Process upgrades to green up your print

Barney Cox
Monday, June 30, 2014

As the old saying goes, small changes can make a big difference. One area this is particularly true for printers is the pressroom. Of course investing in a brand new super-duper eco-friendly press is the route many would choose, if money were no object, when improving their environmental performance.

But there are a whole raft of other smaller ancillaries that will help save the planet and your stretched purse strings more than you might expect. 

Indeed paper remains the biggest single contributor to a job’s environmental impact, and press ancillaries can go a long way to cutting both makeready waste and spoilage on the run caused by imperfect print quality or colour inconsistency. 

But according to Technotrans managing director Peter Benton, one problem is that printers often aren’t aware of their operating costs or wastage. As the adage goes, what gets measured gets managed – if you’re not measuring, you won’t be aware of the costs, or the potential savings. 

MIS vendors would argue that’s a reason to implement one of their systems. But identifying potential savings could be as simple as keeping a diary detailing the cause, cost, delay and wastage of every job.

Then it’ll be time to look for solutions and their ROI to see if a retrofit to existing kit is worthwhile or if it’s better to wait until you buy a new press. 

Benton and Matt Rockley, Heidelberg UK product manager for B1 and B2, say that a lot of features that could be retrofitted aren’t, even though they would be standard on a new machine. “An option on a new press will just go through as part of the specification, whereas with retrofits printers baulk at the price before they have a proper handle of how it will impact their costs,” says Benton.

So it could be time that your print firm checks out the options.

Colour control

Scanning densitometers and spectrophotometers do more than just help you gain ISO 12647-2 colour accreditation. Using a machine to read the control strips and automatically adjust the ink keys can seriously cut makeready waste used to get to good colour. “No self-respecting B1 printer would install a new machine without closed-loop colour control,” says M-Partners’ Gary Doman. However the percentage of firms falls dramatically as sheet size shrinks and he estimates that there are still a majority of machines, regardless of format, in the field running without. Most systems will cut a typical waste of 400-500 sheets by half compared to working manually; while more advanced systems can cut it further from hundreds of sheets to tens of sheets – 39 to be precise, claims Heidelberg, if you go for its on-press system Inpress Control. 

Upfront cost A basic third-party system such as Techkon SpectroJet or SpectroDrive, or X-Rite’s EasyTrax and IntelliTrax start at under £10,000. Press vendor-supplied systems start at around £15,000 and can cost ten times that for the most sophisticated implementations.

Payback time 18 months or quicker.

Contacts Image2Output (Techkon): 1707 282710; X-Rite: 01625 871100 or contact your press vendor

Water treatment

If paper is the food of the press then water is the drink. Water that has the wrong chemical balance and is full of bits is every bit as problematic for your press as it is for you. As such, solutions (no pun intended) that optimise water condition are the next biggest area to make savings after paper. 

Technotrans offers two water treatment technologies: an entry-level system, basic.r, which uses ion-exchange to treat the water, and the alpha.r line, which uses reverse osmosis. 

Despite the technology having been around for a quarter of a century, between 30%-50% of the market is not using water treatment, even though it’s pretty much standard on all new presses. For a B3 printer prices start from £2,000 upfront for the basic.r with replacement cartridge costs of £150 every few months. You won’t necessarily save directly on water costs with treatment but it will reduce variability on press, therefore reducing wastage through bad copy. The more expensive alpha.r line is needed for larger presses and multi-press set-ups and may also be needed in areas with especially hard or variable water. 

Upfront cost Ion exchange-based basic.r: from £2,000; reverse osmosis alpha.r: from £5,000.

Payback time Less than a year.

Contacts Technotrans 01206 224200


Straining paper fibre and calcium bits out of the dampening solution can extend its lifetime six-fold. Unchecked these bits cause hickies, and a build up of calcium on the rollers, impacting inking and colour consistency, all of which lead to waste sheets. Whereas more frequent wash-ups reduce problems at the expense of press time, filtration reduces the need for wash-ups and the need to dump the chemistry. It also reduces the bill for buying and disposal of the chemistry, which is classed as a hazardous waste. This can be installed with less than an hour’s downtime.

Upfront cost From £6,000.

Payback time 18 months (vendors typically claim a payback of within a year).

Contacts Baldwin UK: 01753 558000; Heidelberg: 0844 892 2010; Technotrans: 01206 224200

Alcohol reduction

Reducing the amount of IPA in your fount can save considerable amounts of cash, about £1 for each litre, and a lower alcohol percentage reduces the inherent losses due to evaporation. The environmental rationale is that alcohol is an ozone depleting vapour, so emitting less helps prevent additional growth in the size of the hole in the ozone layer. According to Technotrans, a third, or even more, of the cost of your press chemistry can be saved, which for a B1 printer with a six-colour press could be £12,000 per year. However, it’s only practical to reduce alcohol if you have already invested in water treatment, filtration and temperature control of your dampening and ink rollers. 

Older presses may struggle with dosing accuracy, which can limit the reduction. You may get down to 8% without any additional tools, but to get to 5% or 3% a more accurate doser such as Baldwin’s IpaSonic or Technotrans’ Alcosmart might be needed.

Upfront cost From £4,500.

Payback time Up to two years, with a likely saving of £4,000 per year.

Contacts Baldwin UK: 01753 558000; Technotrans: 01206 224200

Inking systems

If your inking system is no more sophisticated than a knife to prise the lid off a tin, it might be time to reassess. If your ink spend is greater than £20,000 then there are easy savings to be made. 

Systems range from semi-automatic cartridge dispensers suitable for everyone with a B3 press and above, all the way up to central barrel-pumped systems for firms with multiple B1 machines. 

The benefit of the 2kg cartridges over tins is that you get every last drop of ink. And, as they are sealed, there is no risk of skinning during storage, so no throwing away half-used tins. Empty cartridges are also cheaper to dispose of.

Upfront cost From £300 per unit for B3 (handy.fill); from £5,000 for B2 ad B1 per unit (ink.line); £20,000-£80,000 for centralised barrel pumping.

Payback time:12-18 months.

Contacts Technotrans 01206 224200

Programmed inking and de-inking

One feature available from the major manufacturers, of which Komori has led for several years, is programmed inking and de-inking. A bit of retraining in the best way to use the software might be all you need to unlock a tool that’s built into your press. Although for some it might involve an expensive upgrade to the console that won’t deliver ROI in the useful life of the press.

Check with your press vendor if your presses have the capability, or can be upgraded to have it, and if so for how much. 

Upfront cost Very dependent on individual machine and vendor.

Contacts Press vendors

Water cooling

Water is a much more effective medium for removing heat than air. In the summer it reduces the need for air-conditioning, while in the winter what was previously waste heat can be used for heating the rest of the site. A cooler pressroom is also a prerequisite for humidification to improve paper handling. 

Water cooling isn’t really practical as a retrofit on its own. It is likely to be deployed when a new press is being installed when it may prove cost-effective to fit to existing equipment at the same time. As with many of these ancillaries, once water-cooling is in, it can be transferred to a new press.

Upfront cost From £15,000, typically £50,000.

Payback time Two years.

Contacts Baldwin UK: 01753 558000; Technotrans: 01206 224200

Press consolidation

The last decade has seen a sea change in the productivity of litho presses. Rated running speeds have gone from “possible downhill with the wind behind you” to realistic figures hit day in and day out by customers. Allied with makeready reducing technologies such as closed-loop colour, pre-setting, automatic and simultaneous plateloading, and real throughput per shift has increased massively. 

The result is that one of today’s machines can do the work of two or more older machines. It’s possible to replace multiple machines with a single unit or swap a long perfector for a straight press and even to shift from B1 to B2 and still get the same or more printed per shift. Environmental benefits include the likely dramatic reduction in make-ready and on the run waste, saving tonnes of paper per year. If some, or all of the other suggestions here are taken up too then there are all their benefits in one hit. Additionally one efficient press will consume less power than two older machines running together. 

Upfront cost Depends on specification and format of replacement press.

Likely saving Very site dependent.

Contacts Press vendors  

Apex Digital Graphics 01442 235236

Heidelberg UK 0844 892 2010

KBA UK 01923 819922

Komori 0113 823 9200

Manroland Sheetfed 020 8648 7090

M Partners 020 8835 2221 (Mitsubishi)

Printers Superstore (Hans Gronhi, Shinohara, Sanxin) 0113 208 8505

Sakurai 020 8577 5672


© MA Business Limited 2021. Published by MA Business Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, London, SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 06779864. MA Business is part of the Mark Allen Group .