What’s so hard about Dye Transfer

Back in the day of dye transfer, photography was a trade taught in the US Miitary as well as private trade schools, many of which gladly accepted GI Bill tuition payments.

Large labs, processing hundreds of prints a week, divided the work into skill layers. As someone improved they were assigned to other tasks. Prove yourself often enough and you will have made it to a secure will paid career.

jobs. skills. steps

  • load film, clean, mop
  • soup film
  • mix chemcials for lab
  • make masks/seps
  • make mats
  • manage dyes and do rollup

The last task is key to the final result: rollup. This is primarily autographic; skill of hand, eye, timing with feedback. All the previous steps come together well, or the print fails.

Most of those who fail at dye transfer do so because they lack courage. They make the task harder than it is. Not even rollup is difficult, just needing attention.

Anyone who can teach dye, can teach anyone who can learn, in about 45 hours. This assumes you can get film in and out of a camera, and in and out of chemicals.

The hardest part about dye transfer was those who sold their weekend teaching skills to timid camera counter conversationalists.

Kodak’s Frank McLaughlin used to take people through the steps over the telephone. That’s how hard it was.

You Can't Learn Dye Transfer

Kodak E-80

The one with this cover:

kodak dye transfer
Kodak E-80

Kodak supplied this for free, or upon request. And it is incomplete, at least insofar as teaching someone how to make a print is concerned. I don’t know why it became such an empty publication, but it did. There isn’t enough information in this publication to guide you to a completed print. It is the often referenced publication, but, I wonder, have any of the people directing you to E-80 used it as their course pack? Or, are they quickly spouting what everyone else posts as answer — “Kodak had a booklet that I used when I….”

Using google will find 2 sites hosting this version of the Kodak publication. Don’t bother with it if you are serious about learning the process as it was practiced at its height. The publication isn’t so much wrong in error, but is by omission. Massive omission. When I was shown a printout of it, I thought there must be pages missing, since it seemed to end abruptly. After further checking, confirming the contents etc.. it was a complete printout- so I read it. Doing. No one, even if they had in date supplies, would meet with success at re-creating the lost procedures that were once the dye transfer process.

the Current State of Dye Transfer

There are no in date supplies for sale. There are, to my knowledge, less than 10 people working with current date materials. Of course, there are several working with out of date supplies. Matrix film made by Kodak, Efke, DTC. Most of these people can be found on the yahoo group hosted by Jim Browning.  If you want to browse the group, I’d suggest going to the original posts, collecting what materials will be immediately useful. Stop when you enter the 2005-06 frame. The more recent stuff is of little significance.

Current (2015) Commercial Printers

Dye Transfer International (see link) offers printing. As I understand, they have their emulsion made custom. They also have paper and dyes customized for their current procedures which are based upon exposing to laser. Bettina Haneke is the principal contact at DTI.

That Is It

No other printing services need new clients. Those people printing are printing with out dated materials, and print, essentially reprint, for existing portfolios.

James Browning (see link) may be able to print for you. I’m listing him more so you can track him down yourself. If you go to the link, you will be able to download a better set of instructions for making dye transfer than the Kodak E-80.

There are estate printers; some going so far as having emulsion coated.

 Learning Dye Transfer Now

means learning a new material and supply set. It also means that you are one of a very small group having access to those new emulsions. Learning to use, now, means learning to make, or how to form buying groups.

update: 2020. Yahoo group has closed. A new moderator migrated the old list to groups.io … The 500+ members paired down to 80. It suffers from the same problem as the old group. Mostly hangers on; folks who never printed trying to fool those who did, only to gain stories of the past. A small group of people making prints has started a new group. It is open only to experienced, active printers.