Q. Colours on my inkjet print look faded, smudge easily when touched, and take hours to dry. I'm using the correct settings, and there's nothing wrong with my new inkjet printer. Please explain?


A. It's most likely your new printer cartridges use pigment-based ink, but your photo paper was designed only for a dye-based inkjet printer.


Ink and Photo Paper - Compatibility Matters!

Dye or Pigment Ink – what's the difference?

Dye inks were used for inkjet printing for some time before pigment ink was developed, and were at first thought to produce deeper colours. Once inkjet paper coatings for pigment inks were perfected, colour saturation became as good or better than dye ink. Longevity of pigment ink before fading is generally around 50% better than dye inks.


Today, both dye and pigment inks are used in inkjet printers. Many inexpensive printers use dye-based ink only, while more expensive photo printers use pigment based ink either for black only, or for both black and colours. Consequently there is a variety of inkjet papers available which have coatings formulated for use with dye based ink, and other papers which print well with both ink types.


Matching the right ink and paper for optimal prints

Many matte printing papers have a smooth matte finish. Matte inkjet paper is the easiest to use and will give good results with both dye and pigment ink.

Photo paper for inkjet also comes in a range of “glossiness” from satin, or low gloss, to a high gloss paper finish. The cheapest glossy paper is 'cast coated' paper which is excellent for dye-based inkjet printing, but produces poor results with pigment-based inks. This is because pigment ink requires paper coated with a special layer for best results.


Microporous Photo Paper

Ausjet RC Glossy photo paper 260gsm

This special coating is a microporous layer and, as the name suggests, has micro-sized or smaller pores, which trap and hold the pigment ink. A microporous coating layer is often referred to as 'resin coating' or 'RC' layer, and polyethylene or 'PE' coating. There are also proprietory coatings such as “ColorLok®”, which are marketed by some manufacturers. It's important to note that papers produced with a microporous layer are also 'backward compatible' with dye inks; that is, they can be printed with both types of ink.

Printer manufacturers will often recommend a specific brand of inkjet paper with a proprietary coating, to be used with their inks for optimal inkjet prints.

At the paper surface.......

If pigment ink is used on paper designed only for dye ink, blacks will likely appear greyish and colours faded, due to pigment particles dispersing throughout the paper fibres. Since inkjet paper is not transparent we only see those pigment particles (black and colours) which stay at the surface. However, paper specifically designed for pigment ink concentrates pigment particles right at the surface, so what we see are bolder blacks and more saturated colours.

If used on paper only suitable for dye ink, pigment ink will often not absorb well and may smudge. However if it happens to dry well and doesn't smudge, that's probably due to the ink manufacturer including additives in their ink to improve absorption and drying.


When printing photos with your inkjet printer, choose an inkjet paper compatible with the type of ink your printer uses. There are many manufacturers of ink with different formulations and additives, and many photo papers of varying qualities. Matte and microporous glossy papers will print well with any ink. For anything else, if you are unsure if a paper is suitable for your printer, you can easily find out by printing some samples and checking for optimum quality.

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