Dye Transfer prints, also known as IB prints are unsurpassed in quality.  The process was named and commercialized by Eastman Kodak in it’s modern form in 1946.  My family has been making dye prints continuously since 1946.  I have chosen this process for my own work and will continue to use it for the foreseeable future.  The process may be familiar to many people as Technicolor IB process.  The only difference is that the motion picture process was produced on motion picture film stock and Kodak Dye Transfer Process prints are made on a very high quality triple weight fiber paper.  Kodak discontinued the process in the mid 1990s, but I decided to continue the process by developing and making my own materials.  I made many prints using hand coated matrix film.  Later,  my matrix film formulation was coated by Fotokemika (Efke brand) in Croatia.

Dye Transfer prints are produced in a manner which can best be described as a hand crafted assembly print,  similar to a printing press where successive colors are added to a receiver sheet to produce a full color print.  In this case,  three pure, transparent primary dyes are used instead of the normal 4 color pigments.   Since these dyes are fairly spectrally pure and allow the unabsorbed light to pass through, combined with the large amount of dye which can be placed at the surface of the paper mades for an exceptionally brilliant print.   The maximum black (DMAX) on a dye print greatly exceeds any other printing method.  Maximum density of a dye print can exceed 3.00,  which prevents the prints from ‘washing out’ when brightly lit.   The effect is close to the look of a transparency when viewed on a light table. 

The first step usually is to make film separations.  In conventional dye prints the seps are produced either by contact or with an enlarger using red, green and blue color separation filters.  I make my seps using an extremely high quality laser film recorder I designed and built in the early 1990s. I enlarge the seps onto matrix film of my own formulation.  Three matrices are made,  a Cyan Matrix, Magenta Matrix and a Yellow Matrix which are positives that are exposed with the red, green and blue separation negatives respectively.   The matrices are developed in a special ‘tanning’ developer which cross-links the gelatin proteins where an image is exposed and developed.   The matrix is then washed in very hot water, washing off any unexposed gelatin areas.  The matrix film is exposed through the polyester base and contains a yellow dye which absorbs the blue exposing light as it passes from the base to the surface of the film.   This produces a relief image on the film - shadow areas produce a thick gelatin area and high lights produce a thin relief.  

The matrices are soaked in the three acid dyes,  Cyan,  Magenta and Yellow.   The dyes have the property of leveling,  or dying to a certain point and no more.   Once the matrix has fully ‘imbibed’ it’s dye load,  it is rinsed in 1% acetic acid rinse to remove any excess dye, and then rolled in register into contact with a piece of photographic fiber base paper.   The paper has been treated with a conditioner to have a neutral pH.  The dyes are acidic, and the difference in pH serves to drive the dyes out of the matrix and into the paper.  The dyes are prevented from bleeding, or migrating back into the matrix by a metallic mordant which acts as a ‘ball and chain’ - a metal component is attached to the dye molecule which limits it’s ability to move out of the gelatin.  All three matrices are transferred to the paper which is then dried.  A set of matrices can produce many prints, perhaps more than 100.  

The resulting prints have an amazing depth and beauty.  People who have never seen a dye print will notice that these prints look unlike any other print they have seen.  The prints are examples of a hand crafting process which is less seen in recent years.   The prints are very collectable, and will survive unchanged for over 400 years if stored properly.  

James Browning

Lebanon, NH 2017