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Dye-Transfer Prints

One of the first color printing processes, dye transfer was invented in the early '40s by the Technicolor Company for the Hollywood film industry. The laborious and meticulous process of dye transfer is only practiced by a few hundred artists in the world today, but yields astonishing results that are valued by both collectors and museums.

The dye transfer printing process involved creating three black and white negatives using colored filters of red, green, and blue. These separations were used to expose sheets of matrix film to their inversely corresponding primary colors of cyan, magenta, and yellow. The final print was obtained after aligning each matrix over a sheet of specially-treated paper using registration pins, then firmly rolling each matrix onto the paper and allowing the dyes to transfer.

This process was one of only a few methods for producing color photography for about a decade. Once other less tedious methods became available for color photography, dye transfers became restricted to the world of documentary work, advertising, and fine art photographers.

Quick Facts

  • In 1994, Eastman Kodak stopped making materials used for the dye transfer process, making dye transfer prints a rarity
  • William Eggleston is perhaps the artist most associated with this process, and was the first artist to have a one-man exhibition of color photographs at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976
  • William Eggleston's "Memphis (Tricycle)" set an auction record for a dye transfer print by any artist in October 2015 when it sold for $365,000 at Phillips

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