The Pigment vs Dye debate has been going on in the label printing industry since its inception. Some people say dye is the best choice for their specific application, others swear by pigment ink. In this post, we at AM Labels would like to discuss in simple terms the fundamental differences between the two, and to provide you with guidance as to what ink is right for you given your specific requirements.

So what is the difference between standard dye-based ink and pigment ink and how does it affect me?

In order to fully understand the differences between dye and pigment inks, it is important to know how they structurally differ from one another. Dye inks can be thought of as a sugar solution dissolved in water.  Pigments on the other hand, are more like flour suspended in a liquid. These fundamental differences in structural design lead to marked differences in resistance, quality and price.

Water Resistance

As you now know, dye-based inks dissolve readily in water whilst pigment inks do not. Because of this difference, dye-based inks flow through printers more readily, making them the de facto standard for many inkjets. However, if water comes into contact with your labels when printed using dye-based ink, it will come undone from the media causing the ink to run. There are ways of mitigating this effect with the appropriate material choice, but it is important to understand that it cannot be eliminated. Pigment particles differ in the sense that instead of being absorbed into the media, they become intertwined within the label fibres. Thus, pigmented inks are more water resistant than dye-based inks. Typically, only about 5-10% of the ink will re-flow from the media when it comes into contact with water.

Fade Resistance

On a molecular level, dye-based inks are spread out. You can think of them when on paper as similar to a beach covered with sand.  The ink is laid in a predominately flat fashion creating a high surface area. Because of this, dye-based inks tend to fade quicker, since all of the molecules are exposed to the light, causing the chemical reactions which inevitably lead to a fading effect in as little as 6-12 weeks. However, if your labels are protected from sunlight, they can last up to several years. New Technology by Epson and others in the industry has been developed in order to reduce the effect light has on dye ink. With the right combination of ink and media, it is possible to achieve resistance somewhat comparable to pigment based inks, although this is challenging to achieve.

Print Quality

Dye-based inks excel at producing high colour vibrancy and saturation with exceptional image detail. If you are looking to achieve colours with a wide gamut and high Dmax (density of black), then dye is the choice.  However, it is important to remember that dye-based inks are water soluble, so if they were to come into contact with water, the ink will run from the media. Pigment based inks, on the other hand, typically don’t produce as vibrant colours as dye, although they can still produce great quality prints. Where pigment inks do stand out is their durability. If your application demands for highly legible text and or artwork that can stand the test of time, such as GHS labelling, then pigment is the choice for you. When it comes to selecting your inks, it is necessary to weigh the pros and cons against your current requirements in order to find a solution that is ultimately going to work well for you. No two applications are identical.


So now you know the pros and cons of each type of ink, the fundamental question I am sure you are asking is which is cheaper? Typically, dye-based inks come out on top with pigment not too far behind.  However, as you know,you are trading away durability for print quality so it depends on what your requirements are. Also, in reality, many ink manufacturers combine various proportions of ink and pigment so it is not strictly speaking a zero sum game regarding your decision. Simply use the points discussed as a guide in order to steer you in the right direction.

AM Labels – The UK’s Leading Colour Label Printing Experts

AM Labels are a UK label manufacturer with over 20 years of industry experience. We have a dedicated team of experts on hand with expertise in all things labelling who are able to match the most appropriate media/colour label printer to your specific requirements. If you would like to know more about our range of printers or materials and receive a free sample pack, don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected] or give us a ring on 01536 414 222, we would be happy to help.