Carbon Transfer Printing – How It’s Done

Over the years I’ve been asked how I make my carbon prints. The key to carbon printing is patience! There are many steps one must do before you even make a print. It take a lot of time to understand the variables in play with this process and finding the “balance” as I like to call it is the key to success. I have developed my techniques over the years to allow me to print almost any negative. Once you understand how to use the controls it is amazing what you can do. I teach this process at my home studio in Vancouver Washington. When we get the Covid monster under control I hope to continue teaching as it gives me great joy to pass along what I know to others. The following is just a bit of what you need to do.

Trying to simplify this complex process is not easy but I will try. First one must have a negative to print in contact with a pigmented gelatin substrate. Mine are 8×10, 8×20, 11×14 and 14×17 negatives.

I manufacture what is called tissue” which is a substrate coated with a pigmented gelatin. This process takes an entire day. Once dry, generally 4-5 days of curing is needed, the pigmented tissue is coated with a light sensitive liquid, Ammonium Dichromate. This is allowed to dry for 3 hours.

A negative is placed in contact with the pigmented tissue and exposed to ultra violet light. I use a graphic arts plate burner. The negative is then separated from the tissue and the tissue is brought into contact with a final support medium under water in a cold-water transfer bath. This sandwich is then squeegeed together on glass then covered and weighted and allowed to mate” for a half of an hour.

Developing the image is done in a tray of warm water. Once the tissue is softened it is removed from the final support and the image is developed in the warm water to completion.

Each handmade print is unique unto itself and no two are identical. Some may exhibit a beautiful “relief” visible texture and some a subtle relief. Many variables come into play and some of them can cause failure. Still carbon transfer prints are considered to be some of the finest and most archival prints any collector can own. It is considered the Process of Royalty.”

Jim Fitzgerald

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