Inkjet Ink FAQ for Imprinters
by Steve Greenfield aka Alien Steve

Epson Printers:
Epson printers use piezo heads. A chunk of piezoelectric crystal distorts when an electrical pulse is applied, shooting a tiny spot of ink out. Original and 3rd party dye inks: probably run the first time the transfer gets wet so they must be washed before worn the first time, not waterproof on inkjet bumper sticker. When used for printing on paper, dye ink will fade in a few years (or less, in rare cases or in sunlight). Some newer Epson models claim much longer life for their dye inks. Some brands of wide format inkjet printers either use Epson print heads, or piezo technology licensed from Epson.

Durabrite ink: Epson OEM pigmented ink, works on glossy paper. Shifts to yellowish/brownish when heat pressed, change your printer driver settings to compensate. ( -15 Yellow, +5 Magenta, +5 Cyan thanks to Don of the HTFDP list) Very fade resistant, passes wet test right after pressing. Extremely water resistant, works on glossy paper. Like all OEM ink, rather expensive at an estimated 50c to $1.25 per letter size photo print.

HP, Lexmark, Canon and other desktop printers:
Most desktop printers other than Epson use a pigmented black ink for waterproof text, and dye colors. These use a thermal inkjet process also called Bubblejet, uses a tiny resistor to vaporize a tiny bubble of solvent in the ink, driving a spot of ink out and immediatly collapsing again. Because of this, they tend to be a bit more picky about the ink that can be used in them.

However, despite popular mythology, thermal inkjet aka Bubble jet can use the right pigmented or dye sub ink. OEM black ink in the aforementioned printers are almost all black, and other brands of printers such as Encad (now owned by Kodak) use HP black print heads, only filled with the requisite colors in either dye or pigmented ink. Many of HP's wide format printers can use either dye or fully pigmented inks. All of the Designjet CP series, for instance. 2000cp, 2500cp, 2800cp, 3000cp, 3500cp, 3800cp, 5000cp.

Other brands of desktop inkjet:
Dell, Brother, etc. often are either just rebadged printers built by other makers, or use the print heads from Canon.

Archival ink:
Means nothing. Merely a marketing term that may or may not mean pigmented ink. Several 3rd party refill kits say "archival" but are really dye ink.

Pigmented inks:
Most popular amongst Tshirt imprinters seem to be Magic Mix and Spectrabright, only for Epson printers. They are pigmented inks well suited to Tshirt transfers. Passes the wet test right after pressing, doesn't require a wash before first wearing. Very fade resistant, well suited to inkjet bumper sticker vinyl. Extremely water resistant on regular paper, not suited to glossy paper. Much less expensive than OEM inks when bought in bulk (ie, large bottles 100ml or larger), estimated 8c to 12c per letter size photo print.
Magic Mix from Personalized Supplies
Spectrabright from JBL Graphics

Pigmented MIS inks: MIS Pro Eboni Black with MIS Perpetual colors. (thanks to Flo Karp) Passes wet test, very fade resistant, inkjet bumper sticker, extremely water resistant. Not suited to glossy or semi-glossy paper. Much less expensive than OEM inks when bought in bulk (ie, large bottles 100ml or larger), estimated 8c to 12c per letter size photo print.
MIS PRO inks have been found to work as acid etch resist, printable directly onto blank PCB (Printed Circuit Board) stock in modified Epson printers. For this, the ink must be baked at about 230C to set it and the Yellow seems to work the best. See the Homebrew_PCBs list for the latest info.

Dye Sublimation or Dye Sub ink: Do not confuse this with dye ink, or a "real" dye sub printer like the Olympus 400/440 or Alps that use ribbons. Inkjet dye sub requires a heat press that can reach 400F and can only be applied to polyester fabric or polymer coated items such as coffee cups, tiles, etc. The dye becomes a part of the polyester or coated surface so it is completely waterproof, but because it is a dye it may be subject to fading in sunlight. Some coatings or after-coatings may improve this. Fabric of less than 100% polyester require special treatments, as it won't stick to natural fibers in the wash. Requires a color profile supplied by the distributor or the color will be -way- off. Not suited to paper printing, too expensive for general printing anyway. There are many, many items made for custom imprinting with dye sub ink, it staggers the mind.

Bulk ink means ink bought in large(ish) bottles, usually 100ml (about 4 ounces) and larger. The typical printer cartridge only holds about 6 to 10ml of usable ink. It is much cheaper to refill your cartridges than by OEM, or you may use a Continuous Ink System that feeds the ink into the cartridges via hoses that are always attached.

Bulk Ink System or CIS (Continuous Ink System):
is a system whereby large containers of ink are connected to the cartridges via thin flexible tubing. This is quite handy when you do a lot of printing as you avoid the possible hassles of refilling cartridges (spills, air bubbles, etc) and expense of replacing cartridges. They are also known as CFS (Continuous Feed System), BFS, etc.

More than you probably want to know about CIS, more than most sellers of them know:
My Thoughts on CIS

Larger Epson printers often have a bulk ink system built-in and their cartridges carry 100ml or more and plug in via the front rather than into the print head. The OEM ink is a bit cheaper per ml but is still a lot more expensive than third party inks like Magic Mix, MIS, and Spectrabright.

Some Epson models that have built-in CIS: 3000, 5000, 4000, 4800, and all the larger (24" and wider) models.

Mixing inks between printer brands:
Although you may be tempted, pigmented and dye sub inks made for Epson printers have been attempted by many and failed. I have found through experimentation that the plain dye inks I've tested work about equally well in Epson Piezo or Canon Bubblejet heads. There are pigmented and dye sub inks made specifically for thermal inkjet/Bubblejet wide format printers. However, buy-in cost is prohibitive for an ink that may or may not work in your Canon, HP, or Lexmark, as inks sold for wide format printers are normally sold in sizes of 1/2 liter and up. Some makers won't sell you less than a full liter.

I do have some pigmented Encad Novajet inks (meant for HP thermal inkjet heads) that I intend on testing in a Canon Bubblejet head. I'll post my results here.

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Alien Steve