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What is Pigment Ink?

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden

Pigment ink is ink that stays firmly on a paper and will not, generally speaking, be removed by water or friction. Pigment inks usually contain other agents than those in standard dye inks, and these agents ensure adhesion to the paper. Typically, pigmented inks contain larger particles than other inks; these particles are absorbed by the surfaces they are applied to and are difficult to remove after this point. While water tends to smear simple dye inks, pigment inks, once dry, usually run very little, even when immersed in water. Pigment inks can be used for nearly any purpose that dye inks can be used for, and can even be used as the ink source for printers.

While the dye in dye-based inks tends to dissolve completely in water, pigment ink usually does not dissolve completely. Because of this, dye-based inks tend to offer a much smoother writing and printing experience. They can also be made to show much brighter, fuller colors. If, however, dye-based inks are exposed to water in even small quantities, the ink will smear over the paper and render the writing or image damaged or unreadable. The larger, undissolved particles of pigment inks, however, are absorbed into the fibers of the paper and tend to be much more difficult to ruin without physically destroying the paper.

The dye used in pigment inks does not dissolve in water.
The dye used in pigment inks does not dissolve in water.

While a pigment ink has many clear advantages to other kinds of ink, which typically fade more easily and are more quickly ruined, pigment ink tends to be more expensive, as well. Archival pigmented inks, which are made to last for a very long time without fading or suffering water damage, can get quite expensive. Pigmented inks are simply more expensive to make than simpler inks, such as dye-based inks. Colored pigmented inks are also very expensive because of the need to ensure that the color fades as little as possible.

Pigment ink is typically resistant to fading, smearing and running once dry.
Pigment ink is typically resistant to fading, smearing and running once dry.

Archival pigmented ink is ink that is designed to last for a very long time. It is not essential that most written documents last very long, and it is insignificant if they fade or not. For some rare documents or works of art, however, it is of the utmost importance that the ink used lasts for a very long time. Archival-quality pigment ink can last for decades if whatever it is on is kept out of unfavorable environmental conditions. Many artists favor pigment ink because it generally fades very little over time, while other inks commonly fade when exposed to sunlight for even short periods of time.

Discussion Comments


Are there any cheaper companies that sell pigment inks?


@Malka - Right on, another person who adores pigment liners for their super finepoint size options!

I wish I was artistic enough to just sketch pictures, but I need lots of rulers and measures and precise flat edges for my kind of work.

See, I use pigment liners to draw architectural layouts. Many people draw them on the computer nowadays with CAD programs, but I think there's a certain professional feeling to making them by hand, and my clients seem to appreciate the extra effort I go to for them. Maybe it's that beautiful black pigment ink in my line work.

I could use regular pens or just pencil things, but when I imagine how cool it would be to order a building designed, see it built, then years down the road to pull out the hand-drawn blueprint in perfect black lines with no fading...well, it's a matter of pride. My work will last forever!


@SkittisH - That's a very good question! If I'm reading the article right, the larger particles in the pigment ink actually help them stick tot he paper better because each particle has more surface to connect with the paper compared to the tiny particles in regular ink.

Not only that, but pigment ink has special bonding agents in it that other regular ink doesn't have added in. Maybe without these agents the larger particles would not stick, but with them, the pigment ink is "stickier" to the paper's materials than your average ink.

It's possible that this extra adhesiveness is why pigment ink goes down below the surface of the paper and bonds into the paper's materials itself, instead of sitting on top and drying there like regular inks.

I wonder what kind of chemistry profession ends up making the formulas and mixtures for pen inks? It's pretty fascinating stuff, I would probably enjoy a job like that.


As an artist, I can tell you from years and years of experience that pigment ink is fantastic for drawing, inking and finishing techniques. I own several sits of pigment pens, which in the artistic and scrapbooking worlds are referred to as pigment liners.

The archival-quality ink is an enormous plus for me, since I use my filled artpads as a sort of journal of my artistic progression, and never throw them away. I have artpads from when I was eleven years old, and I am now in my mid twenties. The oldest artpads are starting to fade, but the ones I started drawing in with pigment liners several years ago are still vibrant and beautiful.

Another great artistic advantage has more to do with typical pigment liner pen production than with the ink's mixture: pigment liners come in a wide variety of line sizes, including some that are micro finepoint. Between that and the lovely dark ink even years down the road, I can confidently say that I will use pigment liners for as long as people offer them for sale.


From the sound of it, the biggest difference between pigment ink and regular ink is that pigment ink particles go beneath the surface of the paper while regular ink particles stay on the surface, making smudging the latter easier.

It seems kind of backward -- you would think pigment ink's larger particles would have a harder time penetrating the paper's surface. Likewise, shouldn't the regular ink's smaller particles get into the paper's surface nooks and crannies easier? Why does it do the opposite?

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    • The dye used in pigment inks does not dissolve in water.
      By: JeremyWhat
      The dye used in pigment inks does not dissolve in water.
    • Pigment ink is typically resistant to fading, smearing and running once dry.
      By: Eleonora.Rossi
      Pigment ink is typically resistant to fading, smearing and running once dry.