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What’s the difference between dye and pigment based inks?

By Simon Williams
March 27, 2019

When it comes to printing your professional and personal materials, there’s more to consider beyond what size and stock. The type of ink you use can significantly impact your output, highlighting the wrong elements and missing the mark when it comes to delivering the impact you are after. Find out the differences between dye and pigment based inks, and the factors that may influence your decision, so that you can select the right ink for the job.

Water resistance

You may be wondering what water resistance has to do with inks and printing. In short, the dye in the dye-based ink will dissolve in water entirely, whereas pigment does not all dissolve. Dye-based inks will flow across the paper like liquid, creating a beautiful image. The only drawback is that if the printed work comes into contact with water, it may dissolve again. Conversely, pigmented inks stick to the paper as they have a thicker consistency and nestle into the small fibres of a page. This means that pigmented inks have a higher water resistance, although curiously dye-based inks are the standard offering in inkjet printers.

Fading factors

The last thing you want from your printing is for it to fade into oblivion. There are direct and indirect factors that lead to fading, but sunlight is the main offender. Dye-based inks are more susceptible to fading as the molecules are smaller on the page and the chemicals react with sunlight quicker and with an accelerated damage. Pigment inks are made up of larger molecules, making it harder for sunlight to infiltrate and fade the printed work. Both inks are high-quality solutions, and can last in their original condition for a very long period of time, provided the exposure to the sun and elements is controlled.

Printing quality

There is no definitive answer to which is better, pigment or dye-based inks, they each have their strengths. The question becomes what sort of work are you printing, and what do you need the colours to do. If you are printing creations and collateral that are text-based, then a dye-based ink will be the right selection as the black inks are sharper and darker than pigmented. Other colours also appear more vibrant in dye-based inks, but this can be matched in a custom pigmented ink. The pigmented ink is best used to blend colours, so they are often used by photographers printing images. It’s not always as simple as text or images, and often printing jobs require both. You can find printers that facilitate both pigmented and dye-based inks in the one unit to create the highest standard of printing.

Cost variation

Price can be a strong driver for decision making. Due to the complex process of making pigmented inks, they cost more to make than their dye counterpart. Custom pigmented inks are highly regarded for their ability to blend colours more immersively, a feature that makes them more sought after but also more expensive.

To the naked eye, you could be forgiven for thinking there was little to distinguish between pigmented and dye-based inks. Only when you take a closer look can you identify which inks are responsible for which outputs, so understand your needs before you proceed with your choice of ink.