When it comes to printer ink, nothing is ever just cut and dried, plain and simple. Ink for your ordinary desktop printer generally falls into two major categories: pigment vs. dye based ink. Some major commercial applications occasionally depend on oil-based inks to satisfy their more demanding needs, but pigments and dyes dominate the home office scene.
What is Pigment Ink?
Let’s start with explaining pigment ink first, discussing what it is and when it is used. A pigment is a dry, powdery substance that must be mixed with a liquid like water to leave behind black, white or color. We don’t need to get too detailed in the science of pigment ink, but it will suffice to say that the pigment is not necessarily water soluble, but it may remain suspended in the liquid (much as is the case for a “colloid”). So what are the advantages of using pigment ink? Pigment particles tend to bond to edges within the chosen medium, a reason why these inks tend to last longer and resist fading over time.
When to Use Pigment Ink
Pigment inks are generally better-suited to printing on slicker surfaces, such as transparencies and stickers. They are also a little more expensive to produce and their colors are not near as brilliant as with dyes. If you are printing an important image/document that you want to last for a long time, pigment inks are your best bet. If you’re looking for bright color at a lower cost, dye ink may be a better fit for you.
What is Dye Ink?
Dye-based inks tend to be cheaper and water soluble, explaining why dye inks are more likely to smear. Dye ink generally takes more time to dry and results can be poor if a drop of water hit a page. So what’s the advantage of dye ink? Color vibrancy. Colors are brighter because various optical compounds are added to dye ink to enhance the color. However, these compounds, like the dyes, have a low resistance to light or to UV rays, especially since dye-based inks are usually spread more thinly than pigment inks on the surface. Fading can be an issue if your document will be exposed to the sun, so dye inks aren’t perfect for printing things like signs and banners to be hung in windows or out of doors. While dye ink has its drawbacks, advances in ink development have improved the fade resistance of dye inks. Big brands like HP, Fuji, and Epson have improved the fade resistance quality of their dye-based inks, almost rivaling the quality of pigments.
Should I use dye or pigment ink for my printer?
So what is the best type of ink for your printer? The answer to this question depends on the nature of your printing assignment. Silk screen printing pressesoften use dye or pigment based inks. If you want to print photos with brilliant colors, then a dye-based ink may be best for the job. On the other hand, if you need to print contracts or text documents that need to last, a pigment-based ink is probably best for you. If exposure to sunlight won’t be a big issue, dyes can also be good for printing text documents because dyes tend to print darker than pigment-based dyes.
Now you know the difference between dye and pigment ink. If you can’t decide what type of ink you should use, don’t worry. In many cases, your printer manufacturer has already made this decision for you. If you’re wondering what kind of ink is in your cartridge, know that most black ink cartridges are filled with pigment ink, while color ink cartridges usually take advantage of the favorable color properties of dye-based inks.