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Difference Between Sublimation Ink and Pigment Ink (& Which Is Better)

In today’s printing world, Inkjet printers are one of the most popular printers known and widely used in the space. Inkjet printers produce text and images by spraying microscopic ink droplets onto the paper, where it soaks in.

Inkjet ink is typically available in two forms,dye-based inks, also known as sublimation inks, and pigment-based inks. Ink-based printers produce more vibrant colors than other types of printers and are ideal for printing photos and graphics.

When it comes to the types of ink used in inkjet printers, both inks have their method of coloring textiles and other objects; there are some areas where one trumps the other. Because they both excel in their respective fields, you must be wise enough to select one based on the type of printing work you do.

Using the proper ink will significantly improve the quality of the products. On the other hand, selecting the incorrect ink can ruin your work and bring a bad reputation to your company or business.

In this post, we will provide you with a thorough explanation of pigment and sublimation ink, their benefits and drawbacks, various applications, and printing processes. This will allow you to make a more informed decision about which inkjet printer ink will produce the best results on the material you are working with. Stick around to learn more.

Overview of Sublimation Ink and Pigment Ink

Sublimation ink and Pigment ink are among the best inkjet printer inks available in today’s ink and dye market, which are used both at home and in the workplace. According to user feedback, both are generally regarded as the best. And it’s often difficult to choose between the two because they’re often confused as the same thing, but they’re not.

When applied to the material in use, both sublimation ink and pigment ink are waterproof. However, sublimation ink is very soluble in water, while pigment ink is suspended inside water, portraying insolubility properties.

Both are made up of the three basic chemical ingredients used in the production of all inkjet dye: dye base (coloring agent),  glycerol (drying agent), and di-ionized water (solvent).

Below we will discuss both sublimation ink and pigment ink in more depth separately and will help you understand and see the differences that favor one over the other.

Sublimation Ink

Sublimation ink is a printing/dye-based ink that, when heated, transforms directly to gas with no form of liquidation; this process is governed by a significant quantity of pressure and time as a deciding variable. In its gaseous state, sublimation ink can easily permeate the surface of the desired material, becoming a part of the material itself. Because there is no water in the printed design, it is highly resistant to fading. Sublimation ink cannot be used to print directly on materials hence has a special application method due to its uniqueness

When compared to most other dye-based inks, this one lasts longer. Sublimation ink produces photo-quality colors that are bright, vivid, saturated, and brilliant. Prints made with this ink are resistant to peeling, cracking, and being washed away by water. Because the ink contains Cyan Magenta Yellow Overcoating, black ink is eliminated, and this causes a clear overcoating ink. As a result, the printed objects are protected from moisture, air, and UV rays. This ink also produces brilliant and well-saturated colors due to its small molecular particle size.

There are two types of sublimation ink, 1. Solvent dye sublimation ink, and 2. Aqueous dye sublimation ink.

1. Solvent Dye Sublimation Ink

This is an oil-based dye sublimation ink where the pigment is suspended in a special type of oil. This type of ink is mostly used by printers with wide heads like XAAR, Konica, and Spectra.

2. Aqueous Dye Sublimation Ink

This type of sublimation ink is aqueous, where the pigment is suspended in water. Aqueous dye sublimation inks are compatible with the majority of inkjet printers, and they do not emit any odors when used and hence do not require ventilation

Applications of Sublimation Ink

Sublimation ink can be applied to a variety of materials. The most preferred material is polyester but you can print on other materials and fabrics like wood, glass, leather, and ceramic among others. If the sublimation ink has difficulty interacting with the material, the surface of the material should be treated with polyester before applying the ink.

Printing Process of Sublimation Ink

Sublimation printing uses heat to fuse ink and fabric. The ink is first applied to a special transfer paper that serves as an intermediate, then this special transfer paper is placed on the intended material. When heated, the inks are used to turn into gas, which then combines with the fabric to permanently print on it. Because the ink is embedded in the fabric or substrate rather than simply laying on top like a normal print, the effects are permanent and less prone to fading.

As a result, the image is permanent and isn’t going to crack, peel, or wash off of the substrate. The method enables the ink to transition from a solid to a gas without becoming liquid, similar to how dry ice does. The heat initiates the conversion, which is controlled by pressure.

To get the most out of the sublimation ink, use it primarily on polyester fabric. A material of this nature best expresses the brilliance of sublimation ink. This is not to say that the ink isn’t vibrantly colored on other materials; it is. However, there are some instances where the sublimation ink and the material in question are incompatible. In such cases, a pre-applied polyester coating would solve the problem.

Pros and Cons of Sublimation Ink

The pros of using sublimation ink are:

  1. Provides bright and more vibrant colors.
  2. It lasts longer
  3. It merges with the material to become waterproof
  4. Top-notch printing resolution producing excellent quality
  5. Designs don’t fade away, peel off, crack, or wash off
  6. Offers a variety of colors

The cons of using sublimation ink are:

  1. It is a complex printing process
  2. It is time-consuming
  3. The printing process is quite expensive
  4. Largely temperature dependant

Pigment Ink

Pigment ink is an aqueous substance that contains pigment powder particles that float in a liquid or gaseous medium. These particles are composed of many molecules that bond together to form extremely stable chemical bonds. As a result, the ink is less vulnerable to moisture and oxidation.

The colored substance is insoluble and unaffected by the surface to which it is applied because it is a pigment. The enclosed particles do not absorb completely into the printed items but rather stick on top of them. The pigment particles are known for their exceptional durability and resistance to fading. Pigment ink is applied directly to the material.

Applications of Pigment Ink

Unlike sublimation ink, which can be applied to a wide range of materials, pigment ink has a limit on the number of materials to which it can be applied.

The use of polyester fabric is inconvenient for pigment-based inks. Here is a list of the most appropriate materials to which the pigment ink can be applied:

  1. Cotton
  2. Paper
  3. Natural fabric

Printing Process of Pigment Ink

Pigment ink requires the use of an inkjet printer, binder, or heat press machine. The pigment ink is directly printed on the material with the aid of an inkjet printer and this is done at a specific range of temperature causing the pigment ink to stick onto the surface of the material itself. When it comes to document printing, pigment ink is the best option to use because nothing beats its printing materials.

Pros and Cons of Using Pigment Ink

The pros of using pigment ink are:

  1. Has high resistance to fading even in extreme sunlight
  2. Presents excellent color stability
  3. Highly water-resistant
  4. Lighter colors and better opacity make the results more visible on dark surfaces
  5. Amazing image printing quality with exceptional durability

The cons of using pigment ink are:

  1. Great limitations on the number of materials usable
  2. Displays excessive reflection of light
  3. High cost of the printing process
  4. Provides less vibrant colors

Which Is Better: Sublimation Ink or Pigment Ink?

Deciding on which is better might be difficult because both ink types excel in their respective fields. According to the above discussion, sublimation inks are expensive and have a broader application in the modern print industry. On the other hand, the ability of pigment ink to adhere and stick to various substrate materials makes them suitable for commercial use.

Sublimation inks are more reliable and long-lasting than pigment inks and on the other hand, are more expensive than pigment inks. Furthermore, the sublimation printer and heat transfer element add to the cost of the printing process. Sublimation inks are ideal for textile items such as pillowcases, shirts, and flags, whereas pigment inks are ideal for banners, magazines, and brochures.

Pigment inks use pigment-based colors that reflect light, whereas dye-based colors focus light in sublimation inks. The pigment ink’s larger pigment particles scatter light, making it lighter. Sublimation inks are more vibrant and saturated than pigment inks and provide a better color transition. It makes them ideal for overall printing, whereas pigment inks perform better in gradient designs.

Choosing the Right Ink for Your Application

Both sublimation ink and pigment ink have distinguishing characteristics that make one preferable to the other. To find the best suitable ink for your needs, weigh the benefits and drawbacks of pigment inks alongside pigment inks, as there is no clear winner suitable for all applications. As a result, ask yourself the following questions to determine which characteristics are most important for your specific needs:

  1. What price range are you targeting?
  2. How long do your markings have to last? What environment will the products be used in? Is water resistance a concern?
  3. What material or substrate will you be printing on?
  4. Is the quality and design of the marking a priority? Which option will produce the best result?
  5. Is smudging a risk during the production process? Will fast-drying ink be a priority?

Sublimation inks and pigment inks can provide you with an economically viable printing solution. By taking into account all of these factors, you will be capable of getting a printing solution that meets all of your requirements.


This article contains a detailed note on both of their physical properties, as well as their physical state,  printing processes,  pros, and cons. characteristics, most preferred materials suitable for printing, and inkjet printer required for printing,

All you need to do is assess the material for the job, determine the specific ink to be used, the inkjet printer needed, and, most importantly, the exact type of design you want to achieve. All of these ingredients add up to excellent color work.

Having discussed all the information regarding the differences between sublimation ink and pigment ink, it is most certainly up to you to choose from a broader understanding and standpoint.


How can you tell the difference between sublimation and regular ink?

There are a few key differences between sublimation ink and regular ink. To begin, sublimation ink is intended for use with specific printers that use heat to transfer ink onto various surfaces. Second, because it is designed to be transferred at high temperatures, sublimation ink is generally much more vibrant and vivid than regular ink. Finally, sublimation ink will frequently have distinctive packaging or labeling indicating that it is intended for use with sublimation printers.

Can you use sublimation paper with pigment ink?

No, pigment ink is not suitable for sublimation because it does not convert to gas and cannot penetrate the substrate’s fibers. Sublimation ink is designed specifically for sublimation printing.

Which is better, sublimation ink or pigment ink?

Both sublimation ink and pigment ink have advantages and disadvantages, what you prefer between the two depends on your specific needs. Although sublimation ink is more expensive than pigment ink, it produces much brighter and more vibrant colors. Pigment ink is more durable and fade-resistant, but it does not produce as vibrant colors. Finally, the type of ink you use is determined by what you intend to use it for. Sublimation ink is probably your best bet if you need bright and bold colors. Pigment ink is probably a better choice if you need durability and fade resistance.