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Dye-based Inks Versus Pigment-Based Inks

dye inks versus pigment based inkThe type of ink that a printer uses determines whether it is better at printing photos, graphics or documents. Different printing jobs require different printer inks. In most cases a printer will use either a dye-based ink cartridge or a pigment-based ink cartridge, and the type of ink indicates the best use for the printer.

Dye-based ink is a term relating to water soluble inks, while pigment-based ink is a non-soluble ink. Both are considered environmentally friendly, especially when compared to industrial oil or alcohol based inks. But which is the best choice when you are evaluating which printer to buy?

Pigment-Based Ink

Pigment-based ink is produced through resins, normally chemically based polymers. These are then ground into small particles and covered with a dispersant. The particles or resin are then suspended in water so that they can be used in an inkjet printer. The production method for creating pigment-based ink makes the ink much more resistant to UV and gives it a longer life expectancy. However it also causes the printed colors to appear more dull when compared to dye-based ink prints.

It has been common for black inks to be pigment-based inks because of their quick drying nature that results in a much clearer and crisper printout.

Pigment-based inks have typically not been used for color desktop printers because constant usage would see the color pigments mass together, causing the print cartridges to become blocked. Color printers that use pigment-based ink are the more expensive due to the need to incorporate special software to prevent blockage and produce dense colors.

Dye-Based Ink

Dye-based inks are far cheaper than pigment-based inks and easier to manufacture, so as a result they have traditionally been the ink of choice for digital printers. Dye-based inks are made with optical brighteners to make their colors more vivid as they use a colorant dye dissolve-in solution. This results in prints that are much brighter in color and much more stable. However the vivid colors may fade quickly due to a poor UV resistance; and since the colors take longer to dry it can result in a blurry image.

Hence, a pigment-based ink is more resistant to water and light, but the dye-based ink is much better at holding and projecting the brightness of colors. A dye-based ink printer such as a Canon will be best used for photo and graphic production, while a pigment-based ink printer will produce much better text documents. Major printer manufacturers such as Lexmark, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Epson and Dell will use pigment-based black ink to go alongside dye-based ink for their colors.

Which is the Best Choice?

Given the above characteristics, below is a summary of the desirable qualities of printer inks and how these two types compare:

1. Resistance to water: Dye-based inks need to be dissolved in order to work. They are often used as inkjet printer inks because they easily dissolve in water and thus flow easily with it. However, if a print made from dried dye-based ink gets wet, the print colors will begin to run. Pigment-based inks, on the other hand, absorb water but do not dissolve with it. Thus, they are more water-resistant.

2. Resistance to light: Dye-based inks have optical brighteners that produce vivid colors. These optical brighteners, however, are vulnerable to light and other chemicals, and thus fade more quickly. Pigment-based ink is the ink of choice for archiving jobs because it can last for years even under light or chemical exposure.

3. Sharpness of color: Dye-based inks are desired for the brightness and vivacity of the colors they produce. Thus, they are more often used for printing photos and graphics. Pigment-based inks are typically limited to black colors only and are thus used for grayscale prints and text documents.

Knowing what ink a printer's cartridges are filled with will ensure that the correct machine is used for a particular job, whether it is dye-based ink for color or pigment-based ink for monochrome (black & white) work. Canon, Compaq, Epson, HP, Lexmark and other major printer manufacturers use dye-based inks in their less expensive inkjet printers. Higher end printers may use pigment-based black ink and dye-based color inks. Check the printer's manual for exact specifications on the type of ink used prior to purchasing a new printer.

About William Elward

Founder of Castle Ink, William Elward has 20 years experience in the printer industry. He's been featured on CNN Money, Yahoo, PC World, Computer World, and other top publications and frequently blogs about printers and ink cartridges. He's an expert at diagnosing printer issues and has published guides to fixing common printer issues across the internet. A graduate of Bryant University and Columbia's Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program, he's held various leadership positions at The College Board, Bankrate, Zocdoc, and Everyday Health. Follow him on Twitter at William Elward's Twitter Profile