Dye Transfer Prints Require Some Pains but Provide Rewards

Times Staff Writer

Dye transfer is a phrase that you rarely hear mentioned in photographic circles these days, even though for years this color print process stood alone as the Cadillac of the industry.

The process, developed by Kodak, gave artists and professionals the first relatively permanent color process. It produced beautiful color renditions from either slides or negatives.

The problem was that process was tedious and expensive. Its doom was spelled when Ilford introduced its Cibachrome color process, which was both easy and affordable.

“I’ve always been someone who likes things on a fundamental level and dye transfer was the first color print material that Eastman Kodak Co. made available to other users, other than Kodak,” photographer Mark Jilg said.


“That took place in the late ‘30s or early ‘40s and was originally called Eastman Wash-Off Relief.”

Jilg, who used to run a dye transfer lab in Los Angeles, will be teaching a 2-day workshop on the classic color process at Cypress College on April 8 and 15 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cost is $5 plus a $10 lab fee. For more information, call (714) 826-2220, Ext. 244.

Currently there are only two labs in the Los Angeles area that still deal in this process, which still has applications in advertising photography because it’s easy to manipulate the color print material. It also produces believable color prints that are easy to retouch.

“Every photograph you see of high-production ads, such as automobiles and cosmetics, is probably a dye transfer print,” Jilg said. “The reason I got into it was the huge amount of control over making the prints. The material is very archival.”

The attractions to dye transfer, according to Jilg, are the beauty and the ease with which you can control your print.

Making a dye transfer print can be 10 to 20 times more difficult than a black-and-white print. It can take between 10 and 20 hours just to produce a color separation for the first print. After that, you can make a print every 20 or 30 minutes.

Jilg describes the complicated process: “The photograph is separated or broken down into its components--red, green and blue or cyan, magenta and yellow. Those separations are separate sheets of film. It is a relief image just like a printing plate.

“A printing plate has dots in it and a dye transfer printing matrix is continuous tone. It is a continually graduated gelatin image that has relief.


“Each of those matrix separations is soaked in its corresponding dye, and the image is then laid onto or transferred onto a gelatin-coated photographic paper. The next color of dye is laid on top of the previous color using pin registration. Then the third color is laid on. The matrix separation that you use to transfer the dye to the paper is reusable.”

Jilg recommends the workshop only for those who have some experience in printing color photographs, either Cibachrome or Kodak Type-C prints, or a serious involvement in black-and-white photography.