PRINTING PAGE - lightsongfineart

Dye Transfer Printing

I began photographing in the 1970s. At the time there were few choices in printing methods, especially from positive transparencies. None offered control of contrast (as black and white printing did) or color saturation except for dye transfer printing and a process known as color carbon (or carbro) which was hopelessly tedious and took so much time one could not possibly print a collection of work.

Dye transfer was developed in the 1930s as a answer to a great need. It was the same process as used in Techniolor movies, which is why the colors in Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz are so brilliant and have survived the decades.

The secret is to print directly with primary color dyes bypassing the limitations of chemical coatings that had to turn into dyes when developed (so called "chromogenic" dyes). The advantages were many but two stood out. The contrast (and thus the saturation or brilliance) of the dyes could be adjusted and the color gamut or range of colors surpassed everything else, even, I believe, that of the best printers available today.

The downsides were many: eight (8) black and white separation negatives had to be made before making printing films called matrices that would carry the dye that would be transferred to the paper to make the print. It was technically very difficult and many photographers who tried it simply gave up.

After seeing the process for the first time in 1977 done by a printer in Boston who I was going to learn from, I realized I would need to build a darkroom dedicated just to this process and then practice in my own space with my own equipment. It took me one year to build the room and it is where these photographs were made.

Rolling final (cyan) matrix onto print. All the colors appear for the first time.

Print after transfer of yellow and magenta matrices.

Pouring magenta dye into tray for soaking magenta matrix.

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