The environmental cost of printing

Printing is the corner stone of British design, although tightly competitive with more digital concepts. Printing has several factors that makes it potentially environmentally damaging. Firstly its paper, lumber and deforestation to fuel the paper industries is a well documented problem. Secondly the amount of electricity thats needed to run the printers is colossal, although printers have gotten better with this due to EU standards, the machinery still requires a lot of electricity compared to digital practices. Thirdly, some of the coatings we place on the paper isn’t always recyclable and can often be damaging to the environment due to plastic and solvents being used. Lastly we have a fairly wasteful society with an awful lot of paper printed items not being read and just ending up in the bin.

I myself work in a Medical marketing company, creating any and all marketing materials for several brands. In our effort to gauge the system and to gauge what others are doing, we have often found that many of the professionals we deal with don’t even read some of the materials we send, often taking the sample out and throwing the rest in the bin. When we consider this then can be times 10,000+ times we can see an awful a lot of resources have been lost on a largely inefficient system that many don’t engage with. In addition to this, as i freelance on the side i have found that many of my clients don’t ever consider the environment at all and will always want the printing and printing elements, and even when encouraged will look to price first rather than considering the damage they could be saving.

The are many scources of information that do talk about the damage done by the printing industry, Cartridge world speaks in depth about the issue…

“Paper is major source of waste – in 2008, paper accounted for over 12,500 tonnes of waste in the UK! Carelessly discarded documents, ignored and unnecessary memos, misprints…it’s easy to see where such an astronomical figure comes from.”

“The production of paper also leads to a significant amount of pollution, both atmospheric and water-based. Paper mills frequently release harmful gases such as CO2 and Nitrogen Dioxide into the atmosphere when producing, while water plays a big part in the pulping process. The waste water can find itself in fresh water sources, thus contributing to water pollution.”

“You’re bound to have heard various horror stories regarding the toxicity of printer inks but in truth, printer ink can only cause you harm if you happen to ingest it (which is quite difficult to do by accident!). However, there are chemicals in printer inks that can be harmful to the environmental, in addition to petroleum oil and non-biodegradable plastic casing found in some ink and toner cartridges.

The negative effects of simply chucking away an old ink or toner cartridge are plentiful; the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals in ink can lead to soil and even water pollution when left in landfill, while plastic can take thousands of years to degrade and even then pollute soil.”

When we couple this information with the fact that we often consider the fact that actually materials like flyers have a very low success rate, then arent we just being wasteful and damaging by not considering the environment first?

Seeing and reading the damage the printing industry is coursing does inspire me to do more as a designer. Designers possibly use some of the least environmentally friendly printing methods and stocks compared to commercial printing, if you consider the fact that a normal ream of paper is part recycled paper and part fresh but a roll of paper in a printers can often be pure or at the very least only slightly recycled. In my company we do a lot of printed materials which we know will often be thrown away, with low success rates and lack of digital drive, we can often lose thousands of prints at a single event alone, i dread to think how many sample boxes we send out just get thrown.

Reading into this i want to start investigating more green designing techniques and how i can change my own design mentality to start putting the environment first.


The Resource Crisis

While researching for practice one, i came across an issue that although somewhat documented is not as widely reported as elements as global warming even though it is linked and is potentially damned globally, The resource crisis.

As a human race we are quickly running out of resources, between using more than what we need, being inefficient with materials or even being wasteful we are using more materials than that are sustainable and what is available.

“In 2018, we’ll use up the equivalent of 1.7 Earths to support human civilization. At current rates, two Earths will be needed to keep up with demand by 2030. The resulting degradation is visible in deforestation, collapsed fisheries, drought, and greenhouse-gas emissions, causing massive dislocation, economic damage, and species extinctions across the planet.”

Going by this quote from a recent article, we are already using far too many materials as is, and soon we will be using twice as much as what is sustainable, with a growing population and ,at the moment, no second planet to move too, we are on the verge of not just causing global warming but depleting the globe of all natural resources as well.

Since the beginning of mankind we have been using natural resources, all animals do. From tools to clothes, houses to machines, all deplete some form of natural resource. The crisis in this is the abundance of materials we use now. We use far more resources than what the earth can provide and restock, currently. This forms a deficit of materials, this deficit has now reached 2 times what the earth can restock, meaning we are fast running out of resources that are available.

Several organisations are in operation to monitor this issue and others like it however chiefly the UN monitor this and another international body called the Global Footprint Network (GFN) also monitors the crisis.

“To determine the date of Earth Overshoot Day for each year, Global Footprint Network calculates the number of days of that year that Earth’s biocapacity suffices to provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint. The remainder of the year corresponds to global overshoot. Earth Overshoot Day is computed by dividing the planet’s biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year), by humanity’s Ecological Footprint (humanity’s demand for that year), and multiplying by 365, the number of days in a year:

(Planet’s Biocapacity Humanity’s Ecological Footprint) x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day”

The above is how the GFN monitors and calculates at what point each year we exceed what the earth can provide and restock in a year. As a yearly average this is increasingly and we now sit on a almost 2X deficit in 2018 alone, and this is only set to increase.

I feel as a designer it is my duty to seek out more environmentally friendly processes and practices. The big issues will mainly be the printing process, use of paper and potentially damaging paper and card stocks, but also how can, as a designer, we push our clients to become more environmentally friendly and to use these methods to meet their business needs while satisfying the environments needs.

The balance between effective and efficient design with environmentally friendly and resource efficient methods needs to be struck but how, as an industry, can we do this.

Aaron Draplin – Draplin Design CO

site_staff.jpgAn upcoming designer based in portland, although he has been working for years, he has recently gained more international fame with talks with TED and videos. Rencently he has been interviewed by creative review. His work spans plenty of industries, mainly working with logos and branding, his inspiration from his “Junk raiding” is an amazing method to find inspiration.


Notably he is the creator and face of the Field notes brand, a brand of note pads and stationery. A brilliant example of how a brand can have a personalty, he does use the brand himself almost as a figure head, in the video he did for lynda he does use a level of product placement in the film. He also notably created the logo for Obama’s initiatives.

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 19.30.19.pngDesign for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) logo

Looking through his site, its clear his colurful and bold style is the cornerstone of the visual language style he uses, the actual colour choices also provide a really nice set of palettes. His influences from industrial retro design is clear in the shape he uses and the typefaces he chooses. On e piece in particular is the Branding for Union Binding company, the full brand looks robust and simple while remaining visually interesting. The style of using black and white while using a orange signifying colour creates a “too the point” feel and keeps the brand easily consistent across a much larger application.


Union Binding Co. – Founding Logos

What i want to take away / inspires me

From looking into Aaron Draplin and the way he works theres a couple of aspect of my own working that i really think could benefit from researching Draplin, firstly his method of  looking through junk shops, vintage stores and old products for inspiration and then building them into a sort of archive or library is much stronger way of building inspiration. Secondly I love the colour palette that Draplin uses, and the robust versatile style behind the work, i feel that this robust and versatile style could benefit my style of working, usually i focus on minimalism and a clean UI feel as it makes it digital friendly but i think that the designs that Draplin has created is still digital friendly while creating an impactful feel.

Draplin, A., Gall, J. and Massey, S. (2016). Draplin Design Co.. New York: Abrams.

Linkedin Learning (2014). Aaron Draplin Takes On a Logo Design Challenge. Available at: [Accessed 28 Oct. 2018].

Megg’s History of Graphic Design History

Image result for meggs history of graphic designFor the first book of the MA book reading club, we have Megg’s History of Graphic design. For me, I decided to focus on the Graphic renaissance section, my knowledge of more contemporary design is much stronger than my more historic knowledge, so I felt going back to study the early days of design may help give a stronger background in my thinking. By diversifying my knowledge of design and its history it gives a much wider base and foundation of visual language to call upon. It also gives background on some of the strongest fonts that many designer use, such as Caslon.

From researching more historical contexts I feel more influenced to research the enlightenment period more, this period gave birth to an amazing surge in knowledge and expression in many field , not just design and art which have modern day influence. This section has brought some aspects to my mind that i will be furthering my research into, in particular the cultural significance of playing cards, because of printing playing cards went from being a game of kings to a games for everyone, this bridges the gap between nobles and peasants, and even to this day a deck of cards can connect total strangers as many games are totally universal. The book also refers to a character called “Master of the playing cards” i need to do more research into this character but from what i can glean he was the first master of printmaking, and considering the importance of playing cards, this character could be thanked for helping create such a universal culture.

L. Roy Davies (Aus., 1897-1979) A Mate O' Mine, 1924. Wood engraving,
I believe learning the foundations and history of design is vital for all designers hoping to become “avant guarde” or to create forward thinking designs. Knowledge of historic trends, fonts and styles acts like an creative arsenal for any designer when approaching new creative challenges. Modern woodblock print artists still use techniques similar to Gutenburg so will often refer back to renaissance designs, artists such as L. Roy Davies capture a modern more expression feel to the ancient technique, using shadows for the colour, the negative space forms the details and acts like the light in the image.

L. Roy Davies (Aus., 1897-1979) A Mate O’ Mine, 1924. Wood engraving


The renaissance period is a fascinated period of history, with such a surge in discovery and in peoples drive to learn, some amazing character appear such as Da Vinci and Copernicus. I love seeing the sketchbooks and drawing they made, in particular its when you see the notes that you start to really see into the mindset behind these people. More localised to design, i find the craftsmanship behind the fonts and the layouts astounding, a technique that could take a modern design seconds to do originally would take hours, this streamlining of process i feel has given room for laziness in modern design. These reminder of old techniques and styles inspires me to stop and slow down more and look to create a much better crafted design for the brief at hand.

B., P., 2005. Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated.