The Difference Between Sublimation Ink & Pigment

Written by g.d. palmer
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The Difference Between Sublimation Ink & Pigment
Both dye sub and pigment ink printers can produce photographic results. (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Home inkjet printers can produce a wide variety of prints, from text pages and day-to-day printouts to large posters and photographic-quality prints. The printers use either dye or pigment-based inks. Each has its own benefits and problems, and are suitable for particular uses. Using the wrong type of ink could result in poor image quality or reduced print life.

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Dye Sublimation

Dye sublimation printers, or dye sub, were originally designed to produce full-scale proofs rather than final products. They contain longer-lasting ink than most other dye-based printers and can produce extremely bright prints. Most dye sublimation printers use a slightly different ink set than pigment or other dye printers. Called CYMO (Cyan Magenta Yellow Overcoating), this set eliminates black ink in favour of a clear overcoating ink that protects the print from air, moisture and UV damage.

Pigment Ink

Pigment inks use tiny particles of coloured material to provide ink colour, rather than paper-staining dyes. These pigments provide greater longevity than dye inks, including dye sub types, but can clog printers more easily. Some pigment inks also suffer from a problem called metameric failure and don't look the same shade from all angles. They may have a greenish or bronze colour cast when viewed from the side or under some lighting conditions. Pigment inks offer a narrower colour gamut than dye sublimation inks, but are considerably more stable in the long term. Most pigment ink printers also offer more subtle colour shading, since they use up to eight different ink colours: cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, yellow, light grey, medium grey and black.


Inkjet prints usually last only a few years before fading or suffering damage from UV radiation. However, some inkjet prints offer similar longevity to that of photographic prints. According to Wilhelm Research, pigment printers using appropriate paper could survive up to 200 years in dark storage. Dye sublimation printers offer a slightly lower lifespan; in dark storage, they offer a little more than 100 years of longevity. Both dye sub and pigment prints survive for shorter periods than their rated lifespan when displayed in the light. Framed under glass, a print rated for 200 years in dark storage can last as little as 40 years or as many as 100.


Ink type is only one factor affecting print quality. Without pH-neutral paper coated to receive the appropriate ink, prints may fade or degrade more quickly than they should. Third-party inks and paper can also produce unexpected results, including changes in colour gamut, poor gradations between colours and reduced sunlight or moisture resistance. While branded papers and inks usually cost more than third-party options, they greatly increase the chance of a high quality, long lasting print.

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