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Types of Printer Ink: Explained

Types of Printer Ink: Explained

Not all printers use the same ink. Inkjet printers and laser printers differ because one uses liquid ink and one uses toner powder. Similarly, not all inkjet printers are the same in that some inkjet printers use dye-based ink and some use pigment-based ink. Knowing the benefits and disadvantages of what your printer uses to print can help you decide which printer is best for you.

Where to start? Let’s take a look at the different types of printers and inks available:

Laser Printers (uses Toner)

Laser printers are most commonly used for office applications, because of their speed and cost effectiveness but is now becoming the preference for home users as well due to its economy. This is especially true when you are printing large numbers of black and white text documents. On average, you can expect your laser printer will print black and white text pages nearly twice as fast as a comparable inkjet for half the cost per page.

Laser printers use a fine powder called toner (rather than a liquid ink) which is fused by a drum unit to the page using heat. For your standard office paper, laser printers get cleaner results, partly because toner doesn’t get the page wet with ink during the print process. Toner prints clearer for smaller fonts and won’t run on the page. Color laser printers are good for graphs and medium quality photos but not so much for high quality colored images where the patterning of the toner head can create noticeable banding. 

Paper for Toner:
Though most laser printers don’t necessarily require different paper when printing documents (standard office paper will do just fine for nearly all laser printer models and applications), you may need to mind the paper if you want to print labels or photos. Most brands manufacture paper explicitly for use with toner-based printing to help minimize the potential for damage to the unit over time. In order to prevent melting during the heat application process, laser-optimized paper will have little or no resin coating. Laser-friendly paper of all types will be designed to withstand heat. Be mindful when using coated paper as this can potentially melt and damage your printer permanently.

Inkjet Printers (uses Ink)

Thanks to their compact size and low cost, inkjet printers are a popular solution for home printing. They are also a go to for printing photographs, thanks to qualities unique to liquid printer ink. There are two main varieties of inkjet ink:

1. Dye-based ink is made from coloration that is dissolved in a liquid, usually either water or glycol. This helps the dye flow easily from the printer head to the page (and dry quickly once it’s there). Most standard inkjet printers use dye-based ink as this is the cheaper ink type. Dye-based inks are super sharp for text and create rich, vibrant colors in your images. They are not waterproof, however, and tend to fade in 5-25 years.

Paper for Dye-based ink:

When printing with dye-based inks, choosing a matte paper that uses Colorlok® will help you get better results. Colorlok is designed to pull the liquid from the dye deeper into the core of the Most paper. This means higher ink saturation and more dense, vibrant color in your photographs. Colorlok craft paper helps bridge the performance gap between budget-friendly office paper and more expensive photograph paper. In general, using gloss, semi-gloss, or matte-coated paper works well with dye-based ink.

2. Pigmented ink is designed to create long lasting photo-quality color for professionals. Pigment ink sets often come in a wider range of tones than a standard dye-based ink set, partly because they are specialized for use with different kinds of paper. They offer more versatility to professional photographers to improve color depth, sharpness, and tone by using different ink and paper combinations—though many manufacturers of both ink and paper will design their products with an intended combination in mind. High end photo printers will usually feature both a matte black and a glossy black to get the best results for each medium.

Paper for Pigment ink:

Fine art matte paper is a favorite for photographers and graphic designers alike. Combined with pigmented inks such as Epson® Ultrachrome®, they offer up a wide gamut and deep d-max black tones. Researchers at ImageScience suggest that smooth matte papers look almost identical to glossier finished photos we normally associate with photography, but they have considerably stronger archival qualities. They list a great assortment of different paper brands to try out and sample your look.

Fibre based papers create cool classic photographic looks and pair well with both color and black and white imagery. ImageScience likes the Canson® Infinity Platine Fibre Rag in this category, which they describe as consistent and high brightness with a semi-gloss finish great for photo printing.

Semi-gloss and lustre papers are extremely popular for photographers and create some of the best results you can achieve with a resin coated paper. Semi-gloss gives your photos that classic darkroom sheen with an ease of use that advanced amateur photographers love. Resin-coated semi-gloss papers are waterproof and offer great color and sharpness. Tom’s Hardware notes that they give the best results, but it comes at a price—resin finished paper is among the most expensive on the market.

Pigment inks don’t pair well with most high gloss paper finishes. The slick finish layer that makes a high gloss paper shimmer doesn’t allow the more viscous pigment ink absorb adequately, which can lead to underwhelming results. A few types of glossy paper perform better than others, including Canson Infinity Photogloss and Ilford® Smoothgloss paper for example. Paper and ink technologies are constantly innovating.  One such innovation is the use of nanotechnology in pigment ink sets designed to improve variance in grayscale and correct color casting. These inks are blended with resin to make prints more resistant to scratching and prevent flaking over time.

Closing

At the end of the day, the ink you choose to get the most effective results from your print will depend on your objectives—but there’s something for everyone on the market today. Once you select the printer and ink that works best for you, choosing the paper that will get the most out of that choice is key to getting the most out of your printing. A little research can go a long way when it comes to getting good results and saving money in the long run.

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1 Comment

  • Helpful, but I want to print photos on fabric, but not a heavy fabric like canvas, more like a 100% cotton or a linen look. Suggestions? It is a little confusing. I was leaning toward pigment inkjet because in some cases, the fabric will need to be washed but can be washed on delicate or hand wash cycle. Still, I don’t want the colors to bleed at that time.

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