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Author Topic: October 2009: Pigment vs Dye Today  (Read 66067 times)
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« on: September 28, 2009, 03:22:09 PM »

October 2009: Pigment vs Dye Today


Background

Competing technology always has a way of equalizing differences.  Five years ago, LCD televisions were taking a back seat to the competing plasma market.  LCD TV's, while they delivered a decent bright picture, suffered from poor blacks and shifting colors when viewed at an angle.  Plasma TV's delivered superb blacks and a wider color range, especially when viewed in dim lighting but they struggled a bit in bright rooms as they were not as bright as LCD TV's.  Of course, manufacturers always work on weaknesses to mitigate or eliminate them.  Now LCD TV's have LED backlighting, a broader color range, and they look as good as plasmas from an angle.  On the other side of the fence, plasmas have gotten brighter and more usable in places other than dark rooms.  The technology is meeting in the middle.

Is the same happening with pigment versus dye printers?  Five years ago, you could print a photo on a dye based printer and with some printers, inks, and papers, you could almost watch the ink fade if you left the print in open air on your desk.  Some combinations (of ink and paper) were so bad that the print would be almost unrecognizable if left on a desk in a bright room for a month or two.  At the same time, pigment based printers were starting to make it to the mainstream but they had some significant issues as well.  While their prints lasted much longer than dye based prints, they had significant issues with metamerism (colors looking different under different lighting) and anyone who was truly honest would admit that the pigment printers simply could not produce a good glossy print.

Where are things today?  Have the two technologies met in the middle somewhere?  Do you still have to get a pigment ink printer if you want longevity?  Let's take a look at how far we've come in the last ~5 years.

 

Dye Based Inks

Inkjet printers have traditionally printed with dyes that basically soak into the paper and dye the paper fibers.  Dye based inks are easier to make and easier to deliver to the paper so they are generally cheaper.  Of course, it didn't take very long for people to realize that their inkjet prints, while they looked as good as real photographs when they came out of the printer, faded faster than traditional photos.  At this point there was a split in technology.  One branch went for a more stable ink base (pigment inks) while the other focused on getting better longevity out of the existing dye based inks.  Dye based inks generally have a broader color gamut, meaning that they can deliver a wider range of bright colors compared to pigment inks.  In addition, the colors produced by dye inks don't tend to shift under different lighting. 

Working with these pros in mind, manufacturers set out to mitigate some of the longevity issues with dye based inks.  The result is better inks and better paper, both of which lend themselves to long lasting dye based prints.

 

Pigment Based Inks

Pigment based inks started to become popular with the Epson 2200 about six years ago.  Pigment inks then boasted longevity that far exceeded that of traditional photographs and some started calling pigment based printers "archival".  While the longevity was impressive, it was clear that there were some significant problems with pigment technology out of the gate.  Prints just didn't have the vibrance of dye inks so photos often looked a bit dull.  In addition, no one could seem to get a true glossy print on glossy paper.  When you tried, you might get some gloss in some places on the print while other areas looked like a matte surface.  This "gloss differential" kept people away from the glossy papers when using pigment inks at first.  Finally, pigment inks tended to shift color under different lighting so while skin tones might look fine in your office, they might turn green under a different light source.

Again, working from the positive aspect of longevity, manufacturers set out to mitigate or eliminate the above tradeoffs.  What we now have are pigment inks with a broader color gamut, less tendency to color shift under different lighting, and special "gloss optimizer" inks that work around the problem of low gloss.  Papers have advanced well too, with some tailoring to the dye inks and others tailoring to pigment inks.  Pick the right paper for the ink you are using, and you can't go wrong.  Now we can print beautiful glossy photos from pigment printers and still enjoy better longevity.

 

Meeting in the middle

So how far has each technology advanced?  Have they met in the middle and is it a close race like LCD and plasma TV's?  Unfortunately it is very difficult to test and back up your findings when evaluating ink and paper permanence.  Wilhelm Research is the leader in this type of testing and you can check out their web site.  While much has been done to improve both dye and pigment ink technology and they are on their way to a meeting in the middle, it's not quite an equal race yet.  Turns out the drawbacks of pigment inks were a little easier to mitigate and/or a little less noticeable to viewers.  Right now, I'd have to still give the edge to pigment based printers when considering print longevity and quality on the same page.  Dye based printers have made great strides and with newer dye ink formulations such as Canon's Chromalife 100 inks, dye printers are now producing prints that last as long or longer than traditional photos.  It seems many want more than that though!  Even with ink reformulations and better papers, pigment based prints still last two to three times longer than dye based prints.

And yes, there are still drawbacks on both sides.  All of the same issues still exist just to a much lesser degree, so instead of a wide gap between quality and longevity, the gap is closing.  Do you base your printer purchase on "accelerated testing" that indicates today's dye based prints will only last 30 years displayed behind glass compared to 100 years for pigment inks?  That's up to you, but the reality here is that no print is going to last forever and if you really want "permanence", you'd have to find some form of media that doesn't degrade with time: something that is easier said than done and would take another full article to cover!

My own personal feeling is that there is room for both dye and pigment ink printing.  Pigment printers still can't quite produce the "wet" quality of gloss prints from a dye printer so if that's what you are looking for, there's nothing wrong with sacrificing a bit of longevity for better gloss.  As with many things, we pick what is best for what we do.  If you primarily make big prints to hang on a wall for your own pleasure, a dye based printer may prove to be cheaper and more effective.  If you are creating photo albums that you want to last generations, a pigment printer may be a better choice.  Suffice it to say that both dye and pigment ink printers have their place and it is no longer sensible to buy into either technology on the basis of longevity alone.

 

Summary

Hopefully this article has shed some light on where we stand today with dye based inkjet printers versus pigment based inkjet printers.  The bottom line is that both technologies are in the typical race to meet in the middle where their disadvantages are mitigated to the point that picking between the two technologies will eventually be a matter of personal preference.  I believe both dye and pigment printers are here to stay and they will only get better.  As a reality check, however, it is important to point out that there is no such thing as "permanence" when it comes to printed photographs.  The only real way to ensure long lasting photos is to archive your photos to some media and then keep updating that media to current standards while at the same time reprinting any photographs that may have faded.  Since few of us have the time or resources to reprint entire photo albums, I believe pigment printing is a good choice for scrapbooking or important albums that need to last as long as possible.  Larger "gallery" prints and prints that get swapped out from time to time should be fine for many years printed with dye inks and may have a little more "punch" than the pigment prints while they are on display.  If the current 30 years behind glass and 100 years in a closed album is not enough for what you have in mind, you can double or triple that with a pigment ink printer.  The choice is yours.

 

Mike Chaney

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Seth
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« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2009, 07:04:57 PM »

The dye-based side certainly has advanced.  It doesn't even pay to have the small prints done on silver-dye photographic process becausethewy won't last as long.

I use Picturemates for that type of work.  At less than $0.25/print it's not worth the time to take them out.  The Wilhelm ratings you talk about have these Epsons even higher: 100 years under glass and >200 years in an album.  Not much else to ask for there.

It seems the only thing holding back a full pigment gloss print is the black.  (I am basing the statement on Epson 2200/2400 and other K3 printers.)  Once they get a pigment black that won't rub off the gloss print, the PK/MK necessity will fade (pun intended).
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« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2009, 07:53:16 PM »

Quote
get a pigment

I don't know what my pig meant, but I am dye-ing to know.  Tongue Roll Eyes Cheesy
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Fred A
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« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2009, 10:16:43 PM »

Quote
The dye-based side certainly has advanced

I see no one even groaned at my last post, so I will respond on a more sober note.
There is a certain shade of red, not any odd mix, but a nice rich red. It's the Qimage opening logo and the same again when you click HELP and ABOUT in Qimage.
It's a nice rich red.
My R1800 cannot  reproduce that shade (pigment ink)
The Canon printer that still has Dye ink makes a perfect match.
My old 1280 (dye ink) could match too.
So I can be an advocate for a new Dye ink printer when the R 1800 decides to go to Printer Heaven.

Glad to learn from Mike's article that Dye ink printers were not kicked to the curb.

Fred
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LindaJ
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« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2009, 02:28:21 AM »

Because of all the things discussed in Mike's article, I have a dye printer (Epson Artisan 700 with Claria inks), and an Epson R2400 which has pigments. I avoided the dye printers until the Claria inks came out. I'm a happy camper.  Smiley

The Artisan is wireless which particularly appealed to me since I don't have to tether it to the pc.

I also have a Picturemate which is a nice little machine.

Nice article, Mike.

Linda J
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Seth
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« Reply #5 on: September 29, 2009, 03:43:20 PM »


There is a certain shade of red, not any odd mix, but a nice rich red. It's the Qimage opening logo and the same again when you click HELP and ABOUT in Qimage.
It's a nice rich red.[/quote]

Fred-

WHICH red?  There are hundeds (thousands?) in there.  Everything from 231-0-0, 255-2-2 to darks in the 148-0-0, 140-0-8 range.  Some shades show as out of gamut.  Just too many variables trying to print Mike's creation (or somebody he hired).  There is a lot of deep orange that I see.

In favor of your 1800, it usually reviewed having exceptionally accurate reds; it was lacking (but adjustable) in the yellows output.  Head alignment can do a subtle change without causing visible lines.

It may not be a dye vs. pigment issue at all.  Ultrachrome Hi-gloss is "pigment-based;" it has dyes also.

Don't fret. The non-reproducable sRGB QI logo is indicitive of the non-reproducable printing ability of QI.   Grin Grin Roll Eyes Roll Eyes  Wink
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« Reply #6 on: September 29, 2009, 03:49:35 PM »

Quote
WHICH red

This red.  It's the Qimage opening logo and the same again when you click HELP and ABOUT in Qimage.
You must get and open Qimage to see it. Roll Eyes Shocked Grin Grin
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Fred A
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« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2009, 04:07:44 PM »

I should clarify....
That test where the red from the R1800 was not as good as the Canon, was printed on sort of a decent quality matte surface Neato CD label, using Surething as the app for the printing. Tried VIVID on off, increased saturation, played with the colors, just couldn't make it happen.

Fred
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Seth
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« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2009, 04:21:59 PM »

I should clarify....
That test where the red from the R1800 was not as good as the Canon, was printed on sort of a decent quality matte surface Neato CD label, using Surething as the app for the printing. Tried VIVID on off, increased saturation, played with the colors, just couldn't make it happen.

Ahhhh.  You answered your own problem.  Neato and CD label.  I don't think one would ever get "true" colors.  Who knows the coating and how would you profile it?

Surely you are not putting paper labels on CDs in this day and age.  Roll Eyes  That can be deadly.  The R1800 prints direct to CDs.  Although I do not print labels on CDs, I use injet-printable media because of the extra coating.  It's safer when writing on them.
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« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2009, 05:00:48 PM »

yes it is sort of NON color management, but under the same conditions, the Canon gets there.
The canon has the old dye inks
 Wink Cheesy
Fred
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Ernst Dinkla
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« Reply #10 on: September 30, 2009, 09:01:54 AM »

Mike,

The summary surprises me.

I can agree with most remarks in the article till the summary. Though metamerism with dye inks is quite common too, not the least because the dye printers are 4 or 6 channel models without extra grey inks. Not to mention the OBA content of all longer lasting dye ink compatible papers.

The industry more or less advises the split: (long lasting) dye for albums, pigment for display. Going against the grain of that advice will be difficult as sketched below. In practice people tend to have one printer that does all and they have to cope with the limitations of one system. With the split between dye inks for display and pigment inks for albums you run into many practical problems too.


If you would like to have a matte paper in your frame with glass at the front then dye + matte papers is the worst combination for aging, the compatible papers for the longer lasting dye inks of the big three are all satin or gloss. All with a PVA or gelatine inkjet coating that embeds the dye and protects it more against gas fading. Without glass the prints will face more gas fading and dyes are less UV light resistent. The compatible papers all have OBA content which grays/yellows the paper white fast if displayed unprotected, gas fading is again the usual cause as the OBAs are dyes as well. Overall color shifts can happen fast, including skin colors going all the way.

Dye ink prints in albums have a considerably longer archivability than when they are on display. They can be used with compatible satin or gloss papers that give a good gamut and contrast which is nice the way they are used. Gloss differential and bronzing are almost non existent with dye inks on gloss papers.

Pigment inks can be used succesfully on matte papers. They have better visible- and UV light resistance. The gamut is now at the same level or better  if compared to 6 channel dye inks. On some printers the gloss enhancer allows equally good gloss and satin printing and the prints made that way survive indoor display without glass for much longer times. Papers with low OBA content exist for pigment inks. There are hardly any dye based wide formats anymore. So whether you like it or not above A3+ it will be pigment mainly. Few excepions, the HP DJ 130 etc.

The split between dye and pigment inks is less hard than it seems. Pigment particles are very related to the dye inks around and are more or less rolled up dye molecules, the best pigment inks  have each particle coated with a protective transparant polymer coating that is more or less gel like to give better gloss, a better bond and better penetration of the inkjet coating on papers. Dyes like the longer lasting Epson Claria are hybrids in between dye and pigment, early Epson documents had several hints to pigment while it is officialy declared a dye ink. The Wilhelm test results for that ink correspond to that hybrid status.

I would recommend Aardenburg as the better test institute. The method is better, the business model more suited for an independent test institute. More tests with third party papers and even third party inks.

http://www.aardenburg-imaging.com/documents.html


met vriendelijke groeten, Ernst Dinkla

Try: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Wide_Inkjet_Printers/



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Peter_Corser
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« Reply #11 on: October 01, 2009, 04:10:42 PM »

Ernst

Just for the record - I have an A3+ sized HP 8750 which is dye based with additional greys and a blue!

Not passing any judgement, but when I get it right the prints can be superb.

Peter
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Ernst Dinkla
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« Reply #12 on: October 01, 2009, 08:52:01 PM »

Peter,

I know that there are a few exceptions. In general the dye printers are 4 or 6 channel models. Sufficient gamut and a lower price.


met vriendelijke groeten, Ernst Dinkla

Try: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Wide_Inkjet_Printers/
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Seth
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« Reply #13 on: October 03, 2009, 04:46:45 PM »


I would recommend Aardenburg as the better test institute. The method is better, the business model more suited for an independent test institute. More tests with third party papers and even third party inks.

http://www.aardenburg-imaging.com/documents.html

I agree.  I felt the move away from use of RIT testing to Wilhelm brought a very commercial aspect to the whole procedure. 
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« Reply #14 on: October 04, 2009, 04:22:24 AM »

I think though that the more important question ultimately is at what point one of the two technologies manages to outdo traditional print techniques. Admittedly I haven't been keeping up much with modern printing technology, but printing it yourself was never particularly cost effective. In general it always seemed like a waste of money when even the best printers that people would likely buy were barely keeping up with standard prints and for quite a bit of money.

Prints when stored in a reasonable fashion last a really long time and with some of the new papers have stunning results. I've more or less fallen in love with some of the newer semi-translucent papers that I've had used for my prints.
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