Pigment ink and dye ink are fairly similar in that they are both used in inkjet cartridges. The main difference between the two is that dye inks are designed to be absorbed into the paper when printing, whereas pigment inks are designed to rest on top of the paper in small particles, which are not absorbed into the page. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Let us look at a few of the main issues that highlight their differences.
One of the main advantages of dye-based inks is that they are generally less expensive to manufacture, and therefore, inexpensive to purchase. For everyday printing of non-essential materials, dye-based inks have an advantage, as the extra cost of pigment-based inks may not be worth the difference.
Resistance to Water
Dye-based inks can often start to run, smear, or fade when a page is exposed to water. Even a few drops on a page can make it very difficult to read. Since the ink has been absorbed into the page, it is easily spread when the paper is compromised. Pigment inks resist water quite well, and tend to bleed less around the edges of a color than dye-based inks, and they have a longer life cycle. Pigment inks rest on the page in microscopic “blobs” that can be very resistant to water once they have dried.
Resistance to Fading
Photos and other printed material left in the sun, or even just exposed to sunlight over a long period of time, may start to fade. Dye-based inks often experience quite a bit of fading in a fairly short amount of time, as they are not particularly designed to be long-lasting. Pigment-based inks, however, are sometimes rated to last up to 100 years in “museum conditions” with minimal fading. These are often referred to as “archival quality” inks. Light tends to reflect or bounce off of pigment-based inks instead of being absorbed. If you want your photos to last a long time, consider choosing a pigment-based printer.
In previous iterations, dye-based inks could often produce a much wider color gamut than pigment-based inks. This could result in more accurate colors in photos and other images. There have been many improvements to pigment inks in recent years, however, and there is generally very little difference when it comes to quality. If you are considering a pigment ink printer for the other advantages, such as resistance to water and fading, you should not be concerned about a reduction in quality if all other factors are similar. Factors such as printer resolution will affect the print quality more than the type of ink. For more information, see our article on Understanding Printer Resolution.
Which is Better?
So now you may be wondering: which type of ink is better? The answer is that neither is better for every circumstance. If you are a photographer planning to sell your prints, and want them to last as long as possible for your clients, pigment-based inks may be the best choice. If you are an enthusiast on a limited budget, and you have digital backups so that you can re-print in the case of problems like fading and smearing, you may like the lower cost of dye-based inks. It is also important to remember that as both technologies improve, their disadvantages become less pronounced. By weighing the pros and cons along with your budget and other needs, you can make a more informed decision about which type of printer is best for you.