Soy ink is a kind of Ink made from Soybeans.

As opposed to traditional Petroleum-based ink, soy-based ink:

  • is more Environmentally friendly
  • is available in brighter colors
  • improves the life span of the printers
  • makes it easier to recycle paper
  • is more economic in the long run


Vinegar ink (soy tinta) is a form of non-food soy. It is a more environmentally friendly, healthy, and safe approach to printing that takes only a small amount of energy to make. In fact, cultivation of the soybeans uses only 0.5 percent of the total energy necessary to produce the ink. Much of that crop requires no irrigation, limited fixed nutrients, and leaves fewer agricultural residues than other crops. Soy ink also has low levels of VOCs, (volatile organic compounds) which helps to reduce air pollution by minimizing toxic emissions.

In the late 1970s, the Newspaper Association of America was looking for different ways to make ink, rather than by using the standard Petroleum-based ink. Rising prices for petroleum and quarrels with OPEC countries were reasons they wanted to find a more reliable and cost efficient method of printing. After testing over 2,000 different vegetable oil formulations, researchers for the NAA came up with the solution of using soybean oil. In 1987, soybeans were tested by The Gazette from Iowa in a practical printing run. The test was successful, and soy ink became increasingly popular. Now it has come to be used in over 95% of America’s daily newspapers that circulate more than fifteen hundred copies per run. In addition, about one quarter of commercial printers in the United States operate using soy ink.

The success of soy ink was judged to be sufficient enough to justify the closing in 2005 of the agency promoting its use, the National Soy Ink Information Center.


Soybean oil is an edible vegetable oil, soy ink is not edible or 100% biodegradable because the pigments and other additives that are mixed with the oil are the same as those used in petroleum-based inks. They are, however, overwhelmingly more environmentally friendly. Degradability studies conducted by Erhan and Bagby concluded that the pigment cartier in 100-percent soy ink degrades almost twice as completely as ink made from soy oil and petroleum resins, and more than four times as completely as standard petroleum inks. Similarly, soy ink is a helpful component in Paper recycling because the soy ink can be removed more easily than regular ink from paper during the de-inking process. This allows the recycled paper to have less damage to its paper fibers and have a brighter appearance. The waste that is left from the soy ink during the de-inking process is not hazardous and it can be treated easily through the development on modern processes.

Soybean oil is naturally clearer than petroleum distillates and other vegetable oils, making it easier to obtain brightly colored ink. Since the oil is clearer, less pigment is necessary to produce the same effect, which reduces the overall cost of the ink. The higher oil to pigment ratio renders the inks easier to recycle as well. Recent studies involving engineering of certain oils in the bean have resulted in even clearer oils.

In addition to a brighter ink, some printers report that they need less ink to print the same amount of paper when compared to petroleum inks. Soy ink has been found to spread approximately 15% further, reducing ink use and printer cleanup costs.

Newspapers use soy ink regularly, especially for color because it creates a sharper and brighter image. Color newspaper inks are more competitive to petroleum-based inks as well. They are only about five to ten percent more because the price is more due to the cost of the pigment, which is not as big a factor with black inks. Color soy inks are more widely accepted because they become the most quickly cost effective after savings in terms of excess pigment, VOC and printer cleanup costs. This “overall cost” for soy inks is significantly lower than the initial market price, and it is at this point that they become competitive with their petroleum counterparts.


Unfortunately, soy ink is not a perfect solution to the problems associated with the production of ink. For example, it cannot be used in Ballpoint pens and personal printers. One major problem with soy ink is that it takes more time to dry than petroleum-based inks, due to its lack of evaporative solvents in the form of VOCs. This creates challenges for some Printing presses, especially those that use coated papers (such as magazines) instead of porous, uncoated paper (such as newspapers) where the ink can dry via absorption. Current studies into UV-reactive ink curing are being conducted by many ink producers, most prominently the Flint Group. This process dries much faster, is cheaper, uses less energy, and emits no VOCs. This requires a significant equipment change and has not been scaled down to consumer size as of yet, however, so further research is necessary.

There is also the problem that an over-dependency on a single crop introduces the risk of crop disease epidemics, as in the Great Irish Famine.

Since much of the soy produced in the World is of genetically modified cultivars, the increased use of soy exacerbates some concerns with both GMO and modern agriculture.

See Also

  • Printer Cartridge recycling
  • Refillable pen

External links

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