Sublimation Ink vs Pigment Ink – An Insightful Comparison

When there is a need to print t-shirts, you may wonder what method to use. The sublimation ink and pigment both print out excellent vivid prints with their style of producing colors to the surfaces of objects.

With a sound understanding of how the two mechanisms work, you may choose the kind of printing method appropriate for you. Using any of the methods correctly will help you reach excellence in printing.

It is important to know that using ink that does not suit the surface or the printer may lead to output not acceptable to customers. So, would you like to ruin your business? This article is a guide to identifying the differences between the sublimation ink and pigment ink method in your printing endeavor.

Sublimation Ink

Sublimation is the process when a solid substance turns into a gas without the liquid phase. In ink sublimation, heat and pressure applied to the ink directly turn into gas. Sublimation ink is used in the printing process where the powered dye vaporizes to a gaseous in an inkjet printer. The ink in the gaseous form diffuses and creates photo-quality print on the substrate.

Sublimation Ink vs Pigment Ink

The constituents of sublimation ink are raw natural plant material and some synthetic, mixed with colors. The solvent is water, therefore it is water-soluble, but lasts a long time. Because of the heat and pressure of the heat press machine, the ink becomes permanent and produces bright, saturated, and quality prints. The prints do not crack, peel off or wash off by water.

The ink has an overcoating of CYM colors, protecting the printed design from the air, moisture, and UV ray. The particle size is of low molecular weight, producing well-saturated, bright colors. People working with colors and printers, recommend the use of sublimation ink with inkjet printers.

Uses of Sublimation Ink

The popular use of dye sublimation is through heat transfer printing whereby the designs print onto fabrics from the transfer paper. The impact of the pressure and heat of a heat press machine turns the solid dye into gas to imprint on the textile. As the substrate cools, the colors stick to the fabric. A special coat of the dye creates resistance to wash off, fading, and cracking. The sublimation dye printing technique applies to banners, t-shirts, tablecloths, flags, sportswear, PVC cards, paper, photo paper, and many more.

Advantages of Sublimation Ink

  • Works with a mixture of colors
  • Create vibrant and dazzling colors
  • Little diffusion of light
  • Waterproof, long-lasting
  • No peel off, fade-proof
  • Resistant to crack and peel off
  • Economical


  • Ink is susceptible to oxidation and humidity

Pigment Ink

The pigment-based ink consists of compact molecules of powdered pigment suspended in the solvent. The particles are chemically bonded and stay at the top of the printed material because of the inkjet receptor top coat. These encapsulated particles stay on the top of print design, instead of completely getting absorbed in them. The pigment ink is durable, resistant to fading, and does not smudge.

what is pigment ink

Pigment ink is waterproof, less sensitive to oxidation and humidity. The pigment ink is compatible with the pigment dye printer. Of the many, the two recommended printers are Epson Stylus C88+ Inkjet Printer and Canon MX922 Printer. Almost all pigment printers support 8 ink colors including CYAN. The dye is also long-lasting.

Uses of Pigment Ink

Pigment inks are the best for printing documents. Cotton and materials with natural sources of fiber are suitable for pigment ink. It is not an ideal ink source for polyester. The ink bonds on the surfaces through a heat press machine and prints with an inkjet printer. The long-term stability of the colors is much more by pigment ink than sublimation ink. 

Advantages of Pigment Ink

  • Tolerant to light rays
  • Resistant to oxidation and humidity
  • Stability of dye higher than other dye inks
  • Great for natural and cotton fabrics

Disadvantages of Pigment Ink

  • Colors less vibrant
  • Particle sizes are large and so reflects light
  • Expensive to manage
  • Not good for polyester
  • Not compatible with glossy paper

Difference Between Sublimation and Pigment Ink: At A Glance

   1. Sublimation Ink

  • Sublimation ink Soluble in water turns solid to gas to permeate the surface and print.
  • Coated with a special agent to make the colors resistant to wash off, peeling, and cracking.

2. Pigment Ink

  • Colors mix with a solution.
  • High fade resistant, print last for over 200 years
  • Absorbs ink on heating, does not permeate onto fabric

Sublimation Ink vs. Pigmented Ink: Which is Good for Printing T-shirt

For t-shirt printers, we cannot rule out one method from the other. Most of it depends on the material you are using. If your business uses cotton, silk and other natural fabrics, the best choice is a pigment dye. The printer quality will remain good with an inkjet printer, natural plant-derived fabric, and pigment dye. Pigment dye also is longer lasting.

comparison of sublimation ink and pigment ink

 If your printing material is synthetic or blended, you will be comfortable with sublimation ink. The colors are waterproof, fade-resistant, peel-proof, and economical.

Final Thoughts

The decision to choose sublimation ink or pigment ink depends on the purpose of your work. Both of the ink sources use the inkjet printer, the cost of the printer should not bother you. The other most important thing is the material of the fabric you will use for printing. If your project involves printing on a t-shirt of polyester or mixed polyester, the sublimation ink would be the best.

The pigment ink is compatible with cotton and fabrics made with natural plant sources. This method is also good for documents and photos. Some recommended printer pigment ink are Canon and Epson brands.

We believe this guide has given you a simple idea of the differences between sublimation ink vs pigment ink as a necessity of printing documents, fabrics, t-shirts, and more. Hope you enjoy it!


Alice covers platforms, policy and big tech at Printer Reviews. Prior to rejoining here, Alice was Senior Technology Editor of the TechDen. Alice first joined PrinterReviews in 2021. Before joining, he was the Tech Editor of the Daily Dot and a reporter and deputy editor at ReadWeb.

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