About InkThrift Pro Ink

InkThrift PRO dye inks for large format PRO printers and Photo Stylus printers read on!

It is hard to imagine in a world in which higher and higher fade resistance ratings are delivered month after month, that a high-tech ink company like Vermont PhotoInkjet would develop a dye based product. Well, we are and the reason is quite simple.

Low Costs

Pigment inks, especially high-tech pigment inks, are very expensive for us to make and for customers to buy. The simple reality is that many users of expensive inkjet printers do not actually require pigment ink because they produce short-life graphics. InkThrift dye ink is 1/10 the cost of Epson pigment ink. In this type of economy, it is wise to be frugal with materials if the application supports using a dye based solution. InkThrift can dramatically reduce your square foot printing costs while providing print head performance, the likes of which you may have never experienced before.

Significantly Better Gloss than Epson UltraChrome

Most short life graphics are unnecessarily printed with pigments, when InkThrift dye ink would be sufficient and actually quite superior for many applications. In fact, if you need to produce short-term glossy photographs, trade show graphics, or posters we can absolutely knock your socks off with glossiness. InkThrift inks deliver a glossiness that Epson pigment inks cannot. Pigment is a solid material that must compete against the glossiness of the paper it is printed on. InkThrift not only produces significantly better glossiness, but it achieves higher dMax, and is far less prone to metamerism. This is the deal-sealer and you can see for yourself by ordering up an 5″ x 7″ sample. You can print the comparative image on your own system with your own Epson inks. One look side-by-side, and you’ll be convinced. You can download the test image from the Instructions tab on the sample page.


Dye inks have historically been water soluble and therefore inappropriate for outdoor use. But, InkThrift dye ink utilizes an encapsulated dye molecule so that is highly waterfast. We’re not suggesting that you place your prints under water for display. But, you might accidentally submerge InkThrift dye ink, or unintentionally expose it to water and it will not run. Whatever your experience has been in the past, InkThrift dye ink should not be lumped in with cheap China inks. It may be priced low, but InkThrift is a strong, high-tech product that deserves a place in your large format arsenal. It may not only be perfect for cutting costs and saving money. It may also allow you to get the jobs requiring higher gloss or better dMax or better shadow separation in high chroma areas.


Short-life graphics do not need to last three years outdoors or over 100 years indoors. Typical short-term graphics are printed for temporary display in trade shows, for presentations, for head shots, for menus, flyers, for books and catalogues, posters for dormitory rooms, signage, hand outs and scrapbooks. This is what InkThrift PRO is designed for. Short-term graphics rarely need to be displayed outdoors for more than three months, or displayed indoors for more than 30 years. Many in fact, need only last a few days, weeks or months for a presentation or trade show. Pigment is totally over-qualified for short-term graphics. If you need to display artwork or photography indoors for a few decades, InkThrift may be an option for your work. If your work is destined to be exhibited in a museum, InkThrift is 100% archival and can have better longevity than C-print and Ilfachrome in these conditions. If you need to display photographs in areas which get a significant amount of light, or displayed under flourescent, or sell to customers who you can not control how they will display them - then you should choose pigment. We have prepared a document about displaying InkThrift PRO in both safe and non-safe indoors display conditions including longevity in these various conditions. You can read that here.


InkThrift is certainly less prone to clogging print heads than is pigment! InkThrift can also be jetted at extremely high speed. InkThrift dye inks are not suspended particles as are pigment inks, so it has incredibly long shelf life and can be kept in printers for much longer than pigment inks. You can buy cheap dye inkjet printers, but these are not built for professional use nor have the desirable three blacks nor HDR options. Epson builds extraordinary large format professional printers, but does not offer a dye option. InkThrift is now the high standard dye ink option for Epson large format printers.

Ink Technology

InkThrift is a very high-tech ink that is formulated around an encapsulated dye molecule. Encapsulation of dye molecules is rare. Vermont PhotoInkjet already offers an encapsulated pigment particle. InkThrift is a breakthrough in technology that allows us to offer a strong dye formulation that is more resistant to fading than ordinary dye ink. The reason that dye inks fade so quickly is because the dye molecules are prone to breaking apart. When a molecule breaks and free radicals are produced, rapid fading results. By encapsulating the dye molecules, we greatly slow the formation of free radicals from disturbing other molecules. The end result is that InkThrift is a very strong dye ink and with very good water resistance when dry.

Color Strength

Further, the color strength is enormous. But, color strength has always favored dye over pigment. We suspect that artists will find favor with InkThrift. We’re very serious about it ourselves. We designed ink sets for the latest of Epson large format printers. We can supply dye based inks for the Epson 4900, 7900 and 9900 as InkThrift HDR and we supply an InkThrift K3 system for use in Epson Ultrachrome printers. You will want to produce custom ICC profiles for these inks. They will not be color compatible with Epson pigment inks. For color compatibility you should use ConeColor Pro pigment inks. However, the cost of using these dye inks is so low you can afford to buy your own ICC Profile making system such as Xrite ColorMunki! 


InkThrift ink is compatible with both dye based printers and pigment based printers. However, if using in a pigment based printer, it is important that you replace the entire ink set at one time. We do not recommend that you change one position at a time in a pigment printer. Dye and pigment inks should not be printed at the same time unless you wish to be experimental. InkThrift ink is low-cost enough to act as a flush. After installing the dye based InkThrift into your pigment printer, perform an ink Initialization or perform at least three POWER CLEANS to remove all of the pigment inks in your pro Epson printer's lines and ink dampers, and replace with fresh InkThrift. For desktop printers, a few head cleanings is all that is required.

So Why the Pro?

InkThrift ink is designed for Epson PRO printers which use eight ink positions or more and to be used for prints that are not destined to be displayed for very long. It's a product designed to save as much cost as possible while producing a very high quality print.  We also make a more stable dye ink called InkThrift CL which has greater longevity and is a close match to the Epson Claria ink set. It's designed however, for six ink printers. If you want a matching ink to the Epson inks for your Pro printer - we make ConeColor Pro.

InkThrift Pro Longevity and Indoor Lighting

This paper is intended to address InkThrift® PRO ink longevity when displayed in various indoor lighting conditions. The other purpose of this paper is to give the reader an insight into deciding whether to use dye inks where one would normally use pigment ink is a good decision for the intended purpose.


InkThrift PRO dye inks are intended for short-term graphics. Typical short-term graphics are printed for temporary display in trade shows, presentations, for photographic head shots, menus, flyers, books, catalogs, posters, signage, hand outs, and many other commercial applications where fading is not a significant concern or of no concern. InkThrift PRO ink is intended for use in EPSON Pro printer models that have eight or more ink slots. EPSON does not make available an economical dye ink for these printer models. InkThrift PRO is a solution for those who do not need to make prints that last as long as prints made with pigment ink, or for prints that are so short-term that the cost of pigment ink makes them prohibitive to produce. InkThrift PRO inks print glossier than can EPSON pigment inks. The chroma of dye is more brilliant than pigment. There may be aesthetic reasons for choosing dye over pigment.

But many dye and pigment photographs and fine art prints are often displayed without an understanding of safe display conditions and perhaps not enough understanding of display life ratings. Dye is especially susceptible to fast fading in strong illumination. It can be displayed for longer time in low levels of illumination. There are standards and best practices guides for collectors that are often available from museums. These pamphlets caution against too much display illumination with the recognition that every photon of light that strikes dye or pigment diminishes it in some way. So, it’s important to understand what safe and unsafe display conditions are.

Many Indoor Locations are Unsafe for Dye Inks

Kodak indicates that 120 Lux is the limit of safe display conditions for dye color photographs and that 90% of all color photographs are displayed in 120 Lux or less. Wilhelm indicates that 450 Lux is the limit of safe display conditions for color pigment photographs. An interior room in a house lit indirectly by incandescent light is considered to be 120 Lux. Museums are limited to 50 Lux (for comparison). Bright offices are about 450 Lux but often much brighter. A print displayed at 450 Lux has only 25% of the longevity it would have if it were displayed at 120 Lux. A print displayed at 5000 Lux would have less than 3% of the longevity it would have had it been displayed at 120 Lux.

A good perspective to keep in mind in comparing dye inks to pigment inks is that it would take years to damage a pigment print displayed in an unsafe condition, whereas the same display condition might deteriorate a dye print in just weeks. Another perspective to keep in mind is that museums display at 50 Lux or lower and although much dimmer than a safe display condition of 120 Lux, it is more than adequate for viewing artwork. Galleries, because they are trying to sell work, almost always display artwork in an unsafe level of illumination. They are terrible examples to follow if you wish to preserve the artwork you purchase from them.

Longevity Testing

How long a print lasts is the subject of much controversy. OEM’s boast significantly high numbers. Most OEM ink and media users believe that their prints will not fade for 100 years if the OEM claims that a specific ink/media combination has a longevity rating of 100 years. However, that is simply not what the OEM is actually reporting. What they are reporting is that at 100 years, the print will have so badly faded to a 35% loss, that anyone can easily detect the fade. The term “easily detected fade” is used to describe the endpoint that the OEMs are using for their fade ratings – and it is an industry standard endpoint.

The industry standard WIR Visually-Weighted Endpoint Criteria Set v3.0 which is used by all the major printer OEM’s to give their longevity ratings does not measure for fade in neutrals, flesh tones, near neutrals, near whites, mixed colors, saturated colors, the paper, etc. What the industry standard tests by Wilhelm do measure are simple densitometric changes in a 1.0 and 0.60 density patch each of cyan, magenta, yellow and three color black. When any one of these patches has faded about 35%, assumptions are made on all other possible colors and a longevity result in years is given for when the print will have faded about 35%.

While a research scientist at Wilhelm Imaging Research (WIR), Mark McCormick-Goodhart (Aardenburg) invented the WIR i-Star, a new test method based on CEILAB colorimetry for evaluating the permanency of photographic images. The WIR i-Star uses a complex color target that is measured with a color spectrophotometer rather than with a densitometer.

The WIR v3.0 standard test target on the left, the WIR i-Star test target on the right.

The WIR v3.0 standard test target on the left, the WIR i-Star test target on the right.

The WIR i-Star is the most advanced method for evaluating the light stability of inks and making longevity predictions. Some of the other benefits of using WIR i-Star are that fade results for the first time can be compared in prints that use different ICC profiles (yes it makes a difference), or from cartridges that are in different stages of nearing exhaustion (yes it makes a difference), or to determine when the OBAs in a paper will affect the color appearance of an image (yes it makes a difference). Most importantly, the i-Star can be used to determine when fade will first be visible (about 5%), or/and when it has reached 35% fade, or/and many intervals in between

Unfortunately, the OEMs are still not using WIR i-Star for their current longevity ratings. There is no way to know if that is by choice, request, the expense of performing i-Star, or because an i-Star would reveal fade levels far below the industry standard 35% and upset consumer expectations that have been established.

IMHO, replacing the current density based CMY testing method and target of WIR v3.0 with the color and luminosity based WIR i-Star target and measurement method but keeping the 35% fade point would be a great interim move by the OEMs. They could then give a fade rating based upon fade that can first be detected (about 5%) by visually trained humans and a second rating based upon when it is easily detected by any human (35%). An OEM longevity rating might be something like 13 – 120 years. It would force more of the responsibility on the consumer to read the actual data. The i-Star is also designed to give varying lengths of longevity in varying display conditions. The consumer looks up their needs within the data and has a clear idea of a display prediction for their display condition. Further, if they bias their needs on portraits, or black & white made with color inks, or very saturated color they will find that some media/ink combinations actually have better or worse results in these areas. It is as perfect a system as it is complicated.

Our Experience

Vermont PhotoInkjet began utilizing the Wilhelm Imaging Research WIR i-Star beta several years ago. By using i-Star, we are able to effectively evaluate what changes to individual color positions will do to the overall light stability of an ink set as it relates to the entire color gamut of a print. It actually helped us to develop our second release of a dye ink set InkThrift CL.

We use the i-Star to make longevity predictions based upon the industry standard “easily recognizable fade” of 20% – 35%. We fade samples in 10 Megalux doses and take color spectro measurements. We continue giving 10 Megalux doses to the samples until the a 35% fade is recorded in at least 3 of the 30 patches. At that point, we consider the sample to have reached its endpoint regardless of how well the other 27 patches have done. We now use a late generation Atlas accelerated testing chamber that is filtered to simulate sunlight through window glass. The unit is temperature controlled (stays cool inside while generating tons of heat which we vent outside). The amount of light energy the targets receive is measured and controlled by a computer to compensate for fluctuations due to either electrical load or bulb decay. We use an automated x-Rite DTP70 measuring system. The DeltaE differences are calculated using X-Rite Measure Tool which compares faded targets to targets kept in safe dark storage.

The three following i-Star visual measurement sets are for InkThrift PRO and the newly released InkThrift CL ink sets. Two of the tests are conducted within the same time period (38 years at 120 Lux) reveal the superiority of CL (test II interim) over PRO (test I endpoint). Where Pro has faded to 22%-35%, the CL ink set is averaging only 12%-16%. Test III endpoint is of CL allowed to fade to about 24%-32%%. It reveals a much longer display life (up to 95 years at 120 Lux) to reach what PRO reaches in just 30 years at 120 Lux).

I. InkThrift PRO at 38 years at 120 lux exposure (23% - 38% fade)

I. InkThrift PRO at 38 years at 120 lux exposure (23% - 38% fade)

II. InkThrift CL at 38 years at 120 lux exposure (12% to 16% fade)

II. InkThrift CL at 38 years at 120 lux exposure (12% to 16% fade)

III. InkThrift CL at 95 years at 120 lux exposure (24% to 32% fade) LONGEVITY RATINGS

III. InkThrift CL at 95 years at 120 lux exposure (24% to 32% fade) LONGEVITY RATINGS

Below are InkThrift PRO longevity expectations* in regards to varying levels of illumination (lux) at 12 hours per day from safe display conditions to extremely abusive display conditions:

The recommended safe level for displaying color dye photographs is 120 lux, 12 hour per day for a life of up to 30 years

  • A brightly lit interior room at 250 lux reduces the life expectancy up to 15 years until 35% fade

  • A very brightly lit room for color critical work, or for writing at 500 lux reduces the life expectancy up to 7 years at 35% fade

  • A room that is brightly lit for task work, or for studying at 1000 lux reduces the life expectancy up to 3.5 years at 35%

  • A commercial gallery at 2000lux reduces the life expectancy up to 1.8 years until 35% fade

  • An interior room in which sunlight filters in through windows but does not directly strike the print at 5,000 lux reduces the life expectancy up to 9 months at 35% fade

  • Direct sunlight through a window allowed to strike the print in a room at 10,000 lux reduces the life expectancy up to only 12 weeks. Increasing the exposure from 12 hours or decreasing the exposure from 12 hours can increase or decrease display life.

All of the above are indoor environments. Some inkjet printer operators may consider any of these environments to be the same because they are all indoors. However, the intensity of the light is directly proportional to the amount of fade. Time is the constant. 35% fade is the current industry standard endpoint used by all OEMs testing at WIR and indicate "easily recognizable fade". A 100 year rating from EPSON is for when the ink/media combination will have faded 35%.

Actual print stability will vary according to image, display conditions, light intensity, ICC profile, RIP or driver settings, humidity, and atmospheric conditions. Vermont PhotoInkjet, LLC does not guarantee longevity of prints. Ratings do not estimate the durability of the media or paper itself. For maximum print life, display all prints under glass or properly store them in archival conditions, use uncoated acid-free and lignin-free paper for best practices.