Training - Print

Design your Print for the Environment

Insights Design your Print for the Environment

None of us likes the idea of damaging the environment – the print industry has argued forcibly that that printed matter which is recyclable is not as damaging as the world of digital which consumes large amounts of power. Whatever the conclusion, print is powerful and if we are to print we should ensure that the print is designed to minimise environmental impact.

The following article was written some time ago and was endorsed by Friends of the Earth:

Designers are well aware of the power of print. Design can also greatly influence the environmental impact of a printed product. Reducing the environmental impact will often reduce material and /or print costs too.


  • Check size availability for your chosen material by before designing your product. Many materials are available in a limited range of sizes which will limit the options for waste- and cost-effective formats.
  • The most waste- and cost-effective formats are A (eg. A4, A3) sizes, as all materials and printing presses are, essentially, based around these. Some materials are available in B sizes which can accommodate, cost-effectively, sizes slightly larger than A range.
  • Consider factors such as updating; many products are discarded and reprinted due to obsolete information. Choose a design, and binding method, that allows for the updating of information and reduces waste and reprint costs.


  • Laminated and UV-varnished and products cannot always be recycled. It is preferable to use water-based coatings – ask your printer about these.
  • High levels of ink coverage - that is, areas of solid colour, especially dark colours - may render a product non-recyclable as it will be difficult, and energy intensive, to remove the ink.
  • Designing without bleeds may mean that more pages can be positioned on the printer’s sheet, thereby reducing the print run and the cost (substantially for some projects). It will also mean less trimming, thus saving paper and ink, and that the trimmed, unprinted waste can be processed as white waste.
  • Window envelopes cannot currently be recycled in the UK. Unless the windows have been cut/torn out, the envelopes will be removed from the waste paper when it is sorted. Try to avoid using window envelopes, wherever possible, by personalising the envelope and not the contents.
  • Avoid perfect binding where possible as it is not easy to recycle such products; consider other options such as saddle stitching and wiro binding.

Other issues to consider

  • Try to avoid metallic or fluorescent colours as they are only available in petroleum based inks.
  • Metallic inks also contain high levels of heavy metals which are hazardous to the environment and to pressroom workers.
By: Georgina Trias