Dye transfer prints are simply without peer. They have a richness, depth, and fidelity unmatched by any other kind of photographic print. They can show extraordinary subtlety of tone and hue, combined with a brightness range of 500:1 from blackest black to whitest white. Nothing else comes close to the magnificence of a dye transfer print.
After 70 years, dye transfer printing has become a nearly-lost art.
When museums and collectors wanted the absolute finest in color printing, they called for dye transfer. But today, only a few dozen people in the entire world still make dye transfer prints. Just a couple of artists can make dye transfer prints directly from color negatives as I do. Dye transfer printing's a very exclusive club!
How did this state of affairs come about? First, dye transfer printing is very time-consuming and expensive. Making the first 16" x 20" dye print from negative costs me over $100 in materials and several days' time. Dye transfer printing also demands extraordinary skill, understanding, and good artistic judgment.
Second, dye transfer printing requires special materials which were made only by the Eastman Kodak Company. In 1991 Kodak discontinued a special film called Pan Matrix Film which I need to make prints directly from color negatives. In 1994 Kodak abruptly and without warning ceased production of Matrix Film (used for printing from separations) and all other dye transfer materials.
How is it that I am still making dye transfer prints? When Kodak stopped making Pan Matrix Film I faced with the possibility of never making another color-negative dye transfer print. As an artist, I couldn't stand the idea of spending the rest of my life thinking, "Gee that's a pretty nice print... it would have been so much lovelier as a dye transfer." I mortgaged myself to the hilt and packed a large amount of this unique film in a deep freeze. When Kodak ended all production, I stockpiled enough chemicals, dye and paper to allow me to continue printing. I went deeply in debt from this, but I can continue creating my art for at least several more years.
Those few of us still making dye transfer prints survive on such hoarded supplies. Kodak's decision to kill dye transfer constitutes an artistic loss of the highest order.
Dye transfer is very different from other modern color print processes. No other process gives you so many ways to control the look of the final print. That is what makes dye transfer so hard, and it is also what makes dye transfer print so magnificent. Dye transfer provides the photographic artist with the tools to express extraordinary subtleties and nuances. Color prints can be fine-tuned to convey exactly what the artist intended. In dye transfer printing, rarely is the printer limited by the process; dye transfer allows so much control that it is impossible to completely master all its possibilities.
Dye transfer dyes are much closer to 'ideal' than other photographic dyes. The colors are purer. For example, the yellow dye in a dye transfer print is very clean, while ordinary color prints have an orangish yellow which muddies greens and masks subtle variations in reds and oranges. A dye transfer print has better and more accurate color than any other color print. A dye print can have a brightness range of 500:1 or more; no other print, black-and-white or color, matches that.
The dyes in a dye transfer print are very stable. Some conventional color prints now have a light stability better than dye transfer, but they also deteriorate in the dark. Unless you keep the majority of your work on lighted display at all times, dark fading or staining will prove more damaging than light fading. A dye transfer print has a dark-life expectancy, at room temperature and humidity, of over 300 years-- much better than even Ilfochrome. Dye transfers are printed on a double-weight fibre-base paper stock which is known to be stable and archival.
BACK TO THE COLOR DYE TRANSFERS OF JIM BONES!