Dye Ink vs. Pigment Ink: How to Choose What’s Best for You

PHOTO Techniques: Mastering Digital Technique, 2003

By John Paul Caponigro Back to


When it comes to selecting ink for your Epson inkjet printer, you have two choices: dye or pigment. A closer look at the qualities of each will help you distill the choice down to the essentials.

If you seek more saturation (gamut), density of black (Dmax), lower metamerism (color shifts when viewed under different light temperatures), and durability (pigmented ink is prone to scuffing and burnishing), choose a dye-based ink (Epson Photographic Dye Ink).
If it’s longevity you seek, choose a pigment-based ink. Archival ratings increase and fading is reduced—for example, Epson Photographic Dye Ink (32 years), Epson UltraChrome (80 years), and Epson Archival Pigmented Ink (200 years)—as inksets become more pigmented. Archival ratings also vary based on choice of substrate. (For more information, visit wilhelm_research.com.)

Two pigmented inksets

If you choose pigmented ink, you have two Epson ink choices—Archival Pigmented Ink and UltraChrome Ink. Although dye offers greater gamut, the difference between dye and pigment is often overstated and sometimes misstated. Compare these two-dimensional chromaticity diagrams.

(Figure 1). A larger area in the gamut map indicates greater saturation. Photographic Dye Ink produces more saturated yellows and reds, while Archival Pigment Ink produces more saturated greens, blues, and magentas. While it seems to be a trade-off, there’s a hidden factor here—Dmax. To see the full picture, you need to make this comparison in three-dimensions. Compare these two three-dimensional chromaticity diagrams.

(Figure 2). Photographic Dye Ink produces significantly better Dmax than Archival Pigmented Ink, which affects the gamut of all darker colors.

Now compare two more three-dimensional chromaticity diagrams

(Figure 3). The pigmented UltraChrome Ink rivals the gamut and Dmax of Photographic Dye Ink, and adds greater longevity (than Photographic Dye Ink) and reduced metamerism (from Archival Pigmented Ink).

john paul caponigro, dye ink, pigment ink, digital printing

john paul caponigro, dye ink, pigment ink, digital printing

Two black inks

The printers in Epson’s most recent line—the 2200, 7600, and 9600 models—can use either Epson Photographic Dye Ink or the new pigmented Epson UltraChrome Ink. Regardless of which ink you choose, a second black ink increases Dmax. When using the Ultrachrome inks, you have two choices for the second black ink: Light Black Ink (for glossy surfaces), and Matte Black Ink (for matte surfaces). These printers produce the richest blacks to date. The improvement is particularly dramatic for matte papers. The density of
the black achievable with a given ink and paper combination has a profound effect on its brilliance and depth for almost all types of printing.


While offering the best qualities of both dye and pigment ink types, the UltraChrome inkset offers another distinct advantage: the ability to produce graybalanced (consistently tinted tones across the entire tonal scale from shadows to highlights, with no crosses or rainbowing) monochromatic prints. Using two black inks along with the other five highly
saturated inks, makes poor graybalance a thing of the past. You can easily achieve neutrality. The UltraChrome inkset is the best choice for producing both color and black-and-white images with just one inkset printer.


While dye will always be less metameric than pigment, the shift in color once associated with pigmented inks has been significantly reduced. Part of this is due to recent advances in separation and ink technology. Prints produced with more black ink
display reduced metamerism (black is the least metameric ink). A software solution, in the form of an updated print driver, is available for all Epson Archival Pigmented Ink printers; the separations it generates lay down more black ink. Epson UltraChrome Ink printers offer an additional solution—two black inks instead of one. More black, less metamerism. Consider printing with ColorByte’s ImagePrint RIP for even more significant reductions in metamerism for black-and-white images. (Metamerism is a greater concern for monochromatic images than for full color images.)

Dedicate your printer to just one ink type

Your choice of inkset may or may not be made based on your choice of printer model.
• The Epson 1280 uses only Photographic Dye Ink.
• The Epson 2000 uses only Archival Pigmented Ink
• The Epson 5500, 7500, and 10,000 can use either
of these two inksets.
• The Epson 2200, 7600, and 9600 can use either
Epson Photographic Dye Ink (CcMmYKK) or Epson
UltraChrome Ink (CcMmYKk).

You should plan to dedicate your printer to a single ink type. Switching inksets in a single printer is inadvisable, as the two inks inevitably contaminate one another producing unreliable results and clogging. (If you do switch inksets, be sure to flush a printer of
all residual ink before installing a new ink type.)

Other manufacturers

There are a number of manufacturers who produce both dye-based and pigment-based inks for Epson printers, including Lyson, MIS, Generations, etc. While these inksets offer more significant savings over Epson’s inksets, I’ve always been more impressed with
the quality that Epson’s inksets deliver. Third-party inks are prone to clogging, and using them voids the warranty on your printer. Buyer beware. Still, it’s nice to have a choice. Many users are happy with them.

Back to the basics

For maximum impact, durability, and versatility in viewing your prints in different light temperatures where longevity is not a concern, choose Photographic Dye Ink. You will be able to achieve higher saturation, denser blacks, and the lowest level of metamersim with it. If longevity is your primary concern (as it is for fine art collectible prints and family heirlooms), choose Archival Pigmented Ink. Despite its limitations, you can produce exceptionally beautiful prints with it. If you want the best of both worlds and the ability to produce graybalance, which is essential for black-andwhite prints, choose the pigmented UltraChrome inkset.

About the Author

John Paul Caponigro
John Paul Caponigro is an internationally recognized fine artist and author of Adobe Photoshop Master Class (second edition –2003). He has been awarded membership into many photographic organizations including the Photoshop Hall of Fame, the Epson Stylus Pros, Xrite Coloratti, and the Canon Explorers of Light. He has shown internationally in Italy at the Museo Archeologico Regionale, Val d’Aosta, and the VIR, SpA, Milan. John has shown his work in the United States in galleries and museums such as the Palm Beach Photographic Centre Museum, Delray Beach, FL and the Pingree Gallery in East Hampton, NY, and the Pasadena Museum of California Art, CA. In 2002 Caponigro won the honor of being voted one of Zoom Magazine's 15 Best Artists of Past 30 Years. In 2003 he was Photo District News' Annual Winner, and in 2008 he won the Communication Arts Award of Excellence. John Paul's art is the subject of published articles and books on photography and creativity. His images have been included in over 20 books on Fine Art Photography.