Firehouse Blog

The Three Flavors of Inkjet

PaulPicA long-running sales phrase would come up whenever we purchased a new printer. Sales would be excited to tell everyone about the new machine, but that would generally be countered with “Sell the burger, not the grill.” The reasoning being that clients don’t care which model of machine is used to get their finished print any more than customers care what model grill their favorite burger joint uses. They care about the quality of the finished product.

But, let’s push back a little on that. What if your burger place had three different grills each with different benefits? One sears better which locks in the juices, one provides the best overall flavor and one cooks your burger in only 30 seconds if you’re in a hurry. You get the idea. The same can be said of wide-format inkjet technologies. They each have specific benefits and characteristics. That could mean one is a better fit for your next print project. So, with that in mind, let’s take a closer look at these different technologies.

All inkjets share some basic characteristics. They all have a color element that is dissolved, or suspended, in a liquid to form ink. The ink is transferred to the print material and the liquid is removed leaving only the dried color. Sounds simple enough, but the differences between them outweigh the similarities.

InkjetTech_v2Firehouse uses three distinctive inkjet technologies, Aqueous Dye, UV-Curing Pigment and Latex Pigment.

Aqueous Dye Inks
Many consumer and commercial inkjets use dye-based inks. Dye inks have very small ink particles which allow for amazing print quality with sharp details. The ink is absorbed into the print surface which gives a very smooth, uniform finish that can appear more vibrant than other technologies. The inks are water based and safe to use and handle. The trade-off for the vibrancy and detail is that dye-based inks are not waterproof and they will fade with exposure to UV light. So, they are an indoor-only product and should not be in direct sunlight. They require an inkjet-coated surface for adhesion.

UV-Curing Pigment inks
UV-curing inks contain pigment particles in a liquid polymer. The ink is cured by a UV light unit on the printer. The polymer instantly turns solid when hit by the UV light. Prints are immediately ready for any additional finishing. These prints are ideal for indoor and outdoor use. They are waterproof and fade resistant. The particles remain on the surface of the substrate and require less ink to be used compared to inks which absorb into the material. Newer machines have LEDs for ink curing which use less energy and heat and allow for thinner substrates. UV curing printers do not require any specific coating on the substrate for ink adhesion. The larger pigment particles and lack of absorption give the printed surface a very subtle texture which doesn’t quite match the look and feel of dye-based inks.

Latex Pigment Inks
Often called the new kid on the block, latex machines have been around for several years now. They use a water-based latex polymer with pigment particles. Like UV inks, they are safe for indoor and outdoor applications. They are waterproof and fade resistant. The ink is heat cured. Prints are immediately dry and ready for further finishing. Prints are odorless and the latex ink does not require any specific coating on the substrate for adhesion. The heat needed for ink curing may be problematic for thinner substrates.

There you have the basics of our three technologies at Firehouse. But this is only covering inkjet. In upcoming posts, I’ll discuss Lambda Photographic Prints, Indigo’s ElectoInk and even dye sublimation!

But don’t worry, your Firehouse Account Executive or Project Manager can always recommend the perfect technology and materials for your print project’s requirements.

Paul Meek
Vice President of Operations

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