The screen printing ink that Matt Lewis manufactures from his Whangarei print workshop is so eco-friendly he can eat it and not even grimace.

While the plant-based ink might taste a little funky, and you certainly won't see it added to the food pyramid any time soon, the ink has left Lewis with a sweet aftertaste.

The Te Kowhai Print Trust board member, based at his Live to Print company at the Quarry Arts Centre, has scooped a national print award for the invention.

It's not an edible ink but to prove how safe it was for people and the environment, Lewis had no qualms in scooping a handful of the colourful goop and having a wee taste.

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Unlike most acrylic-based inks, the Live To Print inks contain no petrochemical or organic oils, no acrylic acids or thermoplastic resins and no mineral spirits or alcohol.

It's non-greasy and when it's washed down the drain it doesn't pollute waterways, he said.

"There's no toxic odour, unlike many solvents that printers often have to work with."

Lewis has always worked in graphic design and print but struggled with the use of toxic solvents and oil-based inks.

"There came a point when I physically couldn't do it anymore. The fumes and toxic waste from print production and clean up is truly awful and creates an unhealthy environment to be in."

Four years ago, he started to explore alternatives and has created a New Zealand first.

While he mixes up the base - made of plant extracts such as rice, corn and wheat - at his workshop, he sources the environmentally sound colour pigments from a supplier in Japan.

Last month, Live To Print won the Pride In Print Awards in the industry development category with judges commenting that the product has potential to alter the industry.

The Screeners Choice award was presented to Lewis with judges saying his screen printing ink was so environmentally friendly that it has presented screen printing in a new commercial light.

The ink went into small-scale production last year and now his repeat customers include a number of universities throughout New Zealand. It is used for printing on paper and board.