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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Think Ink: Buyer's Guide To Inkjet Inks

Often overlooked, printer inks are a key component of the digital darkroom

Epson has reformed the image of pigment-based inks, which used to produce prints with a narrower color gamut. The DURABrite pigment inks featured in Epson inkjet printers are water-, smudge- and light-resistant, and produce great-looking photo prints that rival dye-based prints for punch and contrast.

A little higher up in the Epson photo printer line are the UltraChrome Hi-Gloss pigment inks, which can be found in printers such as the Epson Stylus Photo R800. The eight individual color cartridges include a gloss optimizer so your prints look as good as traditional photo lab prints, plus matte black, red and blue inks for an expanded color range. Prints made with these "archival" inks have been tested to last more than 100 years.

Billed as its "professional-level inkset," the eight-color Epson UltraChrome K3 inks are the latest advancement in pigment-ink technology. Epson has added three levels of black inks—black, light black and light-light black—for smoother tonal ranges and excellent black-and-white printing capabilities. Other features include improved scratch resistance, a wider color gamut and long-lasting prints (100 years for color and more than 200 for black-and-white).

The chemists at Hewlett-Packard have been steadily improving the quality and longevity of HP's proprietary Vivera inks. HP promises these dye-based inks will deliver vibrantly colored prints that last up to 110 years. In the latest eight-ink systems, the inks are capable of producing a remarkable 72.9-million color combinations, and brand-new colorants have been developed to resist fading better than ever.

A third-party ink manufacturer, Pantone may not make printers, but its name is synonymous with color. Pantone's ColorVantage inks are pigment-based and come with printer profiles customized to match a wide variety of inkjet printers, many of them from Epson. Carefully designed and tested to make sure they work smoothly with each printer, Pantone claims to have included the best of both worlds in its inks: the wide color range of dye-based inks and the quality and longevity of pigmented inks. Available as individual ink cartridges and in bulk bottles, the alternative inks are generally less expensive than the inks offered by your printer's manufacturer.




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