E u r o p e a n A g e n c y f o r S a f e t y a n d H e a l t h a t W o r k
Kent Art Printers Ltd
Kent ME5 7NP
Tel: (44-1634) 844644
Use of isopropanol (alcohol) in the fount solution within the dampening system of
lithographic printing presses. The solution was to remove the use of isopropanol.
REMOVING ALCOHOL FROM
In conventional lithographic printing, the lithography printing plate (one for each
colour) has water (dampening) applied with rollers, and ink applied simultaneously
with other rollers. The water is attracted to the non-image areas (hydrophilic) of
the plate and stays there due to the meniscus effect (surface tension) within
microscopic pores in the surface. The ink is attracted to the image areas (oleophilic)
that consist of a surface coating that is produced photographically. Each plate then
shows areas that are damp (non image) or inked (image). Good lithography uses
as little ink and water as possible to aid ink/water balance.
A thinner layer of water is achieved by adding a ‘wetting’ agent in the form of
alcohol (isopropanol), which is a volatile organic compound. An acidic water
additive (fount solution) is used to ensure that the plate background remains
water attracting (hydrophilic).
Exposure to isopropanol can produce both short-term and long-term health
effects and is an irritant to the eyes and the respiratory system. It is also an
The practical prevention of risks from dangerous substances at work
It was decided to introduce ‘alcohol-free’ litho printing. The same basic
principles of lithography apply but without the alcohol element. This involved
making press modifications.
• The ‘Pan’ roller (polyurethane) and ‘forme’ damper needed to be of a
different composition (25 deg’ shore hardness and fine grained) to carry the
water more efficiently.
• The roller settings had to be adjusted more accurately to give better control
of water to the plate.
• A special fount solution was needed.
The company has also moved to use other more environmentally friendly
products, including vegetable-based inks and an aqueous-based coater.
There was an initial cost of EUR 4,085 for each press conversion to fit the special
rollers, but the change has resulted in a saving of EUR 3,000 per year through
not purchasing isopropanol.
The measures have led to a healthier work environment. There has been no
sickness absence due to inhaling alcohol fumes and machine minders and
factory staff do not report the symptoms that alcohol can give, such as
headaches, drowsiness and nausea. Visiting printers have commented that
the factory does not smell of alcohol and is a more pleasant working
environment. In addition harmful emissions to the local environment have
There is a feeling that the standards of printing have improved, because the
equipment has to be kept in very good condition and be well maintained to run
Improved health and safety for workers can also mean improved environmental
performance. The measures adopted were required and common practice in
some countries, but not obligatory in the UK.