A long time ago, when dye ink technology was in its infancy, there was very little reason to buy a cartridge if it didn't contain pigment ink. Dye-based alternatives had a reputation for producing washed-out print that faded quickly, and they weren't even much cheaper. So pigment ink quickly gained a reputation for being the clear-cut superior which persists today, even though the situation has changed; these days your choice should be based on what you are printing, as well as what you are printing it on.
Pigment inks contain coloured particles suspended in a liquid carrier. These particles sit on the surface of the printed page, which means that they work better on smooth surfaces such as high quality paper, labels and transparencies. They are rarely water soluble and have a relatively high UV resistance.
Dye inks have the colorant in solution - fully dissolved in the liquid carrier. For best results, the ink needs to soak into the media slightly, so they perform well on standard paper. They are often water soluble and although their UV resistance is typically less than that of pigment inks, print life figures in the region of 100 years are not uncommon.
ARE ALL OEM (ORIGINAL) CARTRIDGES PIGMENT BASED?
No. These days most manufacturers offer either a choice or a mixture of pigment and dye. For example, the Epson Claria range contains dye ink while their DuraBrite range is pigment based. In Brother's Inobella range, the black cartridge has pigment ink while the colour cartridges are dye based.
WHICH IS BEST?
It depends on a number of factors. You should consider what is being printed, what medium it's printed on, and the conditions in which it is being used/filed/displayed. In general, the following applies, although there are no absolute rules:
- Photographs: Dye. The wider range of colours available and better blending capability means that dye based cartridges produce more vibrant prints.
- General documents: Dye. There is no advantage that pigment inks have over the typically cheaper dye versions that is relevant to printing letters, notes and memos, emails, reports, booking confirmations, boarding passes or any of the other thousands of types of standard document that the average user may want a hard copy of. In fact, black dye cartridges often produce a "blacker" black than the pigment version, so can often be superior in this application.
- Archival documents: Pigment. Where documentation is intended to be "permanent", the slower fade rate of pigment ink is an advantage. Print life statistics quotes by manufacturers vary wildly, from 15-100 years for dye ink and from 20-250 years for pigment. Note that the extra cost of pigment printing may outweight the inconvenience of reprinting the document every few decades.
- Display prints: Pigment. Although the colour range available to pigment inks is inferior to that for dyes, they have a couple of significant advantages when it comes to displaying prints. Pigment inks have a better fade resistance (see above) and are not water soluble. So whether you're a photographic artist selling professional quality prints, or just need to put up a notice in a swimming pool, you would want to consider these factors.
- Printing on a budget: Dye. The ingredients in pigment ink are relatively expensive, so it's always going to be cheaper to buy dye based cartridges.
Dye technology has come a long way recently, and pigment ink no longer enjoys a clear advantage - in fact it has fallen behind dye in many aspects.
Unless you specifically need the key characteristics of pigment ink (better light and water fastness), you are almost always better off with dye based ink.
The print medium is also a factor, as is the design of the printer. Don't expect dye inks to work well on ultra-smooth surfaces like transparencies (they're fine on smooth photo paper) and don't use pigment ink in a printer designed for dye - the suspended particles can easily clog the fine nozzles in a dye ink printer.
If you need any advice, feel free to chat with us online or drop us an email, we'll be happy to offer a recommendation based on your own unique circumstances.