Should they buy one that uses pigment or dye-based ink? Does it really matter? The paper, printer, and in all play roles in image quality and permanence. And because of the way printers and inks have evolved, there isn’t a simple answer. Once, dye-based inks had a clear advantage in overall color gamut, number of colors that can be printed and smoothness, the way ink sits on the paper especially on glossy or semi-gloss papers. Also, the print heads on most dye-based printers didn’t clog as often, which meant fewer cleanings and less wasted ink.
But dye has shortcomings. The prints usually need a few minutes or more to dry, and they tend to smudge if touched by wet fingers. They also often don’t hold up as well behind plastic in photo albums especially glossy prints in humid conditions.
Color shift over time can be an issue, too, especially when dye-based prints are exposed to ozone or other airborne pollutants. This can be reduced dramatically by using “swellable inkjet papers” as opposed to micro-porous or uncoated (plain) papers. Swellable papers also protect the ink, resulting in far better longevity. Two of my favorite swellable papers are Ilford Galerie Classic Pearl and Classic Gloss. Both are available as small as 4×6 inches. Another favorite is Hewlett-Packard’s Premium Plus Satin Photo Paper (available in 13x 19-inch and larger sizes). Meanwhile, pigment has gained ground. Dye’s smoothness advantage still remains, to an extent, although gloss enhancers and advancements in ink and paper have boosted pigment’s popularity.
In fact, most of today’s pigment-ink inkjets produce vivid, smooth prints that rival dye-based prints. Many pigment-ink printers give you a large color gamut on a range of papers, with excellent waterfastness and very good longevity when paired with glossy and matte papers. And pigment ink usually uses “instant-dry” paper. So when it comes to long-lasting prints on the widest range of papers, pigment has the edge.
Depending on your budget, top pigment printers with their widest print size like: Canon PIXMA Pro9500, Epson Stylus Pro 3800, HP Photosmart Pro B8850.
That said, there are dye units I would recommend. Specifically, those using Epson’s revolutionary,dye-based, Claria Hi-Definition ink. In many ways, it performs more like pigment ink than it does like traditional dye-based ink which is why this wasn’t a simple answer . I think the Claria-using Stylus Photo 1400 would be a good choice. It even prints directly on CDs and DVDs.
To see for yourself how the various offerings stack up, go to Wilhelm Imaging Research. There you’ll find estimated longevity ratings, as well as ozone and water-resistance data, for numerous papers and inks on a range of printers.