I’ve been doing a lot of photo printing as of late and I’m learning tons about the process. Over the past few months, I’ve discovered all sorts of things regarding the paper that produces the best results, the types of files that are necessary as well as the wide range of printers that are available. One area I haven’t focused on until recently is the actually ink that’s used to print color images. Well, I guess I should say “black and white” and color images. After all, black and whites take up a huge space in this arena.
I’ll admit that I’m no expert when it comes to knowing every last detail of high quality printing methods and supplies. I will say, however, that I’m a very fast study and after just a few hours of delving into a subject such as this, I’m confident that I can accurately educate someone on the topic. Well, let’s just say that I’ve done my homework and this is my report. I think I know what I’m talking about now.
In today’s post, I’d like to discuss a few features of two different types of color printing ink. These two inks are dye and pigment. I’m sure you’ve heard of both of these. Each of these inks has its positive attributes as well as negative attributes. When shopping for a photo printer, it’s critical that you know what you’re looking for when it comes time to do the actual printing. If you don’t get it right when you’re laying out the money for the printer, you may actually be throwing that money away.
The image above is an actual photograph of a printed image. I just snapped this one last night. I printed out one of my favorite shots about two days ago and I’m waiting to buy a frame for it. I love this shot. I’m not sure if you can see it, but the paper is high gloss and the result is very high quality. I printed this using our new Canon PIXMA Pro-100. It’s an awesome printer and I’m blown away by the colors every time I use it. The results are a far cry from what they were just 10 years ago.
Dye versus Pigment: What’s the Difference?
Most of the printers that you and I have the opportunity of purchasing for photo printing will use either dye or pigment based inks. Both of these inks are water based, but there’s a stark difference between the two when it comes to the consistency of each. This information isn’t particularly important to know for any practical reason, but it’s nice to know to impress your friends. Dye based ink is fully water soluble. This means that the dye, when introduced to the fluid that will carry it, dissolves completely in that carrier fluid. There’s no way to separate the two once they mix. I’ve heard it compared to salt water. Once the salt is mixed in, it’s not very easily extracted (without a formal process). Conversely, pigment based inks contain tiny particles that are suspended in the fluid it’s introduced to. The pigment isn’t fully dissolved, but it does look that way to the naked eye. Eventually, that pigment may settle over time if it’s allowed to do so. Think of the pigment as a very fine grained sand. Mixed with water, it may seem to be dissolved, but it’s actually not. Let that fluid sit for a few days and the sand will eventually settle down and separate from the fluid.
Dye versus Pigment: Which is Better?
Each type of ink I discussed above has a definitive perk when it comes to its use. Actually, whether it’s a perk or not depends on what you’re looking for. The perks have to do with image longevity as well as color gamut. If you’re looking for the longest lasting, most fade resistant printed image you can possibly find, the choice is clear. Pigment based inks can offer resistance to fading for well over 50 years. This is comparable to the highest quality image that was printed in a lab. So, if you’re purchasing art to keep for years and years to come, you should ask the seller which type of ink the art was printed with. If they say pigment, you’re in good shape. If they don’t know, you may want to recommend they read up on the subject.
If you’re selling art, you might want to advertise that each piece was printed with pigment based ink. Discerning buyers will take this as a nod from a talented artist who sells the highest quality prints.
If you’re looking for the boldest of colors and the widest color gamut, you’re going to want to use dye based inks. When using the same number of colors, dye based inks out perform their pigment based counterparts quite often. So, if you’re selling art that’s not meant to last for more than a few years, such as business creative or postcards, but you want that art to look really good, go with the dye based inks. The good news is that lots of headway has been made in the area of keeping dye based inks from fading for more than 20 years. Be careful which brand you purchase though. Knockoff brands most likely don’t use the latest and greatest technology while genuine Canon and Epson inks will.
Two Methods For Avoiding Fade
There are two things you can do to avoid fading photos. First, keep any printed piece of media out of the sun and away from UV rays. That’s what does the fading. Second, use a less glossy paper to print on. Personally, I’m addicted to high gloss and I’ll take the fading hit, but if longevity is what you’re after, go with a paper that leans more towards matte. No matter what type of ink or printer you use, matte paper will offer more fade resistance.
Now, I didn’t know any of this when I purchased our most recent printer. As I was learning about the various qualities of these two inks, I decided to take a peek to see what I actually bought. As luck would have it, the Canon PIXMA Pro-100 uses dye based ink. I’m happy about that because that’s what I would have wanted. Canon, along with other manufacturers, also makes pigment based ink printers, so if you’re interested in one of them, I can suggest you take a look at the Canon PIXMA PRO-10 or the Canon PIXMA PRO-1000. Remember pigment based ink is also great for black and white, due to the sheer number of black and black-related inks used.
So, to sum up, if you’re looking for a less expensive, more popular, great for glossy paper printer that offers a very wide color gamut, go with one that uses dye based inks. If you’re looking for a printer that offers extremely archivable prints that may last more than 200 years before fading (on the right paper), that’s great for fine art photography and that’s perfect for black and white printing, go with one that uses pigment based inks. After all, you’re putting lots of time and energy into your photography, so you should expect the best results with your prints.
Well, I hope I offered something of value in this post. Color printing is a huge topic, so if you’d like to add anything or ask any questions, please do so in the comment section down below or in the photo printing forum. Thanks for reading!