When looking for the best printer for your business, there are several factors to consider. As if there weren’t enough to think about, some manufacturers are now offering printers that use different types of ink. The battle for ink supremacy, like the other factors, has no clear winner. Learning about the available inks and comparing them to your company’s printing needs will help you make the best decision when selecting a printer.
Once the only option for inkjet printers, dye-based inks deliver bright, rich colors that dry almost immediately, minimizing the likelihood that images will be smudged when they’re handled. These attributes are due to the small molecular structure of dyes, which allows for immediate paper absorption while reflecting and scattering very little light, contributing to their vibrant colors. However, because these tiny molecules make dye-based inks water soluble, they’re quick to run or smear upon contact with water or humidity – regardless of how long it’s had to dry beforehand. Another drawback to the small molecular makeup is it leaves dye-based inks highly susceptible to oxidation and fading, meaning the superior colors they produce usually don’t last very long. Finally, the quick absorption qualities of dye inks can lead to some unintended overlapping of separate colors, slightly changing the intended color in a printed graphic.
While generally more expensive than their dye-based counterparts, pigment-based inks have become increasingly popular in inkjet printing because of their ability to stand the test of time. Whereas dye inks can begin to fade within days of being laid down on paper, pigment inks can retain much of their original vibrancy for years – as many as 100, depending on the type of paper that’s used. This unparalleled durability lies within the fact that each color is made up of a neutral base and tiny colored particles. These particles aren’t organic and don’t break down to mix with the liquid – so, conversely, they’re resistant to being broken down by such potentially damaging forces as moisture and sunlight. However, because this mixture of neutral base and pigmented color produces a slightly diluted pattern, the printed result is often less vibrant than would be the initial dye-based version. Also, because its color is not in liquid form and can’t be absorbed by traditional paper, pigment ink is more susceptible to smudging if it isn’t allowed to thoroughly dry before handling.
Relatively recent arrivals in the printing world are solid inks – vegetable oil-based, wax-like blocks that are melted and applied to paper. Like pigment inks, solid inks remain on the surface of paper instead of being absorbed by it, resulting in little fading and deterioration over time. But because the printed colors aren’t broken up by a neutral base, the results are often more vivid than those of pigment inks. Solid inks also offer an environmental advantage over the others because they aren’t housed in plastic cartridges that eventually need to be disposed of. One of the biggest downsides to solid inks is their lack of availability. Currently, only one manufacturer, Xerox, markets solid ink printers, which are available for a limited range of prices. For this reason, the option of buying less expensive ink refills from an off-brand manufacturer is non-existent.
While there are other types of inks available, most are designed for specific tasks or industries and require specialised equipment to use. Solvent inks, which contain colour pigments and organic chemical compounds that become waterproof when heated, are used to make decals, banners, billboards, and artwork for plastic goods. UV-curable inks are used to print on stainless steel, glass, wood, ceramic, and other materials after their acrylic molecules are saturated with direct UV rays. T-shirts, baseball caps, flags, and other cloth materials are made with dye-sublimation inks, which contain a type of dye that transfers to fabric when heated.
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