Intaglio, lithography and reliefinks consist of pigments suspended in either linseed oil or water as a vehicle. There can be additional hazardous binders or preservatives, etc.
- Oil-based inks contain treated linseed oils. While linseed oil is not considered a hazard by skin contact or inhalation, ingestion of large amounts of some treated linseed oils might be hazardous due to presence of small amounts of toxic heavy metals. Oil vehicles are flammable when heated. Most importantly, rags or paper towels contaminated or soaked in linseed oil may ignite by spontaneous combustion.
- Obtain the material safety data sheets (MSDSs) for the specific products being used. Use the least toxic inks possible.
- Do not use an open flame to heat linseed oil, linseed oil, varnishes, or burnt plate oil. Take normal fire prevention measures (e.g. no smoking or open flames in work area).
- Place oil-soaked rags in self-closing disposal cans and remove from the studio each day. An alternative is to place the oil-soaked rags in a pail of water.
Water-based paints include water color, acrylic, gouache, tempera and casein. Water is used for thinning and cleanup.
- Acrylic paints contain a small amount of ammonia. Some people who are sensitive may experience eye, nose and throat irritation from the ammonia. Acrylics and some gouaches contain a very small amount of formaldehyde as a preservative. People already sensitized to formaldehyde could experience allergic reactions from the trace amount of formaldehyde found in acrylics. The amounts can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
- Casein paints use the protein casein as a binder. While soluble forms are available, casein can be dissolved in ammonium hydroxide which is moderately irritating by skin contact and highly irritating by eye contact, ingestion, and inhalation.
- All water-based paints contain a preservative to prevent mold or bacterial growth. Although present in small amounts, some preservatives may cause allergic reactions in some people and not others.
- Never add your own preservative. For tempera, a small amount of pine oil works for short periods of time.
- If you experience eye, nose or throat irritation while using acrylics, opening a window and increasing ventilation in the area in which you are working is usually sufficient.
Pigments are the colorants used in lithography, intaglio, and relief printing inks. There are two types of pigments:
- inorganic pigments
- organic pigments
- Pigment poisoning can occur if pigments are inhaled or ingested. For normal printing with prepared inks, the main hazard is accidental ingestion of pigments due to eating, drinking or smoking while working, or inadvertent hand to mouth contact.
- The classic example of a toxic inorganic pigment in printmaking is lead chromate (chrome yellow). Lead pigments can cause anemia, gastrointestinal problems, peripheral nerve damage (and brain damage in children), kidney damage and reproductive system damage. Other inorganic pigments may be hazardous also, including pigments based on cobalt, cadmium, and manganese.
- Some of the inorganic pigments, in particular cadmium pigments, chrome yellow and zinc yellow (zinc chromate) may cause lung cancer if inhaled.
- Lamp black and carbon black may contain impurities that can cause skin cancer.
- Chromate pigments (chrome yellow and zinc yellow) may cause skin ulceration and allergic skin reactions.
- The long-term hazards of the modern synthetic organic pigments have not been well studied.
- Obtain manufacturer MSDSs on all pigments. This is especially important because the name that appears on label of the color may or may not truly represent the pigments present.
- Use the safest pigments possible. Avoid lead pigments.
- Avoid mixing dry pigments whenever possible. If dry pigments are mixed, wear a NIOSH-approved N95 particulate dust respirator (medical clearance, training and Fit testing required before wearing a respirator).
In general, organic solvents are one of the most underrated hazards in art materials. Organic solvents are used in printmaking to dissolve and mix with oils, resins, varnishes, and inks; and to clean plates, rollers, tools, and even hands.
- Repeated or prolonged skin contact with solvents can cause defatting of the skin and resultant dermatitis. Many solvents can also be harmful through skin absorption.
- Inhalation of solvent vapors is the major way in which solvents are harmful. High concentrations of most solvents can cause dizziness, nausea, fatigue, loss of coordination, or coma. This can also increase the chances for mistakes and accidents.
- Many solvents are toxic if ingested. Swallowing an ounce of turpentine can be fatal.
- Most solvents, except chlorinated hydrocarbons, are also either flammable or combustible.
- Obtain the MSDS on all solvent products used. Use the least toxic solvent possible. For example, replace the more toxic methyl alcohol with denatured alcohol or isopropyl alcohol.
- Use adequate ventilation.
- Keep minimum amounts of solvents on hand and purchase in smallest practical container size. Large amounts of solvents or solvent-containing materials should be stored in a flammable storage cabinet.
- Never store solvents or solvent-containing materials in food or drink containers. Always label containers.
- Do not allow smoking, open flames or other sources of ignition near solvents.
- Have a class B or ABC fire extinguisher in the area.
- Wear gloves when handling solvents to avoid skin contact. In particular do not use solvents to clean ink off hands. Baby oil is a good substitute