Soy Ink

Soybeans in podIn 1988 artist Sharen Brower of Newell was experimenting in her studio. She tested a new type of ink made from soybean oil. Unfortunately, the ink did not dry at all and was hard to clean up. Next, Sharen visited scientists at Iowa State University and other labs. After more experimentation she created a formula for faster drying soy ink. Sharen liked using this ink because farmers grow soybeans throughout Iowa.

After some publicity, Sharen received phone calls from printers wanting to know more about her discovery. "As an artist, I didn't intend to invent anything," she said. "I think that's how inventions happen out of necessity. I was trying to do something different." She talked to officials of a large ink company about producing her invention, but they were not interested.

In 1991 Sharen obtained patents for formulas for soy newspaper ink, artist's ink, paint and other products. Later she learned the ink company that hadn't been interested in her invention was selling a product a lot like hers. The company told her they wanted to negotiate a licensing agreement so they could continue to manufacture the ink. When they couldn't reach an agreement, the company sued Sharen claiming her patent was invalid.

SoybeansSharen fought back. The lawsuit took so much of her time that she closed her studio in 1993. Finally in 1997 the lawsuit was settled out of court. Sharen received a sum of money for a settlement. After the lawsuit was settled, Sheran resumed painting.

Many newspapers are printed with soy ink. Many printers place a special seal on their products to show readers that they use soy ink. The SoySeal is available from the National Soy Ink Information Center in Urbandale. Soy inks are better for the environment than petroleum based inks because they have fewer compounds which react with other pollutants to form smog. Also, experts say it's easier to remove soy inks from paper when recycling.

Adapted from an article printed in The Goldfinch 20, No. 1 (Fall 1998). Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa.
© State Historical Society of Iowa


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