Most of the dye-sublimation cassettes have CMYO (= cyan, magenta, yellow, overlay) panels.
Are there any cassettes designed specifically for black & white pictures?
For example (and as jrista pointed out), some modern inkjet printers have additional black and gray inks to help to produce more accurate grayscale tonality — could there be like black, gray, light gray & overlay cassettes?

If not, how is the black & white performance with a regular CMYO cassette? Do some cassettes tend to tint the black & white picture towards to some colour?
Are there any example scans around the web, so I could judge by myself?

Or would I get better results with a modern inkjet (photo) printer? (I'd also like to see how they compare.)

I'm having a hard time finding up-to-date information via Google. wallyk's answer gave some clues, but as the comparison is from 2005, and (hopefully) both dye-sublimation and inkjet printing technologies have advanced, it could be taken as a rough estimate or merely as a starting point.

3 Answers 3


There is an uncited assertion in the Wikipedia article that neutral color CMYO sublimation printers fall short of the ability of an ink jet printer to render black and white or gray scale images.

I found a nice side-by-side comparison of dye-sublimation v. ink jet printing for black and white here. I suspect you'll find what you are looking for there.

  • Thanks. As the Wikipedia reference is uncited, it left me somewhat unsatisfied. Even more thanks for the comparison article! ALTHOUGH it is from 2005 and might be partly outdated, but it has indeed more data than I had in the first place. Jan 7, 2011 at 0:36
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    I think that article linked about dyesub and inkjet for B&W printing is too dated to be valuable. Ink jet printers use multiple black and gray inks these days to achieve substantially higher grayscale tonality than with the ink jet printers tested in the article. There are also a variety of ink jet papers specifically designed to maximize B&W/grayscale prints made with ink jets.
    – jrista
    Jan 7, 2011 at 1:26

While I can't specifically speak to dye-sub grayscale quality, many modern inkjet printers have features specifically designed for black and white or grayscale printing. Both Canon and Epson printers, such as the Canon PIXMA Pro 9500 II or the Epson Stylus Pro 3880, as well as both brands commercial lines, provide at least two level grayscale ink systems (black and gray), if not three level (black, gray, light gray). The tonal range possible with a modern pigment-based grayscale capable ink jet printer is unparalleled.

Beyond just inks, there are a variety of high quality, specially formulated and manufactured black and white or grayscale ink jet papers. All low acidity, natural fiber papers that range from ultra bright coated luster or gloss papers, to high birghtness pure white, to moderate brightness natural white. Ultra bright coated papers will offer the broadest dynamic range with the purest white and black levels, when viewed under the proper lighting. (Most optical brighteners used in such papers are UV dependent, and will only appear 100% correct under light that includes a certain amount of UV...such as sunlight.) High brightness papers offer a pure, neutral white tone, but don't include any optical brighteners. Fully natural papers offer a variety of white points, from neutral to various degrees of warm. Both of the latter types of paper are usually packaged as "fine art" papers, some specifically designed to maximize the appearance of grayscale inkjet prints.

Between a multi-level grayscale ink system and special grayscale paper types, the quality of black and white prints that you can get from an ink jet system is second to none.

  • Good answer. My gut-feeling is that dye-sub is of a somewhat dy(e)ing breed because of all the topics you covered + paper size range and price per print which both are usually superior on an inkjet (in a good way). I'm tempted at the hassle-freeness (a cassette contains both the dyes and the papers) and the starting cost (ie. printer price) - but I'm unsure how the prints look, especially B&W since there's no black dye. It could be reasonable to save money for a good inkjet and meanwhile order my prints from a local print house; this would solve the problem but wouldn't answer the question. Jan 16, 2011 at 9:13
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    Well, if the dye sub printer does not contain any black dye, then there is no way it will come close to the pure grayscale quality of an ink jet with a two or three level gray ink system. You do need a true black ink to create a black color, blending CMY together creates a muddy dark brownish or slightly greenish color. Not really flattering for B&W prints.
    – jrista
    Jan 16, 2011 at 18:14

It seems that for e.g. Canon Selphy ES -line BWO (black, white, overcoating) cassettes are available. Also some fancy CMYO+Gold and CMYO+Silver options exist.

It should be noted that those cassettes aren't available for the Canon Selphy CP -line of dye-sub printers — but you've probably noticed that already, haven't you.

And what comes to your question about adding additional gray inks to achieve more accurate grayscale tonality: it is not necessary. Dye-sublimation prints are not dithered and every panel in the cassette is used only once for a print, so additional gray panels wouldn't add anything to the print other than cost. At least in theory, as midlevels could ease the calibration.

Sadly, I haven't found any scanned examples of B&W dye-sub prints via Google neither up-to-date comparisons to inkjet prints. Those would be interesting to see, though. Not to mention that it would be interesting to see how white is the white-dye. (I didn't find any detailed specifications on the BWO-cassette, so I can't be 100% sure are the grays achieved by altering black levels or mixing black dye with white dye. Selphy ES40's manual states the ink type as "BW".)

  • I wasn't sure should I answer in the first or the second person, but went for the 2nd just for the fun of it. Jan 30, 2011 at 22:22

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