Digtal Painting is Green

Are digital paintings green art?

Eco-Friendly Badge Garr is very concerned about the environment and global warming (and you definitely should be too!). Digital painting is an ecotechnology — they are much more eco-friendly than their oil, acrylic, or watercolour counterparts.

If you're not sure what digital painting is, you can find out here: What are digital paintings?.

Here's a Comparison Chart

This chart explains the difference in environmental impact between a traditional acrylic or oil painting and a digital painting:

NOTE: the environmental impact of producing the art medium itself (e.g.: the canvas or watercolour paper) has not been considered, because it is identical for both traditional art and for digital painting. Similarly, we have not considered the environmental impact of manufacturing the computer the digital artist uses, because they would likely own and operate a computer even if they were not using it to create art.

To view the table below more easily on your phone, turn it sideways into landscape orientation.

  Traditional Painting Digital Painting
Emissions from manufacture of supplies: The main factors affecting emissions from paint manufacture are: handling of dry pigments, types of solvents used, and the mixing temperature. Even under well-controlled conditions, about 1-2% of the solvent is waste. Particulate emissions amount to 0.5-1.0% of all dry pigment handled by the plant. The manufacture of printing ink is not a significant polluting process, and is normally categorised as low polluting. There are no emissions from ink manufacturing to the soil. There are no direct discharges into water of any raw materials used in the manufacture of either organic solvent or solvent-free printing inks.
Energy consumption of manufacture of supplies: While Acrylic paints are much better in terms of energy consumption than oil paints, they are still resource-intensive to produce. Acrylic paints have a large energy requirement in their manufacture, partly because of the energy-intensive polymer and pigment production. Ink manufacture is not regarded as an energy-intensive sector, nor is the printing process itself.
Direct impact on global warming: By far, the major environmental impact from paints is the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Virtually everything but the solids in a paint formulation is released into the air during the drying process (after painting). Once in the atmosphere, VOCs contribute to the formation of ozone. While Acrylic paint has much lower VOC content than oil paint, it is still very significant. Digital printing ink has very significantly lower VOC content than Acrylic or Watercolour paint.
Health hazard to artists: The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported a 20%-40% increase in the risk of certain types of cancer (particularly lung cancer) in those who come into regular contact with, or work with, paint. Danish researchers also point to the added possibility of neurological damage. During the printing process (on canvas or watercolour paper), the artist is not exposed to the ink when wet, and it dries in a matter of seconds.
Environmental impact of creating the art: Acrylic and watercolour painting generates a lot of waste – from soiled paper towels or rags, to pigments suspended in water. Because of the pigments in paints, nothing should go down the drain or into household garbage where it will eventually find its way into the water system or a land fill. Unfortunately, most artists do not use a specialised commercial site to dispose of these materials in an approved and environmentally safe manner (many artists wash their brushes in the sink!). While some paints are labelled as "non-toxic", and are considered safe for humans, they are not necessarily safe for the environment. Propylene glycol (a key ingredient in Acrylic paint), for example, is safe enough that is can be used in the food industry, but it has a disastrous effect in aquatic environments – pouring acrylic paint dissolved in water down the drain is damaging to waterways. During the printing process, there is virtually no waste ink to be disposed of, and, therefore, no impact on water or soil. Unlike home printers, the industrial printers used to make canvas prints do not use ink cartridges, so there is no disposal issue.


Impact of Acrylic Paint Manufacture:

Outdoor Air - Industry, Business, and Home: Paint and Coating Manufacturing - Additional Information” — published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Feb 2016

Is Acrylic Paint Bad for the Environment?” — published by Our Endangered World: Feb 2022

Paint Pollution Harmful Effects on Environment” — Tina Porwal published in the International Journal of Research -GRANTHAALAYAH: Sep 2015

Paint industry impacts environment: Greenpainters” — published by Architecture & Design: May 2007

Best Practices for Acrylic Painters:

How Bad Is Acrylic Paint for the Environment?” — Ines published by Sustain the Art: Mar 2022

Going Green: Environmentally Friendly Practices for Artists” — published by Agora Gallery: Apr 2015

Impact of Printer Ink Manufacture:

Environmental Impact of Printing Inks” — published by EuPIA: Mar 2013

Environmental Impact of Printing Inks” — Chris Pentago published by US Green Technology: Sep 2014

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