we need it to ensure the future generations have a viable planet to live and prosper on, because consumption of natural resources can threaten our civilization, animals, the planet in general. So the only sustainable system right now for it as far as Tagless goes, is pad printing, which will preserve biodiversity and productivity every time as well.

John: Talk a little bit about why that is. Why is it that pad printing is better for the environment?

Matthew: Basically, when you come to Tagless, what Inkcups offers is a turnkey solution. You have two choices, basically. You have pad printing and you have heat transfers. Pad printing involves direct printing of eco-friendly inks directly to almost any substrate. In this instance, it would be apparel because we’re talking about the tags or the labeling in the neck of a shirt or underwear or pants or what you have. So heat transfer involves transferring printed images via paper or plastic to any substrate, which involves a heat process and a machine. It’s a lot more complicated and wasteful.

The Difference Between Pad Printing and Heat Transfer Labels

John: So talk a little bit about the differences between heat transfer and pad printing. With heat transfer, are you printing ink onto another material, like a paper or plastic and then it’s getting transferred from that material onto, in this case, the fabric. Whereas the pad printing is just going direct, putting the ink right on the fabric.

Matthew: Correct. With the heat transfer, it obviously involves an image. An ink image is transferred to paper or plastic. There are other chemicals added and then you use heat to transfer that to, like I said, a T-shirt or underwear or pants. Whereas with the pad printing, you’re using basically three parts. You have your ink and you have a silicone pad and you have a cliché, which is an aluminum plate, basically. Basically, the ink is transferred to the cliché, the silicone pad picks it up and hits the substrate. In this instance, again, underwear or T-shirts, very simple process, very fast.

John: What would be the impact on the environment with, say, heat transfer? Is it mainly that that paper or plastic that you’re printing on is then thrown away or is it because of the heat that’s being used – you’re generating the heat through some means, whether it’s electricity or things like that? What are the impacts for the environment?

Matthew: With pad printing, there’s basically zero impact. Then with heat transfer, it involves a ton of unnecessary paper and/or plastic waste, extra energy, labor. With heat transfers, you’re unable to recycle the paper because there’s an added chemical applied to it to assist in releasing during the process. So there’s a lot of waste and I could give you an example of a typical run of waste, heat transfers versus pad printing.

John: Yeah, why don’t you do that just so that we get an idea of how much waste really is produced by heat transfers instead of pad printing.

Matthew: We work with almost, if not every, major brand throughout the world, not just the US. One of our major brands did a study of heat transfers as they were considering switching to pad printing, which they did do. This was based on a relatively small run, 24 million units. What they found is that just the paper waste alone, there’s 29,000 kilograms of paper that has to be produced just to run that 24 million unit order. Then that produces 35 times the greenhouse gases, used 10,000 gallons of water and 360 trees would have to be cut down, an average size tree, to produce that type of paper.

Matthew: If they were using plastic, you’re looking at 26,000 kilograms of plastic that would need to be used, which would produce 68 tons of greenhouse gas being released and 470 barrels of oil would be consumed. This same example, changing from heat transfer labels to pad printing, all the above waste we just discussed with you would be eliminated. Then you’d have additional savings of energy consumption, which would be approximately 28,000 kilowatts saved, just switching from heat transfer to pad printing, due to the pad printing machine being higher efficiency, needing less of the machines. So it’s just a much better, much cleaner process than, say, heat transfer labels.

John: So the pad printing machines use up less electricity than the heat transfer machines.

Matthew: Correct. They use very little. I think it’s about .55 kilowatts is all they pull. They’re 110 volt, so you basically plug them into the wall. They’re very efficient machines.

The Pad Printing Advantage

John: Talk a little bit more about the pad printing and just its advantages over heat transfer in terms of the sustainability, and are there any reasons why somebody would not want to switch to pad printing over heat transfer? Or can pad printing do everything that heat transfer can?

Matthew: That’s a good question and we get asked that a lot, John. But in a nutshell, pad printing can do 99% of what heat transfer labels accomplish. The biggest drawback with pad printing is, a lot of times, when you have a dark substrate or a dark color, say a black or a dark blue or a red piece of apparel, a lot of times the white to your dye migration just doesn’t appear as white as a heat transfer, because a heat transfer is pressed on top of the fabric. So it just appears to be whiter. Short of that, there’s really nothing else that a pad print can’t do versus a heat transfer.

Matthew: Again, that’s on a limited scale. We actually do have a new process that mimics heat transfer now. It’s a pad printing process, so we just rolled that out over the last year. So we’re happy about that. But again, the pad printing, as far as being a preferred method for sustainability, again, you eliminate all the waste we just talked about. It’s a more efficient process. Basically, you can have one pad printing machine for every two heat transfer machines. So you’re obviously eliminating energy there. The ink is a non-toxic, eco-friendly ink, which is Eco Tech certified.

Matthew: But it’s biodegradable once it dries. It does have some solvent in it, but once that dries – say it’s on a shirt or if you have some ink that dries – it’s basically biodegradable. You could throw it in a trash can. So it’s very eco-friendly. The plates that I spoke of that have the cliches in them, the plates themselves can be recycled. So the entire process, it really is eco-friendly.

Pad Printing Sustainability Cost Savings

John: What about from a cost perspective? It seems like with all of that material going to waste and all of that extra electricity being used and things like that with heat transfer, that the pad printing would be more economical, as well.

Matthew: That’s another good question and it absolutely is. Heat transfers are going to vary, the price is going to vary depending on volume because obviously, you get a better price or good cost come-down, as the more volume you have. But say, typically, my experience has been heat transfer labels, depending how large the brand is and the volume, can be anywhere from a cent and a half to five cents per label, so that’s per every neck label, it’s going to cost you, say, two and a half cents or two cents. Pad printing, regardless of volume or how many you do, it costs .002 [dollars] per label, so 2/10 of a cent versus anywhere… So you’re basically saving two to three cents for every garment.

Matthew: That’s why, especially in mass productions for, say, large manufacturers, Gildan, Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, Walmart, they save a tremendous amount of money per garment, by switching from heat transfer to pad printing. And again, it’s a sustainable product. You control the entire process. You’re not wasting all the things we talked about. So again, I joined Inkcups about five years ago and it really is a great process. When I sell it, I genuinely mean what I say and believe in the product. It’s just a superior product.

John: All right. Well, that’s really great information about the sustainability of pad printing in the printing industry. Thanks for speaking with me, Matt.

Matthew: John, thank you for having me.

John: And for more information about Inkcups and Inkcups printing equipment, visit the website at or call 978-646-8980.

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