Inspired Projects: The Drinkable Book

As I sit here and write these words, I have a tall glass of water on the table beside me. I don’t even think twice about my access toDrinkable-Book water. Turning on the tap does not register in my consciousness as anything out of the ordinary. I think it’s safe to say that access to this essential liquid is something that most Canadians could never imagine living without. However, access to clean water is a global epidemic and according to the United Nations, 780 million people worldwide do not have access to it.

So how can we solve one of the world’s foremost problems that affects millions of people? Through the use of high-tech materials and equipment? Perhaps.
However, through innovative research and graphic design, it’s now possible to help solve the problem with a much more traditional technology and basic materials. PRINT is helping to solve the clean water crisis!

Introducing the Drinkable Book.
The Drinkable Book teaches safe water habits to individuals in developing countries and contains printed papers that act as water filters. These filters have the ability to reduce bacteria found in contaminated water by 99.9% (killing diseases such as cholera, typhoid and E. coli), thereby reaching the level of quality found in U.S. tap water. Each filter can provide safe water to a person for 30 days and each book contains enough filters for four years of clean drinking water. The product is inexpensive to make and is environmentally sustainable, making this an incredibly feasible and immediate solution to help individuals in the developing world.

The innovative antibacterial filter paper was developed by chemist Dr. Theresa Dankovich for her Ph.D. at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. She then took the high-tech paper to the University of Virginia where she worked with a team of researchers for field testing in South Africa. The paper is described as “coffee filter-like” and it is coated with silver nanoparticles, which kills deadly waterborne diseases (also giving the paper its distinctive orange colour).
After learning about Dr. Dankovich’s work, designer Brian Gartside contacted her to show his interest in the project. He felt that this was the perfect opportunity to use beautiful deDrinkable-Book3sign and typography to help better communicate the lessons taught throughout the book. It’s a perfect example of art and science coming together on the printed page; married by a desire to achieve something profound and bound by… well, grommets.

To manufacture the books, the team worked with Virginia-based printer Bowe House Press. They had to ensure that the letterpresses used for this project were completely clean and each piece is printed using food-grade inks. Additionally, each book comes with plastic containers that act as the filtration system. In the initial run of 100 books, the book container was 3D-printed, but due to high cost and slow production speeds, the plan is to mass-produce these pieces using an injection molding technique.

The charitable organization who worked with Dr. Dankovich and Gartside to develop the Drinkable Book is WaterisLife. You can find out more about this organization and a video about Drinkable Book at

Providing someone with the choice, freedom and autonomy to access life-sustaining clean water is a phenomenal feat. This non-traditional application of printed material that is helping humanitarian efforts and making the world a better place is just one example of thinking ‘outside of the printed box’. Research and innovation is bringing new life to ink and paper and to those who use it. As lead blogger of Future Tense, Lily Hay Newman, aptly states: “And once again, books are on the cutting edge of technology.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.


Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.