If you’ve researched and purchased ink for your printer, perhaps you been faced with deciding which type of ink you need. What are the differences between the inks available to you?

Dye-Based Inks
At one time, these were the only kind of ink available. Even today, though, dye-based inks are the most common type of printer ink used.

Dye-based inks offer a few important advantages, especially in an office setting where speed is just as important as quality. These inks result bright, rich colors on the paper and they dry almost immediately. Dye-based inks have a small molecular structure, which allows them to be absorbed by the printing surface quicker and reflect very little light, giving them a very vibrant look.

There are drawbacks, though. These tiny molecules are also water soluble, so they can run or smear when they come in contact with water, regardless of how long they’ve been left to dry. Dye-based inks are also not considered “archival”. The small molecular structure means that they are highly susceptible to oxidation and fading, so the superior colors they produce usually have a short lifespan. Lastly, their quick absorption rates can lead to colors overlapping or bleeding into one another, therby changing the intended color in a printed graphic.

Pigment-Based Inks
Pigment-based inks are more expensive than dye-based inks. They are also much more archival than dy-based inks. Pigment-based inks have the ability to retain their original vibrancy for years – as many as 100, depending on the type of paper that’s used and how the resulting print is stored. (A print that is kept in a drawer is going to age much better than one that is continually exposed to sunlight.)

The durability of pigment-based inks comes from the fact that each color is made up of a neutral base and tiny colored particles. Because these particles are not organic and don’t break down when mixed with liquid – they are much more resistant to being broken down by environmental forces such as moisture and sunlight.

On the other hand, the mixture of a neutral base and pigmented color can produce a slightly diluted pattern, resulting in a print that is often less vibrant than one might find in a dye-based version. Drying times for pigment-based ink are also longer because their color is not in liquid form and can’t be absorbed by traditional paper.

Solid Inks
Solid inks are relatively new to the world of printing. They are vegetable oil-based, wax-like blocks that are melted and applied to paper. Similar to pigment inks, solid inks are not absorbed into the printing surface and remain on the surface, resulting in little fading and deterioration over time.

However, since the printed colors aren’t broken up by a neutral base as they are with pigment-based inks, the final results are often more vivid. Solid inks are also environmentally advantageous. Unlike other kinds of ink, they do not come in plastic cartridges that eventually need to be disposed of.

The biggest drawback to solid inks is their lack of availability. Few manufacturers currently market them, and when they do they are relatively expensive. Solid inks, therefor, are usually used for specialized projects.

Other Types of Ink
There are other kind of inks that have been developed for specific uses.

Solvent inks, which contain color pigments and organic chemical compounds and become waterproof after heat is applied to the printed surface, are used to produce decals, billboards and artwork that might be exposed to the elements.

UV-curable inks, which result in color-rich, acrylic polymers when exposed to direct UV rays, are often used to print on substrate materials such as stainless steel, glass, and wood.
Dye-sublimation inks, which is a dye that transfers to fabric when heated, are commonly used to print on clothing, flags and other cloth materials.