Inks, paints, pigments, and dyes have come from the natural world for centuries.
During the Renaissance, the gemstone lapis lazuli was ground down to make rich ultramarine blues and cochineal insects were used to make deep red pigments (and still are); minerals like copper and lead were used in green paint; and carbon-derived soot and charcoal were responsible for black ink (and guess what, petrochemicals still are).
Pigment was bound together with a binder like linseed oil or egg yolk to make paint.
Chemical innovations in the nineteenth century produced the likes of viridian green, cadmium orange, and chrome yellow.
As you might be able to tell from even just this short list, toxicity varied. Letterpress inks followed a similar trajectory, and moved away from the paint-like inks of Gutenberg's letterpress toward chemical and synthetic inks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
But now a new innovation in ink is going way back. In fact, it's made from some of the earliest organisms on earth: algae.
When the company with a mission to "save our home planet"—Patagonia—asked Cast Iron Design to make a printed guide to Boulder, Colorado, the team knew they had an opportunity to "push the sustainability envelope," according to the Cast Iron Design website.
So the team took several steps to create a booklet that aligned with the values of Patagonia in both look and make. According to the site, the guide is made with uncoated paper stock that has a natural feel reminiscent of the city it's designed for. The booklet was manufactured carbon-neutral. It uses 100% post consumer waste recycled fibers and was processed chlorine-free. But the agency went another step further and made the ink carbon neutral, too.
Cast Iron Design partnered with Colorado biomaterials company Living Ink to replace the petroleum-based pigments found in traditional black ink with an algae base, creating what they claim to be the "world's first algae offset ink."