We still use our printers a lot; we print our words often in black and white, our illustrations in color. Printers have become central to our home and work offices and our creative pursuits. But what about the ink we use in them? Is it vegan?
In general, most mainstream manufactured printer ink is probably not vegan due to the inclusion of several or more animal by-products. Some smaller niche manufacturers of animal-product-friendly ink are emerging, resulting in some brands of vegan ink. Whether or not printer ink is vegan relies both on the specific brand of ink in question and on individual definitions of veganism.
Is All Printer Ink Vegan?
The answer is no, not all printer inks are vegan as most contain at least some products that have been derived from animals. However, the extent to which you consider your printer ink non-vegan will differ from person to person and brand to brand.
For example, while many vegans may try and avoid gelatin commonly used in inks, some vegans are okay with petroleum-based products.
Some major manufacturers paraphrase the very nature of the debate in their response to this question, with one stating that while although its printer ink did not contain animal products, it was not suitable for a vegan diet.
What Animal Products Are in Printer Ink?
Gelatin is one of the substances commonly used in major printer ink brands today. Gelatin is made by boiling animals’ skins, ligaments, tendons, and bones in the water. Most often, cows or pigs are used to make gelatin.
The history of gelatin use in making ink dates back as far as 1200 BC China when the skin of a donkey was added to pine tree soot, lamp oil, and musk to create one of the first known pigments.
Glycerin made from animal fat is another animal derivative found in many printer inks.
Shellac, made from the secretions of the lac beetle, is another substance used in many printer inks. It is most commonly considered non-vegan. Shellac is often used to color inks, but as you’ll come to see, there are other alternatives.
Petroleum or crude oil is a maybe non-vegan substance that forms the basis of many printer inks.
Is Petroleum Used in Inks Vegan?
This is most certainly a grey area for many. Many printer inks are petroleum oil-based. Petroleum or crude oil is made from microscopic dead organisms like algae, zooplankton, and other microorganisms.
While there may indeed be dead creatures and perhaps even fish in petroleum, the fact that they were very much dead before the petroleum formed leads many vegans to consider them safe from animal products. However, some vegans and other non-vegans will avoid petroleum products as they can damage the environment.
For many vegans, abstaining from animal derivatives goes hand-in-hand with avoiding products that can damage the ecosystem. Petroleum can negatively impact the environment through oil spills and air pollution.
Additionally, the plastic used to case many printer inks is often non-biodegradable and thus also an undesirable choice.
Are Printer Inks Vegetarian?
This may be a more comfortable definition for many people, as printer inks do not directly involve consuming animals or fish. For many vegans, it may also come down to a level of practicality.
While they may seek to avoid as many animal products as possible, there is also a decision to be made as to whether they have access to vegan-friendly ink and, if not, the degree to which they are opposed to the alternatives.
The same is true of printers and computers, which could be said to be non-vegan, but which are essential to many people.
Are There Alternative Vegan Printer Inks Available
This is where the market gets interesting as there are indeed brands selling vegan-friendly printer ink cartridge brands. The makers of vegan-friendly printer ink, made from sustainable soy and vegetable crops, tend to be smaller boutique eco-conscious brands rather than the big-name manufacturers we are all familiar with.
The oils used in place of petroleum are usually soy or linseed, but canola and safflower oils are also sometimes used. Vegetable-based glycerin can be used as an alternative to traditional animal-based binding agents.
There’s also a growing number of printing companies that offer vegan-friendly services. These businesses are often founded on sound ecological as well as animal protective principles.
When you use one of these companies, you can be assured that they use only vegetable-based inks and no other animal products such as glues when performing services such as lamination.
Are Printers Vegan?
Unfortunately, with a careful ink selection and the very best intentions, it’s going to be very hard for you to get a printer that can be considered completely vegan. This is because there are animal-related products involved in the manufacture of most electronics.
Although they may only be present in very small quantities, there are likely to be products in your printer that are taken from animals. Because electronics hardware does not contain ingredients lists and is not required by law, it can be difficult to know exactly what is in your printer that is non-vegan.
Often it is similar substances to those found in printer ink, notably gelatin and cholesterol.
For some vegans, the printer ink available on the mass market will be a tolerable choice. They will not oppose either petroleum or other animal by-products such as gelatin that may be involved in their making.
If your own veganism causes you to align strongly with ecologically sustainable practices, then you’re likely to be more interested in the increasing presence of alternative printer ink cartridges and service options. Choosing a reputable firm specializing in cruelty-free printing, minimizing all harm to animals and the environment is arguably the ‘most vegan’ option.