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ink cartridges

Budget and non-photo printers tend to contain cartridges with just the four standard colours (cyan, magenta, yellow and black - CMYK). In some cases the three colours are contained in a single cartridge so that when, say, the yellow runs out, you have to replace it even though you may have lots of cyan left. Single ink cartridges solve this problem, but at a slightly higher cost for a full set (though they can work out cheaper in the long run). For true photorealistic colour, though, four colours aren't enough to capture the subtle hues of real life, so manufacturers add intermediate colours such as light magenta, or photo cyan. More advanced printers may have up to eight separate tanks.

ink type

Most printer inks are made from dye. They can produce stunning results but until recently there were serious questions over their archival longevity, with reports of prints fading in just months. Manufacturers have worked hard to improve on this, with some success, but even the best dyes cannot compete with pigment-based inks when it comes to colour-fastness. Pigment inks are more expensive but don't fade as quickly. The disadvantage is their more matt finish, which is less easily absorbed into glossy papers and can diminish their sheen. The latest top-of-the-range inks (eg Epson's Ultrachrome ink) are a combination of dye and pigment to offer the best of both worlds.

dye sublimation

An alternative to inkjet is dye-sub. This uses ribbons with thermal dyes placed onto specially coated paper. The results can vary depending on manufacturer, but they often look much more like traditional photo prints. Most commonly used by compact printers, there are also some A4 models from Kodak and Olympus, among others.

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