Dye Transfer Printing –1978 - 1993 - lightsongfineart


THE DYE TRANSFER PRINTS I saw exhibited in the early 1970s were an important stimulant to my interest in photography. In retrospect it was a bit like hearing my first true high-fidelity loudspeaker. It was as if a curtain had been removed from between me and the print. The singular difference was that the colors were pure, and in fact that was literally true.

In the conventional prints of the time (1970s) and until the advent of the Iris ink jet printers of the mid 1980s,  color prints used chemical coatings that transformed into color dyes upon exposure to light and development. This is extraordinarily difficult to accomplish, and although prints could be fairly good, the primary color dyes, cyan, magenta and yellow were effectively contaminated, as if portions of the other dyes had been mixed in.

As you can see in the pictures below, dye transfer printing used dyes directly: there was no need to process another chemical to obtain the colored dye and so it was practical to make dyes of greater purity and intensity of color. In fact, I do not believe that any contemporary color printer can match the range of color dye transfer can produce.

I began photographing in 1974, but quickly realized that if I wanted my prints to look as I wanted them to, I would need to adopt the dye transfer process.

To make a long story short, in 1978 I built a darkroom designed specifically for making dye transfer prints.This was necessary because of the great complexity of the process such that any other approach would likely lead to failure to make good prints.


1. 1978 to 1993 when Kodak discontinued the dye trasnfer process.

2. 1993-1994 the experimental and ultimately unsuccessful UltraStable color print.

3. The EverColor process was developed by Bill Nordstrom and based on the Agfaproof process. In 1995 I became CEO of EverColor, renamed it EverColor Fine Art and moved it from California to Worcester, Massachusetts. The EverColor print is likely the most permanent print ever made (although that has not been proven). The quality of the prints was extraordinary. However two problems arose: the tendency of the process to produce non-uniform color in areas such as smooth open sky or calm water surfaces and finally the decision by Agfa to discontinue the process.

4. The LightJet printer exposed conventional chromogenic color paper with red, green and blue lasers. The print quality was excellent but the process suffered from limited longevity as do all such prints.

5, In 2005 Epson introduced the first color inkjet printer that used pigmented inks of sufficient quality to satisfy my needs.

I intend to elaborate on each of these process as time permits. Below are photographs made in my first darkroom showing the making of a dye transfer print.


Photographed in the first of three printing labs I built.

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