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Types of Ink in Printing

Updated: Mar 14

In the printing industry, the two most important factors influencing the prints' quality are the printing technique and the ink used in the process. So, if you are a business exploring the options for your projects, you must know the types of ink in printing that can be used.

One of the most important things in commercial printing is to choose the right ink type according to the nature of the print. Although you don’t have to be an ink expert, it’s good to know your options in order to get vibrant prints from us.

Types of Ink in Printing
Source: / Photo Contributor: thaisign

What are Printing Inks?

Printing inks are mixtures of different compounds that we use to reproduce text or other designs on various surfaces, such as paper, garments, packaging, etc. The printing inks have various formulas, making them suitable for application on different substrates. The three basic components of the types of ink in printing are vehicles (also known as binders), pigment, and driers.

We can use different methods to apply the ink. Some of the most popular and durable ones are digital printing, flexography, and offset printing.

Types of Ink in Printing

What kind of ink is used for printing depends on the printing technique, the complexity of the design, the desired look of the print, and the surface we are printing on. For instance, in digital printing, different types of ink can be used, from solvent and UV ink to dye sublimation and aqueous ink.

Similarly, water-based, UV-curable, and solvent inks are commonly used in flexographic printing. Nevertheless, if you are looking to hire a company for commercial printing with quality inks, we at CityPress are the right choice.

But before you place your order, you should have a general idea of what types of inks there are so you know which one will be the most suitable for your project. Here are the most common classifications of inks for printing.

Ink types according to their form

Let’s start by revealing how many types of printer ink there are depending on the form they come into. As a rule of thumb, the types of ink in printing are classified into four main categories

  • Aqueous

  • Liquid

  • Paste

  • Powder

Aqueous is also known as water-based inks because water is used as the carrier fluid. The water in the ink evaporates when it dries, providing the print with a softer feel. Generally, aqueous ink types are used for screen printing on textiles and in discharge printing.

Furthermore, there are liquid inks that we use in flexography printing. By using it, we can make high-quality prints on various materials, including packaging, paper, foil, plastic, cellophane, and more.

The third type of printing ink is paste, which is typically used for printing on paper. It can be applied by using offset, lithography, and screen printing. One of the main characteristics of paste ink is that it has high viscosity, making it resistant to flow.

Last but not least are powder inks. While inkjet printers require liquid ink, laser printers utilize powder ink. The powder is placed in an ink toner cartridge and typically applied on paper by using laser printing.

Ink types according to the drying mechanism

The types of ink in printing are also divided by the type of drying mechanism they have. According to this calcification, there are several types, including:

  • Inks that dry by absorption

  • Inks that dry via oxidation or polymerization

  • Inks that use evaporation to dry

  • Inks that dry by precipitation

There are also types of ink that need a combination of the above-mentioned drying mechanisms. Some of them are quick-set inks and cold-set inks.

Headset inks

We can use headset inks in offset lithography. They contain solvent-resin vehicles, which means they first dry by evaporating. After the solvent is evaporated from the vehicle, we recool the other ink components. We must use large dryers and chill roll units with such inks.

Moisture set inks

Moisture set inks contain glycol-based vehicles. That means they dry by precipitation. Simply put, the ink can dry when moisture is applied to it, such as steam, spray, or water. Because of their properties, the moisture-set ink is generally used in letterpress printing and food packaging. The types of inks are also known as water-setting inks.

Energy curable inks

As the name suggests, the energy-curable inks need some kind of energy for the ink to dry. Some like to refer to them as radiation-curing inks. They are divided into different types according to the energy they require:

  • UV-curable inks

  • Electro beam curable inks

  • UV LED curable inks

The ink cures instantly when exposed to adequate energy. Hence, energy-curable inks are excellent for projects when we want to increase our production speed without sacrificing print quality.

Sublimation inks

Sublimation inks need to go through the dye sublimation printing process. With such inks, we print the text or design on a transfer paper and use pressure and heat to transfer it to the final substrate. The ink undergoes a phase transition and turns from solid to gas.

There are two types of sublimation inks: aqueous dye-based and solvent-based dye sublimation inks. While they can make a design look vibrant, they can only be used on white or lither substrates.

Ink types according to the drying mechanism
Source: / Photo Contributor: pticelov

Ink types according to their appearance

The ink appearance is another factor for categorizing the types of ink in printing. 

High-gloss inks

High-gloss inks have an added glossy finish. They contain a high quantity of varnish, making the ink easily curable by polymerization or oxidation. Because of their properties and components, we mostly use high-gloss inks on paper and with both letterpress and offset lithographic printing techniques.

Metallic inks

Metallic ink is a special type of ink used in printing that contains metal flakes or powders. Depending on the manufacturer and the color, the metallic ink can have copper, bronze, aluminum, or zinc, which gives it a reflective effect. They are widely used in offset, digital, and screen printing.

Magnetic inks

Magnetic inks are made with unique pigments that can be magnetized. They can only be used with Magnetic Ink Character Recognition equipment, which is widely used by banks.

Fluorescent inks

Fluorescent inks in printing are used when you want to achieve a special effect when you expose the print to UV light. They are made with pigments that can absorb the UV energy and later re-emit it, which is seen as glowing.

Ink types according to their length

In the printing industry, we also divide the types of ink according to their structural property, one of which is the ink length. In simple words, the length of the ink tells us more about its capability to form threads and flow when we stretch them.

There are two types of ink according to their length: long and short ink. Long inks are excellent for projects when we need ink that forms long filaments and flows well. In contrast, short inks have poor flow features and form short filaments.

Because excessively long inks might cause ink misting or flying, and short inks tend to pill, it is best to choose inks somewhere in the middle.

Color classification of printing ink

According to the colorants the types of ink have we can separate them into process and solid ink colors. Process ink colors are also called CMYK, which is short for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

These types of ink are used in four-color printing. If you have a design that has a lot of shading and requires detailed printing, it's best to use CMYK color ink.

On the other side, we use spot color for designs that have a more graphical look because they are vibrant. Spot colors are premixed ink colors that are done according to the Pantone Matching System.

Types of inks according to their resistance

All printing inks have different properties, with resistance among the most important properties. Printing inks can be resistant to none, one or several of these things:

  • Light

  • Heat

  • Solvent

  • Abrasion

  • Alcohol

  • Chemical and similar

Also, they might have different levels of resistance.

Overview of the Ink Used in Different Printing Processes

Printing technique

Ink used

Best for printing


  • Paste ink

  • Rotary ink

  • Moisture-set ink

  • Water-washable ink

  • News inks

  • Job ink

  • Books

  • Magazines

  • Newspapers

  • Letters

  • Labels

  • Covers

Offset Lithography

  • Paste ink

  • Quick-set ink

  • Lithographic ink

  • Headset ink

  • Energy-curable inks

  • Electro beam curable ink

  • Cold-set ink

  • Newspaper

  • Magazines

  • Brochures

  • Books


  • Liquid ink

  • Water ink

  • Solvent ink

  • Eco solvent ink

  • UV ink

  • Laminated surfaces

  • Packaging

  • Self-adhesive labels

  • Envelopes

  • Wallpapers

Screen printing

  • Paste ink

  • Aqueous ink

  • Discharge ink

  • Plastisol ink

  • Metallic ink

  • Garment

  • Posters

  • Artwork

  • Canvases

Inkjet or digital printing

  • Water-based ink

  • Oil-based ink

  • Solvent ink

  • LED curable ink

  • UV-Curable ink

  • EB-curable ink

  • Quick computer printouts

  • Labels

  • Text documents

  • Cardboard prints

  • Plastic prints

  • Fabric prints

How do We Choose the Best Printing Inks at CityPress?

To provide you with a vibrant print with top-notch quality, we take different measures to choose the right one from all the types of ink in printing. Every step we take is to maximize the value of our commercial printing services

Hence, we pay a lot of attention to:

  • Find ink that will ensure color accuracy

  • Use high-quality and durable inks

  • Ensuring the printing ink is compatible with the printing method we utilize

  • Going above and beyond to offer eco-friendly options

  • Considering that our clients might have different budgets and offering cost-effective solutions


Having explored the diverse world of inks available in the ink printing industry, you can make your business decisions easier from now on. Understanding the unique characteristics of the entire palate of types of ink in printing that we use will allow you to achieve your desired outcomes. Whether you are looking for types of ink in printing for t-shirts, paper, or any other substrate, we will assist you in finding the perfect one.


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