Best Giclée Printing Inks


This content was written by ChromaZone Ink, Melbourne FL.

My, My… You’re a Bit Pricey…

So you want to know what the best giclée printing inks are for your project…  We can help with that! Once in a while, customers tell us that we are too expensive and that they can get the same thing from an online company for a lower price than what we produce. The truth is, you CAN get giclées at numerous locations, and yes, you CAN get them at lower prices than we charge – but we can guarantee you WON’T be getting the same quality.  At ChromaZone Ink, canvas printing Orlando & Melbourne, the only type of giclée printing we do is “Level Four” printing.  When you compare apples to apples at this level, you will find that not only are we competitively priced, we are often LOWER priced!  As a bonus, we even offer a one-time 50% off deal on our top quality canvas products so you can see the difference if you’re a first-time shopper with us.  Just click the blue button on our home page to claim your coupon code. We also invite you to visit our Melbourne, FL showroom where you can touch and feel the difference.  Call first: 321-312-4800 | 800-501-2901.

Four (4) Levels of Giclée Printing

We recently came across an article by Greg Scoblete in the May 2016 edition of that explains it beautifully.  To better understand what the best giclée printing inks are, it is imperative to realize that there is a global set of printing standards upheld by the Wilhelm Imaging Research (WIR) facility in Grinnell, IA.  This American company founded by Henry Wilhelm and his artist wife, Carol have been researching and publishing details about the stability and permanence of conservation printing since 1970.  Wilhelm was a founding member of the Photographic Materials Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic Artistic Works, and helped develop the ISO standard for color stability testing.

Level One Printing:

According to Scoblete, this level is the least stable the WIR has ever tested.  The permanence ratings were less than three months.  These prints used dye-based inks. Dye inks are older technology and are 95% water.  Dye inks are purely liquid and are absorbed into the printed surface.  Because they are mostly water, they are very susceptible to humidity, water spills and other external influences.  They are inexpensive, but definitely not the best giclée printing inks.  They are good for low-budget, short-term longevity projects.

Pigment inks, however, are actually tiny particles that are suspended in a carrier and sit atop the printed surface and bind with the fibers, as opposed to being absorbed by the fibers.  Because pigment inks sit on the surface of the substrate, they are thicker and form a bond that is more resistant to external influences such as environmental gases and ultraviolet rays from the sun.  They are not impervious to these influences, but are much more resistant.  Pigment inks also retain their color much longer than dye inks.  Laboratory simulation tests have shown us that pigment-based inks have the potential to resist fading for up to 200 years in dark storage (not hung in direct UV sunlight), while dye-based inks can only last for 25-30 years under the same dark storage conditions.  Pigment inks are the best giclée printing inks for projects that will be handed down from generation to generation.

So, does that mean aqueous dye inks totally suck?  Not at all!  If you don’t need for your creation to last more than a few months, and you know it won’t be exposed to potentially harmful environments (smokers beware!!!) then this more inexpensive printing is for you!  At ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing Orlando, our customers are generally artists and photographers who spend countless hours creating, and their intent is to have their works passed on from generation to generation, so “Level One” printing is not a good option for them.  This is where they are often misled into purchasing a less expensive product, thinking that all giclée printing (inkjet printing) is the same.  It definitely is not.

In level one printing, the inks are not the only area of concern.  Because the output is not expected to last for more than a few months, in order to keep costs down, the stretcher bars (the frame that canvases are supported by) are usually cut strips from mdf (medium density fiberboard) or particle board (low density fiberboard).  Don’t get them wet or expose them to high humidity areas or they may swell and discolor the image that is stretched against them!  A REAL archival stretcher bar will be made of solid wood with a raised outer edge on the front side so that the majority of the surface area of a canvas does not touch the wood.

Level Two Printing:

This is the level that describes modern “Silver-Halide” prints.  Silver-halide is a proven dark room process that has been used for over 100 years.  With this technique, a print surface is coated with a gelatin emulsion that contains silver halide crystals. An image is formed when the coated paper is exposed to light. If your output is going to be strictly black & white, then silver-halide is superior and will last as long as pigment inks – as long as it is not exposed to bright light! (remember how the image is created?)  Because this process demands a special kind of paper, (usually Kodak Endura & FujiFilm Crystal Archival papers) there are output limitations.  Another limitation is when Silver-Halide is used for color.  Most often, those dye inks are introduced for use in color with Silver-Halide, and for that reason alone, this type of printing becomes inferior for color reproductions, since the color inks will fade long before the silver halide blacks and greys will.  This is not a giclée printing ink, but rather a classic art form for printing photos.

The WIR display permanence ratings for color silver-halide Endura papers are generally less than 20 years, even when framed with UV protective glass.

Level Three Printing:

Level three printing has a WIR permanence rating of 50 years.  This level is specific to metal printing of the “ChromaLuxe” kind where dye sublimation inks are used.  These are also extremely abrasion resistant.  ChromaLuxe metal printing is not to be confused with the newer “direct-to-metal” giclée printing where pigment inks are used on a specially coated sheet of metal.  Direct-to-metal printing is a solution for canvas printers to use their existing pigment inkjet printers to do metal printing.  Here at ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing Orlando, we have used the direct-to-metal products and found them to be much more susceptible to scratches and surface imperfections.  We have opted to use the proven, superior “ChromaLuxe” dye sublimation ink technology for this medium.  

Dye Sublimation inks are very durable inks requiring heat to integrate them into the receiving surface.  They are made for outdoors and rougher external influences like a washing machine (Good T-Shirt printing is Dye Sublimation) or outdoor weather, although the permanence rating is less than that of pigment inks, for obvious reasons (pigment inks should only be used indoors or in climate controlled situations). 

Level Four Printing:

This level of printing is reserved for pigment inkjet prints that use the newest ultra-chrome ink sets. The inks are capable of binding to a wider variety of surfaces for a much longer period of time.  WIR even rates black and white pigment inks on select papers at up to 400 years.  Pigment inks are more expensive but well worth it as they can obtain wider ranges of colors and hold that color far longer than any other type of color inks.  Level four printing is what is used by professional artists and photographers who intend for their works to be in galleries, museums or in homes for several generations.  Other than our ChromaLuxe metal products, Level four printing is the only level of printing we produce at ChromaZone Ink canvas printing Orlando & Melbourne. We consider this level of printing the best giclée printing inks currently available. We would love to be your canvas printing company, call us at 321-312-4800 | 800-501-2901.

Back to FAQ Page

Wilhelm Imaging Research:
Pigment vs. Dye Based Ink Cartridges: which One’s Better?:
Art Photography Print Types:
Can Photo Prints Really Last a Lifetime?:
ChromaZone Ink Testing / Experience

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