Before you dive into a new wide-format printer, you must carefully consider what you want to accomplish and which ink set will help you get there. The cost of ink is a large consideration, but there are also the considerations of durability, adhesion, color brightness and coverage.
There are many varieties of inks available in the digital printing arena, from solvent and eco-solvent to latex, UV, solvent UV, aqueous (both dye and pigment) and dye sublimation. All inks have a few main components in common: a colorant (dye or pigment) and a carrier liquid. One of the defining qualities is the process where the color is adhered to the material or substrate.
The goal for this article is to cover the different qualities of each ink, list some of the applications for which they are used, and briefly touch on the pros and cons of each to help you make the best decision for your business.
Solvent ink refers to the oil-based solution that holds the pigment and resin, and has the advantage of being fade-resistant, waterproof and resistant to abrasion. Solvent ink can print on many different uncoated banners and vinyls, allowing the pigment to bond better. The solvent then evaporates, or is flashed off with the heaters on the printer, leaving the pigment behind.
This ink will typically resist fading for five to seven years, and is excellent for use with long-term outdoor banners and vinyls. Because volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are present, venting really is a must for this ink.
It does not take a lot of heat for the carrier to evaporate, and because the oil-based solution is so corrosive, a print head with solvent ink is easily clogged. Regular cleanings are mandatory to keep this printer running well. Letting a solvent printer sit around for a few days without maintenance will most likely result in the printer needing a new print head.
The liquid solution in eco-solvent ink comes from ether extracts taken from refined mineral oil. Don’t be misled into thinking this is an ecologically sound ink because of the title. Low- or light-solvent is perhaps a better name, and you will sometimes see those terms used to describe this ink.
Eco-solvent ink can print on many uncoated substrates and takes longer…
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is director of Digital Print Programs for SGIA. He provides solutions and technical information on digital printing as well as digital equipment, materials and vendor referrals. He oversees SGIA’s digital equipment evaluation program. Ray is project manager for both the PDAA Certification program and SGIA’s Digital Color Professional certification program and is an instructor for the Color Management Boot Camps. A regular contributor to the SGIA Journal, Ray won the 2016 Swormstedt Award for Best in Class writing in the digital printing category. His 25+ year career in the graphics industry has spanned owning his own prepress and offset business to digital wide-format sales, training, support and service. Ray has extensive experience in color management and worked closely with the Smithsonian Institution to implement a color managed workflow in their exhibits department. Contact him at: