The Legend Of Dye Transfer Printing, Interrupted 2

May 31st, 2010 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

CONTINUED FROM THE BLOG POST, “The Legend of Dye Transfer Printing, Interrupted 1

Darkroom Photography Magazine and Dye Transfer

Aspens, Delores River Canyon, San Juan Rockies, Colorado, 1979 by Philip Hyde. One of the photographs featured in the "Images of the Southwest" dye transfer portfolio."

(To see the photograph full screen Click Here)

The now defunct Darkroom Photography Magazine, published Philip Hyde’s “Virginia Creeper, Northern Sierra Nevada, California” on the cover of the March/April 1980 issue. “Virginia Creeper” made more magazine covers than any other Philip Hyde photograph, but Darkroom Photography Magazine also ran an in-depth feature article with the cover photograph. Merry Selk Blodgett of Darkroom Photography Magazine interviewed Philip Hyde about his dye transfer printing process. See the blog post, “Philip Hyde At Home In The Wilds 1.”

The article titled, “At Home In the Wilds” by Merry Selk Blodgett included a sidebar about dye transfer printing that makes a good introduction to the rest of the article, which will appear in a future blog post. Below is an excerpt from the Darkroom Photography Magazine sidebar:

What Dye Transfer Is All About

The color printing process Philip Hyde uses, dye transfer, is one of the finest (and most difficult) techniques currently available for producing a photographic color print. Color quality and tonality are excellent, the final image is relatively immune to degradation over time, and the process offers a degree of control over contrast and color unmatched by other techniques. To make a dye transfer print from one of his 4X5 transparencies, Philip Hyde first makes three black and white separation negatives by contact printing the transparency onto panchromatic sheet film. One separation is made with a blue filter over the light source, another with a red filter and the third with a green filter. Together these three separations comprise a complete “record” of the original color image.

The three separate matrices, one for each color are eventually dunked in their respective color dyes and then rolled carefully onto the paper using a positive register of rectangular-shaped pins that fit precisely into rectangular holes punched into the matrices for a perfect alignment of the three separate color versions of the final single print. Here is Philip Hyde’s complete statement of the process from start to finish as written in his “Images of the Southwest” Dye Transfer Portfolio Introduction:

The following is Dad’s description of his dye transfer printing process from his dye transfer portfolio packaged by Lumina, Palo Alto, California in 1982 called, “Images of the Southwest: Twelve Original Photographic Prints by Philip Hyde.” The plan was to print 50 portfolios but only 31 were made, which still was a huge production considering it adds up to 612 handmade prints.

A Brief Description of the Dye Transfer Color Print Process by Philip Hyde

The prints in this portfolio were made from 4X5 Ektachrome original transparencies by the dye transfer process.

To begin, a set of three separation negatives are made from the original by contact printing onto a black and white film. Exposed to red, green,  and blue light respectively then processed and dried, these three negatives record and translate the color information from the original into silver negative densities.

Film positives are then made from the separations, enlarging them to the finished print size on a special matrix film capable of absorbing and transporting dyes in the precise degree required for the differing portion of the final print. These matrix print films correspond to plates used for printing reproductions in the ink process.

After processing and drying, the three matrices are immersed in their respective dye solutions: cyan, magenta and yellow. The printing paper which is coated with a non-silver-sensitive emulsion to absorb dye, is mordanted then sqeegeed into position on the register printing board. Each matrix in succession is then removed from its dye bath, rinses, then placed on the register pins of the board and rolled into contact with the printing paper, remaining in contact for 3 to 6 minutes depending on dye color. It is then stripped off, washed in warm water and returned to its dye bath to repeat the cycle. When the third matrix has been rolled and removed, the full-color image is revealed on the printing paper, which is then dried, trimmed, and mounted, as in the Portfolio.

This portfolio is issued in a limited edition of 60 copies, of which 50 are for sale. Copyright Philip Hyde 1982.

Archival Statement

All of the prints in this portfolio were made by Philip Hyde in his darkroom, to exacting standards for color, quality, and longevity. They are dry-mounted to acid-free, 100% rag Museum Board, and overlaid with cut-out mats of the same Museum Board attached with acid-free tape. 100% acid-free rag paper interleaves are used to protect the print surfaces. With proper care, the prints should last  a long time, but as with most materials made by man or nature, they should not be subjected to direct sunlight, or high intensity fluorescent lighting.

A future blog post will describe the interesting and challenging process of trial and error, with good help from expert friends, through which Philip Hyde learned dye transfer printing. Also in a future blog post the Darkroom Photography Magazine Interview about Philip Hyde’s printing processes and his life living in the northern Sierra Nevada and travels to photograph mountain scenes and southwestern desert landscapes, see the blog post, “Philip Hyde At Home In the Wilds 1.”



  1. Derrick says:

    That is a gorgeous photo.

  2. Hi Derrick, thank you for the comment. That is one of his most admired photographs.

  3. Derrick says:

    I could have sat in that spot for hours and not been bored.

  4. Hi Derrick, thank you for visiting again. The Delores River Canyon is very beautiful if you visit in the right season when the river is flowing well or when the Fall color is on exhibition. I went on a river trip with my parents and a friend of theirs, “Life” photographer Joe Munroe, who was also a river guide and photographed Sierra Club Board Meetings. I wish you could see the 24X30 print of “Aspens, Delores River Canyon” that I have here in Dad’s studio right now. Talk about a wow. It will definitely cause the future owner to feel like he or she is sitting there whenever they wish.

  5. pj finn says:

    You’ve maybe answered this before and I never saw it, but did you ever work with your dad and learn how to make these prints, and do you still use the process for making exhibition prints of his work?

  6. Hi PJ, it is a good question that I have answered parts of in various blog posts but by asking, you have given me the opportunity to consolidate here. Information about the various types of prints are on the main website at under INFO. To read more see also the blog posts, “Memories of Finally Working With Dad” (in popular posts), “New Philip Hyde Releases At Mountain Light Gallery Exhibition” (in the “Collectors’ Information” category) and “The Legend of Dye Transfer Printing, Interrupted 1.” (Linked to at the top of this blog post.) Dad quit printing Dye Transfer as it phased out in the early 1990s. I was living in Los Angeles and then Santa Fe, New Mexico at the time and only visited my parents a few times a year. I left home at age 15 in 1980 to go to college prep boarding school because my local high school was terrible educationally and in most other ways. In my early teens I was generally in a rebellious phase and not much interested in anything to do with my parents. However, when I was a young boy I did spend many hours in the darkroom with my father while he made black and white prints. He used to get on my case for blasting rock and roll but he would blare big band jazz and sing very loud as he worked. I remember the whole black and white printing process, but would need a refresher on the technical details. Dad also showed me the dye transfer printing process a number of times, but it was much more complicated and technical. It took him years to perfect and was very meticulous, detailed and difficult to get right. I don’t think any of us except for the very technically savvy could easily make a dye transfer print. The blog post “The Legend of Dye Transfer Printing, Interrupted 1” brings across how difficult the process is and why it was such a legend. Scott Nichols Gallery has a few Philip Hyde dye transfer prints available but so far is the only place you can get them. The exhibitions generally will contain an original Philip Hyde print or several but generally they are made up of the special edition archival fine art digital prints made by Carr Clifton. In the post “New Philip Hyde Releases At Mountain Light Gallery Exhibition,” I go into depth about what we do to make the archival digital prints, from drum scanning to restoration to matching the way Dad printed. Dad’s original film is usually badly beaten up because his photographs were widely published. Can you believe he used to send his original transparencies out to publishers? A good number of them did get lost or damaged. Besides, now the earlier Kodak E-6 and especially the E-3 film is color shifting significantly and would be impossible to print from using traditional processes.

  7. That is a gorgeous shot, David. Love the composition. And I enjoyed reading about the printing process used.


  8. Hi Sharon, thank you for your comment. That is one that everyone seems to like. There is nothing like the color in a good dye transfer print, but the archival fine art digital prints of that image are magnificent too, and even better in some ways.

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