Sublimation Ink and Pigment Ink - What is the Difference?

Sublimation Ink and Pigment Ink - What is the Difference?

Sublimation Ink and Pigment Ink - What are the Differences?

Sublimation and Pigment ink is listed amongst the top inkjet printer ink in today's ink and dye market, used at home and in offices. Both are generally considered the best according to users' experience. And it is often a hard pick between these two, as they are most times regarded as the same, but are not.

"Sublimation ink versus Pigment ink" is a topic that continuously gains popularity by comparison between the two dyes. Both are composed of the three elementary chemical ingredients in the manufacture of all inkjet dye: dye base(colouring agent), di-ionized water(solvent) and glycerol(drying agent).

The major difference between Sublimation ink and Pigment ink is that sublimation ink is made from a solid substance – particularly small fragments of dye in minute size, that converts directly to a gas, without first transforming to liquid. Pigment ink is an aqueous ink substance that is made of tiny powder pigment particles that are suspended in solution.

Sublimation ink is very soluble in water. Pigment ink is insoluble in water; it is suspended in water. Both are waterproof after application to the material.


Being the polymer chemist that I am, I specialize in the field of ink and dye and with over 30 years of working experience. I have an in-depth knowledge of this subject matter. And I will be giving you a well-detailed definition that best explains the pigment and sublimation ink, their advantages and disadvantages, various applications and printing processes. This would help you make a better choice of which inkjet printer ink is most suitable to produce the best result on the material you are working on.
Sublimation Ink and Pigment Ink - What is the Difference?

What is Sublimation Ink?

Sublimation ink is a printing/dye-based ink that transforms directly to gas on heating, without any form of liquidation – this process is controlled by a significant amount of pressure and time as a determining variable. 

Being an inkjet printer ink in its gaseous state, it is readily able to permeate into the surface of the desired material, making it part of the material itself. The absence of water in the printed design makes it highly resistant to fade. Sublimation ink cannot be used to print on materials directly. Due to its uniqueness, sublimation ink has a special method of application

 There are two types of sublimation ink:

  • Solvent sublimation ink

  • Aqueous sublimation ink

Solvent Dye Sublimation Ink

The solvent dye sublimation ink is an oil-based dye that contains chlorovinyl acetate as a key chemical ingredient. The sublimation process requires you to employ a printer that mixes ink: Spectra and XAAR.

Sublimation Ink and Pigment Ink - What is the Difference?

Aqueous Dye Sublimation Ink

The aqueous dye sublimation ink is a water-based dye that is composed of a minimum of 30% and a maximum of 90% of water. The particle of dye is within the range of 1-10% only. The sublimation process requires a very high temperature of 200 degrees Celsius. The job done with this type of sublimation ink requires a much bigger printer. And the most suitable printer to use is the desktop printer.

Applications And Printing Process Of Sublimation Ink

Sublimation Ink and Pigment Ink - What is the Difference?

Applications Of Sublimation Ink

The dye-based sublimation ink can be applied to quite a several materials. Here is a list of materials sublimation ink can be printed on:

  • Paper

  • Fabric

  • Polyester (most preferably)

  • Metal

  • Wood

  • Ceramic

  • Leather

  • Glass and organic glass

Note: if the sublimation ink finds it difficult to interact with the material, the surface of the material should first be treated with polyester before the application of the ink.

Printing Process Of The Sublimation Ink

The dye-based sublimation ink is made from a mixture of ground dye particles and water, which is first applied to a transfer paper, which serves as an intermediate, and then placed on the intended material, on heating, to give the desired design. The Epson and Rioch inkjet desktop printers are used in their printing process to produce clear quality photographic images in full regalia of colours that will not fade or crack away from the substrate.

To get the best out of the sublimation ink, you should mainly use it on polyester fabric. A material of such nature pronounces the brilliance of sublimation ink better than any other. This does not mean the ink is not brightly coloured on other materials, it is. But there are some cases in which both the sublimation ink and the material in question are not compatible with each other. In cases like this, a pre-applied polyester coating would resolve the issue.

Sublimation Ink and Pigment Ink - What is the Difference?

The Pros and Cons of Sublimation Ink

The Pros Of Using Sublimation Ink

  • Lasts longer

  • Hitch free printing

  • Excellent quality

  • Vivid colouring

  • Top-notch printing resolution

  • Produces brightly coloured printing

  • It merges with the material to become waterproof

The Cons of Using Sublimation Ink

  • Complex printing process

  • Largely temperature dependent

  • High probability of fabric damage due to high temperature

  • It is time-consuming

  • The printing process is quite expensive

  • It is not generally compatible with all material surfaces, except polyester is applied

  • Mostly done in a controlled environment


What is Pigment Ink?

Pigment ink is an aqueous substance that is either organic, inorganic or organometallic and contains particles of pigment powder that stay afloat in a liquid or gaseous medium. And gets easily absorbed by paper surfaces.

Being a pigment itself, the coloured substance is insoluble and remains completely unaffected by the surface it attaches to. The pigment particles resist fading and are popularly known for their extraordinary durability. Pigment ink is directly applied to the material.

Applications And Printing Process Of Pigment Ink

Applications Of Pigment Ink

Unlike the sublimation ink which can be applied to a plethora of materials, the inkjet printer pigment has some limitations on the number of materials it is applied to. And here is a list of materials to the pigment ink can be applied:

  • Paper

  • Cotton

  • Natural fabric

Note: The use of polyester fabric is not convenient for the pigment-based type of ink.

Printing Process Of The Pigment Ink

As earlier stated, the pigment-based ink is printed directly on the material. And this is done at a temperature of 150 degrees Celsius with the aid of an inkjet printer. The pigment ink attaches to the surface of the material itself. The main area of use is in photography and fine art business. The Epson Surecolor P700 is the best inkjet printer for the pigment ink printing process.

Sublimation Ink and Pigment Ink - What is the Difference?

The Pros And Cons Of Using Pigment Ink

The Pros of Using Pigment Ink

  • Exceptional durability

  • Excellent colour stability

  • High resistance to fade even when exposed to sunlight

  • Highly water-resistant

  • Remarkable image printing quality

The Cons of Using Pigment Ink

  • Limitations on the number of materials applicable

  • Excessive reflection of light

  • The printing process is done at a much higher cost

Summary of Sublimation Ink and Pigment Ink

Similarities Between The Sublimation And Pigment Ink

The sublimation ink and the pigment ink have many similarities in their various properties:

  • Ranging from their colour brilliance

  • Alluring display of colours when applied

  • Durability
  • Colour stability

  • Image quality

  • Fade resistance etc 

Despite all this mentioned above, there are still a handful of contrasts between the two inkjet printer inks.

Differences Between The Sublimation And Pigment Ink

  • Their printing process and method of application differs

  • Pigment ink sits on the material surface, while Sublimation ink permeates into the material

  • Sublimation ink is adherent, while pigment ink is coherent 

  • The same difference is spotted in their area of application.

Table Showing The Similarities And Differences Between Sublimation ink and Pigment ink


Similar Properties

Sublimation Ink

Pigment Ink


Excellent durability

Superior durability(more than 200 years)


Soluble in water 

Not soluble in water

Printing process

Sublimation Ink cannot be applied directly, a transfer paper takes part in the printing process

Direct printing on the object surface

Printing quality

Excellent, depending on the job

Excellent, depending on the material


Less stable than the pigment ink

More stable

Fade resistance




Excellent and has absence of water

Excellent, but takes a longer time to dry on application

Temperature required

A much higher temperature is required (200 degree Celsius)

A high temperature is required (150 degree Celsius)



More expensive

Preferred Material

Polyester fabric

Cotton and natural fabric


Pigment Ink Versus Dye Ink: Which One To Choose?

Pigment ink and dye ink are both aqueous substances. And both have their defining characteristics that make one preferable over the other. But one can suffice for the other. Pigment ink seems to be the better pick because it has more pros than dye ink. 

  • Pigment Ink has better strength when exposed to sunlight

  • Its vibrancy and quality are superior to dye ink

  • Has a better firm grip on colours than the other.

Conclusion For Sublimation Ink and Pigment Ink

Now that you have been given first-hand quality information on the "Sublimation ink and Pigment ink" topic, it is most certainly up to you to make a better choice from a standpoint of broader understanding.

 This article has embedded in it, a comprehensive note on the physical properties of both of them, as well as their physical state, characteristics, most preferred materials suitable for printing by which ink, printing processes, inkjet printer required for printing, pros and cons.

All you need to do is to assess the material for the job, know the specific ink to be employed, the inkjet printer required and most importantly the exact kind of design you want to achieve. All of these are the recipe for excellent colour work.


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