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Ignorance results in inappropriate choice of printer – dye or pigment ink

Individuals, home buyers in particular, are not fed enough of the important information at the right time to help them make the right choice of printer.  Whether the printer uses dye or pigment ink can be a critical element of the purchase decision – if only the customer knew the difference and the implications.

As a follow-on (not follow-up) from the previous article, a further instance of printer choice not entirely matching needs has been revealed. I wonder how many individuals actually know what type of ink their printer uses?  Of whatever percentage that may be, I guarantee that only a very small percentage know at the time of purchase!

And, to a certain extent, why should they? I, as  an industry analyst, was introduced to the technical differences and implications only at a manufacturer’s press and analyst conference, where print technology was the focus, even though I had known that there were two types of ink from a couple of years prior to that. And, the only reason I knew of the two types of ink was because I was creating lists of the printers on the market, together with their specifications. At the time, some printers included this information in the product specification. Precious few show that information now.

This week, I finished a jar of rather special artisan-produced chutney, bought on a market in France. The jar was a nice-locking jar used by people for bottling fruits and jams in the home (these are very popular in France for a multitude of purposes), so I figured it would be criminal to throw it away or recycle it. Into the dishwasher it went!

When it came out, the label was still stuck fast (unusual for jar labels!) but, while the black text was still firmly in place and totally readable (impressive after a dishwasher wash), almost 100% of the colour has disappeared.

So what?? The jar is empty – I hear the cry – you’ve put it through the dishwasher!!

jarlabelWell, it’s just that, if the artisan who made the chutney or jam wants to present the best image to their customers, and therefore achieve the best price for the product, they need to be presenting it to the highest standard they are capable of achieving. What this means is that it is no good a batch of jars being showered on by rain as the stall is being set up if the print on the labels is liable to run and smear. A batch could be rendered unsaleable that day. In fact, with the labels also sticking so hard, it then becomes a real hassle for the artisan to remove the damaged labels and replace them with freshly printed labels ready for the next appearance at the market.

So what are dye and pigment inks?

  • Dye inks are manufactured by dissolving coloured dyes in a liquid carrier. The liquid ink soaks into the paper, thus literally dying the paper. I’m sure we are all familiar with the ability of dyes in the clothes we buy to run when the garments are put through the washing machine and the dyes dissolve back out of the fabric! Exactly the same is true of dye inks when they come into contact with water and other water-based liquids (i.e. tea or coffee!). It is generally assumed by manufacturers that home users have no need for anything other than dye inks and certainly, in the past, it was assumed that the bulk of home printer use would be for printing photos (see comment on use below)
  • Pigment inks are created by suspending tiny, particle solids of colour in a carrier liquid. As the ink is placed on the paper, the liquid carrier dries very rapidly, depositing the solid pigment particles on the surface of the paper, where it sticks fast. There are two benefits to this: firstly, the pigment particles sit on the surface of the paper (whereas dyes soak ‘into’ the paper), thus giving much more vivid colours; and secondly, the pigment particles cannot be redissolved when exposed to water-based liquids, meaning that the printed image is far more permanent and durable than any image printed using dye inks. There are technical issues with designing a printer to use pigment colour inks, such as the order in which the colours are placed on the page – this has caused some reluctance on the part of manufacturers to move from dye to pigment inks.

Taking this further, to the best and most appropriate use for the two ink types:

  • Dye inks have always been considered to be best for photo reproduction because the colours mix as they soak into the paper, giving smooth colour gradations in the photo. Glossy photo paper technology ensures that permanence of the printed image is far higher than it is possible to achieve on plain paper (recent advances in pigment ink technology mean that there is now no reason why professional photo quality cannot be achieved using pigment inks)
  • Pigment inks have always been preferred for documents printed on plain paper because of the inherent permanence, durability and vivid nature of the print. Modern printers using pigment inks are now capable of producing high quality photographs. Indeed Epson’s professional and Large Format printers use a pigment formulation

Water on dye inks

Note: It should be clearly stated here that all references are valid for manufacturers’ original inks only. Some third party inks are not capable of providing the same degree of print quality, permanence and durability as that provided by the manufacturers’ original inks and very few pigment inks are available in the third party, so called ‘compatible’, market place.

The example to the left shows how vulnerable dye inks are to water damage on plain paper. These inks were third party inks – all four colours – when the black specified by the manufacturer should be pigment!

No manufacturer makes the distinction between dye and pigment inks on its website.  In fact, no manufacturer makes any mention of the vulnerabilities of dye inks at all.  The best we can expect is that pigment inks might possibly be mentioned but, more likely, there is only comment on the fact that the inks used are ‘durable’.


No mention at all is made on the Brother website regarding dye or pigment inks. Historically, all Brother inkjet printers have used dye colour inks. Recent models, especially those with a business target, use pigment black combined with dye colours.


No reference is made to either dye or pigment ink on the Canon website. Typically, Canon printers use five or six inks rather than four.

In the six-ink models (targeted largely at photo printing), two of the inks are black. One black is a pigment ink that is used exclusively for printing text, while the other is a dye ink that is used exclusively for printing photographs. In addition, there is a grey ink to provide more subtle shades of grey in the photos rather than attempting to create a neutral grey from the three primary colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow).

Five-ink models (more generally targeted at document printing and the home office, with high quality photo capability) drop the grey ink but retain the two different black inks.

Canon has no inkjet models specifically targeted at business use.


Epson is the only major inkjet manufacturer that lets potential buyers know pretty much up front whether the ink used in each machine is dye or pigment. This information can be found in the ‘Specifications: Technology’ section for some models. Why this information is missing from some models is a mystery. However, by determining that models not displaying the ink type use the same ink as a model that does display the type, we know that:

  • All EcoTank models exclusively use dye inks – very strange for a model range that is targeted at high volume document printing!! The logical explanation for this is that EcoTank was developed by Epson to combat the CISS (Continuous Ink Supply System) sold by the third party ink supply industry for its machines and is, therefore, designed to be as a cheap to run as possible – hence dye inks.
  • Expression, because they are photo-oriented models, also use dye inks, as does the Stylus Photo model. This ink is sold under the brand name ‘Claria’. Although the website does not specify that these machines use dye inks, there is no secret that Claria is dye based. Indeed the website used to specify this years ago.
  • By contrast, the Workforce range of business inkjet printers use ‘DURABrite’ inks, which, as their brand name suggests, is pigment-based. Again, although the website does not specify that these machines use pigment inks, there is no secret that ULTRABrite is pigment based. Again, the website used to specify this years ago.
  • The odd-one-out in the Epson stable is the Surecolor range of professional photo printers, which uses a pigment ink formulation (UltraChrome) to print high quality, durable photographs. These printers offer printing from A3 size upwards.


Hewlett-Packard does take the opportunity to specify which models use which ink type – by looking in the detailed specification for the printer. It can also be found contained in the technical details of the ink cartridges themselves. What this means is that, if a potential buyer wants to check whether the printer they are interested in uses dye or pigment inks (and is therefore appropriate for their specific use), they have to either trawl through the entire technical specification to find the information very near the end or look up the cartridges used and refer to the technical details for “Ink type”. BUT, at least it is specified – and in two places. It might be buried deeper than is desirable but the information is definitely there.

In addition though, there is specific mention of pigment inks under “learnaboutsupplies: printpermanence: business documents” that explains how Officejet inks resist smudging and highlighter smear and water exposure. While the implication is that business documents printed on an Officejet machine will be durable, there is no advice that would point a home user, who requires durability on plain paper documents, towards an Officejet printer with pigment inks instead of a Deskjet, Envy or Officejet printer with dye inks.

NB. The following paragraph has been modified below regarding the ink used in black cartridges.

All of the Hewlett-Packard Deskjet and Envy printers priced below £50, and one Officejet model (£55), use dye inks (including black). All Envy models higher up the range (priced from £60 up £160), and the most expensive Deskjet (£55), use pigment black but with dye colours.  Hewlett-Packard also classifies two other Officejet models (priced at £90 and £99) in the ‘home’ category but these use the same pigment black and dye colours as the higher end of the Envy and Deskjet ranges.

Information for the paragraph above was taken from the website. Hewlett Packard has since indicated that, in fact, ALL black cartridges for ALL current models of inkjet printer use pigment ink.  In response, Hewlett-Packard has been notified of the error on the website and is endeavouring to correct the information provided.

It is not until we reach the main core of Officejet and Officejet Pro models (priced at only £100 upwards) that pigment inks in all four colours come into play. Choose between £99 for pigment black and dye colours or £100 for 4-colour pigment inks?? No-brainer!!

At the top of Hewlett-Packard’s business inkjets stands the awesome Pagewide range, offering ultra-fast printing for every environment from the busy small and document intensive office to the largest of enterprises.

I have always purported that it is better, in the long run, to spend just a little extra on the hardware in order to benefit from the Total Cost of Printing advantages to be gained from the higher end models. ProductLabelExactly the same principle goes for pigment inks!

As a parting shot, it also turns out that some companies use dye inks for product labelling. As with the other examples given, this is not an ideal situation at all. Boxed products are delivered by courier and postal services, often in poor weather (in the case of the UK, mostly in poor weather!!). This product label became splashed (actually waiting for installation rather than at delivery) and the damage to the printed image is clear.


So, what does all this really mean to you and I, the printer buyer?

As has been stated many times in the past, buyers need to be able to make informed decisions on what printer is most appropriate for their use. This includes having access to much better information on the expected Cost of Printing for each machine but also more readily available information on which ink type is used in each device and, more importantly, why a user should make a choice between the ink types. It may mean spending a little more on the hardware but, for those who need it, pigment ink will always avoid the disappointment and frustration of needing durable prints but not getting them.

What is desperately needed is for the industry (meaning the manufacturers) to take their customers’ basic needs more seriously rather than always prioritising the most advanced, or technologically breakthrough solutions to perceived needs and to provide the right information as up-front as possible – meaning not burying it in the detailed product specification.

Give customers easier access to more and better information prior to purchase >> more satisfied customers!

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