Through soybean checkoff funded research, the development of ink from soy oil 15 years ago was among the first successful new uses for soybeans.

Today, more than 3,000 U.S. newspapers and one-fourth of the nation's 50,000-plus commercial printers use soy ink. But there's a vast potential yet to be tapped. Industry experts predict that when soy ink reaches its full market potential, the printing industry could consume some 457 million pounds of soybean oil per year from 42 million bushels of soybeans.

To increase the number of soy ink users, Karen Andersen, marketing manager for the National Soy Ink Information Center in Des Moines, IA, says her organization is launching a promotion to sell Fortune 500 companies on the benefits of soy ink.

“We see these companies — especially those that recycle — as a good fit for consumers of high-quality, earth-friendly soy ink. If they use soy ink and the soy ink logo, it's an opportunity for high-volume usage and exposure for the soybean industry,” says Andersen.

She says packaging is another area with the potential to use soy ink in high volume — and offer large exposure with consumers.

Currently, soy ink isn't used in packaging because package ink is different than that used to print brochures and newspapers. However, Andersen says, development of a soy-based ink suitable for packaging would be an excellent candidate for future checkoff-funded research.

MORE TO COME

Several other soy ink research projects, many funded with soybean checkoff dollars, are also in progress. They promise new printing applications targeted at a variety of end users. Here's a roundup of some of those soy ink innovations.

  • Ballpoint pens — With soy inks being successfully used for commercial printing, it makes sense that soy ink would be suitable for ballpoint pens, too. To develop such a product, state soybean checkoff boards in Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin established a research contract with Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos.

    Through those efforts, Andersen reports, a ballpoint pen with soy ink has successfully been developed and could be available in a year.

  • Toner cartridges — Soy-based toner is being developed for copiers, laser printers and other equipment that use dry printing (xerographic) techniques. The soy toner is being developed with soybean checkoff dollars by the Ohio Soybean Council and Battelle, the world's largest independent science and technology institute.

  • Versatile inks — Ink improvements will include faster drying and ultraviolet-curable products, even a soy ink that can be printed on textiles.

While most of these improvements will serve specialty markets, Andersen says they help broaden the versatility of soy inks as well.

Today, more than 3,000 news-papers in the U.S. are printed primarily using color soy ink — compared to just six in 1987. Well-known newspapers printed with soy ink include: USA Today, Denver Post, Los Angeles Times, Detroit Free Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Boston Globe and Washington Times.

At U.S. hospitals, even babies are being introduced to soy ink. A soy ink formulation has been developed for stamping baby footprints onto birth certificates.