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Pigmented Inks vs Dye-based Inks

If you're new to printing, or haven't really given it much thought before, you may now be wondering what is the difference between dye-based inks and pigmented inks. The answer, simply enough, is in water resistance and color quality.

Dye-based inks are the most common, and nearly every consumer and professional inkjet printer uses dye-based inks by default. In fact, only a few companies offer pigmented inks in the original cartridge for their consumer level printers. Dye-based inks are basically made from de-ionized water, alcohol (which speeds the drying of the ink), and a dye to provide the color. This basic formulation yields inks that are inexpensive but yield good color and resolution. Other chemicals are added to the formula to increase factors such as gamut, resolution, or vibrancy. However, to use this formulation the dye's must be water soluble, and as a result any prints using dye-based inks that get wet are likely to bleed, stain, and run.

Enter pigmented inks. Instead of using a dye dissolved in water, pigments rely on microscopic pigmented particles suspended in a solution. As a result, they tend to have more water resistance with some manufacturers warranting that their prints will be waterproof. Additionally, the smaller particle size and lower surface tension of the solutions used allow for finer droplets and thus higher resolution. But pigmented inks are not without their set of troubles. Black, an essential color (or non-color) tends to come out as a very dark charcoal color in pigmented inks, and only very good inks can deliver true black tones.

So when and why should you use either? When water resistance is a factor, and gamut isn't quite as important, go with pigmented inks. Such applications include outdoor displays and signage, or prints that will be in a very humid or wet environment. On the other hand, when water resistance is not a factor, but rich color is, you would want to consider dye-based inks. Photo-realistic portraits, indoor signage, and fine art prints often call for dye-based inks. Even with that recommendation, it's not a solid choice. Many manufacturers offer dye-based inks with some level of water resistance. By the same token, several pigmented inks can now boast of a true black, such as Piezography inks (Piezography BW inks are in fact designed for Black and White photo printing applications, and deliver "unusually" long dynamic ranges on prints).


 

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