Of Pigments and Dyes

A quick word about inkjet printers today.

My Canon Pixma Pro 9500 13×19″ art printer broke recently as you will have read – so I bought a Pixma Pro 9500 Mark II printer. These are pigment printers, as opposed to the more usual dye printers.

What is the difference?

Dyes, which are absorbed by the paper they are printed on, are easier to keep predictable in terms of colour, and hence are cheaper; pigments, on the other hand, which sit “on top of the paper”, whilst more expensive ($200+ for all ten cartridges on my printer) are permanent. Pigment inks can last more than 200 years on some paper types under ideal (museum-quality lighting and framing) conditions; dye inks fade quickly (sometimes in as little as days; usually in 20-30 years). Which is why art prints are made on pigment printers: you presumably want a piece of art to last forever.

When you use a pigment printer, you need to make sure that you use paper suitable for pigment printers. Good papers (like the Inkpress pro Silky I like to use for photos, or the Hahnemülle Fine Art papers) will say on the box when they are suitable for both dye- and pigment-printers. Pigments combined with long-lasting natural-fibre Fine Art papers, once you get all the settings and drivers right, give you extremely consistent, predictable, and lasting museum-quality prints.

Also, my Pixma printer accommodates Fine Art papers by having a straight (flat) paper path – this requires a complicated feeding procedure that takes time, and only individual art sheets can be loaded, but it is worth is since it does not bend the paper.

So when anyone asks “why does a print cost like $80?”, the answer is above. The cost of supplies, paper and printer, combined with the time needed to make a pro print, combine to make the finished product not cheap. But it is “museum quality” and lasts forever.

So before you go to Wal-Mart for a quick print – do some research, and consider having it done by a pro using pro pigment inks and art papers – or buy your own, and do the work to set it all up. There’s nothing like a quality, lasting print to show off your work!

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