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What is the difference between standard dye ink, pigmented ink, and sublimation ink?
Last Updated: 12/26/2018

Dye ink, Pigment ink or Sublimation ink for Heat Transfer Printing?

Dye Ink

Pigment Ink

Sublimation Ink


Most commonly used in office
photo, document printing

Designed specifically for fade resistance and long print life
Commonly used in office, document printing.

Specially used for sublimation


Best color image printing, refined

UV resistant, washing standing, waterproof

Good image printing , waterproof, washing standing


It cannot stand wash and gives a poor performance in keeping color unfading

printed image is not so clear as dye ink

Dye Based Inks

Dyes are water soluble (dissolves in water) and are known for easily obtaining saturated, brilliant colors due to its small molecule size, 1.5-4 nanometers (1 nanometer=1/1000 of a micrometer, 1 micrometer=1/1000 of a millimeter). This small particle size refracts or scatters very little light providing a large color gamut as well as allowing the dye to “seep” into most media.

This “seeping” enables dye-based inks to be used on media without the inkjet receptor top coat (a coating applied to media by the manufacturer before reaching the customer) necessary for pigmented ink adhesion.

Unfortunately, the same characteristic that provides for these advantages is also the source of its poor lightfastness and instability in many gas enviornments. A ph neutral media is recommended for use with dye based inks because of their tendency to oxidize in an unbalance ph environment, directly affecting dye giclee ink’s longevity.

Dyes also have poor water and humidity fastness due to their water soluble nature.

Pigment Based Inks

The defining characteristic that differentiates dye and pigment based inks is the complexity and size of their ink particles.

The dye “particle” is made up of one molecule while the pigment particle is made up of numerous molecules bonded together by extremely stable chemical bonds, creating a significantly larger particle measured to be .05-.20 micrometers. When comparing surface area and volume of a partice, the pigment’s relatively small surface accounts for its resistance to photofading agents and chemical attack.

Translated into english this means pigment inks have a better lightfastness and are less sensitive to humidity and environmental gases. Because pigments are water insoluble they are carefully displaced throughout the carrier most commonly by micro encapsulation, which encases each particle in resin.

Dye based inks are water soluble and can become mobile in a high humidity environment, while pigment inks are water insoluble and immune to the adverse effects humidity can cause to dye based prints.

Again the same attribute that makes pigmented inks so stable is also the characteristic that inhibits it in certain areas. Its larger particle size causes more light to be scattered resulting in a smaller gamut making some colors look muted or dull. This is most noticeable when trying to achieve rich reds. However this can be overcome with careful output, media and profile combinations.

Pigment inks are also more susceptible to metamerism, which means the shifting of color under different lighting.

As pigments inks continue to evolve this issue is becoming less and less noticeable. Due to the large particle size of pigmented inks they cannot simply “seep” into medias and require something to “attach” to, a inkjet receptor top coat, which, to the end user translates to higher media cost.

Sublimation Inks

The dye sublimation inks are a pigment suspended in a liquid solvent, like water. The images are initially printed on coated heat-resistant transfer paper as a reverse image of the final design, which is then transferred onto polyester fabric in a heat press operating at a temperature around 180 to 210 C (375 F).

Sublimation inks produce brilliant colour and good light fastness when applied to polyester and polyester coated substrates. Applying heat to the printed image with a press, whether through transfer paper or directly, fixes these vivid inks into the polyester substrate allowing the item to be washed time and time again.

Textile Application

Designed for printing onto polyester substrates, these versatile inks will sublime onto polyester rich apparel fabrics, for example sports wear; carpet fabrics; sails and flagging material. Fabrics retain their natural handle making this process ideal for garment sampling and also promotional banners. These printed fabrics are hardwearing and washable. Further information on Textile Ink products is available.

Hardware Application

Subliming Ink is a perfect solution for heat transferring images onto pre-coated ceramics, metals and plastic. The list of applications is endless: mugs, decorative tiles, fridge magnets, mouse mats, trophies and even surf boards!!! Due to the wide variety of substrates available, working with these inks opens the door to short or long run, quick response promotional gifts and product sampling. The process of transferring the image is quick and clean with excellent transfer from paper to the substrate.

Dye Sublimation Printing and what it is all about

When printed on Sublimation paper, Sublimation ink allows for very high-quality printing using a heat press, substrates that are polymer based or coated or polyester material. Given the correct amount of heat, pressure and time you will be left with beautifully printed items, that don’t fade or wash out.

When pressing a mug which has been polymer coated, you can run your finger over the image and you won't be able to feel it. This is because the ink has turned to gas when heated, the pores of the polymer coating have open and the gas fills the pores; when cooled the pores close trapping the image behind it, hence it becomes part of the coating.

You need to use Sublimation inks for heat transfer printing, normal dye inks will not work.

When printing to items that are not polymer coated or polyester based the results will be far lower than that of ones that are.

The process is simple and consists of 5 stages:

1. Print transfer (using sublimation ink and paper)

2. Cut transfer

3. Heat tape transfer to the substrate (mug etc)

4. place in the heat press for desired time (mugs 180c for approx 3-3.5 mins)

5. remove item and transfer

What you should be left with is a beautiful item with crisp images and bright colours.

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