Definitions

carbon tissue

Carbon print

A carbon print is a photographic print produced by soaking a carbon tissue in a dilute sensitizing solution of potassium dichromate. The solution also consists of carbon, gelatin, and a coloring agent. The process was created as a result of print fading in early photographic processes, and was patented in 1864 by Joseph Wilson Swan.

An Overview and History of Carbon (Pigment) Printing

The carbon process, initially a black and white process using lamp black (carbon black), was invented by Alphonse Poitevin in 1855. The process was later adapted to color, through the use of pigments, by Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron in 1868. Carbon printing remained commercially popular through the first half of the 20th century. It was replaced over time by the dye-transfer, chromogenic, dye-bleach (Cibachrome) and, now, digital printing processes. The efficiencies gained through these more modern automated processes relegated carbon printing to the commercial backwaters in the latter half of the 20th century. It is now only found in the darkrooms of the rare enthusiast and a few exotic labs.

Carbon printing relies upon the ability of gelatin, when sensitized to light by a dichromate, to become insoluble in water after exposure to sunlight, or its modern equivalent (UV). Three successive layers of gelatin, containing first yellow, then magenta and finally cyan pigment, are, one at a time, exposed, aligned (registered) and then transferred onto a white opaque support (substrate, base or carrier) and processed in warm water (≈100 °F to 105 °F). A fourth layer of black was added later on to improve density and mask any spurious color cast in the shadows. The unexposed areas, which remain soluble in warm water, are washed away, revealing, according to the inverse of the exposure, the underlying white support. This creates a bas-relief effect of varying texture and finish on the surface of the print that is the unique signature of the carbon process. Each color carbon print requires three, or four, round trips in the darkroom to create a finished color print. An individual, using existing pigmented sheets and separations, can prepare, print and process enough material, 60 sheets including the support, to produce about 12 - 20" x 24" four color prints in a 40 hour week.

  • It should be noted here that the carbon process is typically used to produce;
  • :-Mono-chrome prints, usually B&W, but often sepia, cyan or any other preferred color.
  • :-Duo-chrome (duo-tone) prints, an effect many printers are familiar with, using complementary or associated colors to their best effect.
  • :-Tri-chrome prints, a traditional full color print made by layering Y, M & C pigment sheets.
  • :-Quadra-chrome prints, basically the same full color print as the tri-chrome with the added finishing layer of black (K) to add density and mask spurious color in the shadows.
  • That noted, any combination of layers, in any color, are possible to achieve whatever ends the printer desires.
  • Its also important to mention here that there are two primary techniques used in carbon printing, single transfer and double transfer. This has to do with the negatives (separations) being right or wrong reading and the image "flopping" during the transfer process.
  • *

    Because the carbon printing process uses pigments instead of dyes, it is capable of producing a far more archivally stable (permanent) print than any of the other color processes. Good examples of the color stability of pigments can be found in the paintings of the great masters, the true colors of which, in many cases, have survived all these centuries. A more contemporary example of the color stability of pigments is found in the paints used on automobiles today, which must survive intense daily exposure to very harsh lighting, under extreme conditions. The useful life of many (but not all) pigment formulations has been projected out to be several centuries and beyond (perhaps millennia, if cave paintings of Lascaux, the wall paintings in the tombs of the Valley of the Kings and the frescoes of Pompeii are relevant examples), often being limited only to the useful life of the particular support used. Additionally, the use of pigment also produces a wider color gamut than any of the other color processes, allowing for a greater range and subtlety of color reproduction.

    Though carbon printing always has been, and remains, a labor intensive, time consuming and technologically demanding process, there are still those that prefer the high aesthetic of its remarkable beauty and longevity over all other processes.

    Chronological History of Carbon (Pigment) Printing

    Date Name Nationality Remarks
    1798 Louis Nicolas Vauquelin French Influence of the light on the silver chromate
    1826 Joseph Nicéphore Niépce French First picture in April 1826
    1832 Gustav Suckow French Chromic acid salts are light sensitive, even without silver
    1836 Sir John Frederick William Herschel English Invention of the word "photography"
    1839 Mungo Ponton English Action of the light on paper coated with potassium dichromate + washing = fixed image
    1840 Henri Becquerel French Action of the light on paper coated with potassium dichromate + iodine fumes = fixed image
    1852 William Henry Fox Talbot English Insolubility of gelatin by potassium dichromate under influence of the light
    1855 Louis Alphonse Poitevin French Inventor of photographic printing with dichromated pigment process
    1858 L'abbé Laborde French Principle of exposure through the base then transfer from one base to the other (see Fargier)
    1860 Fargier French Principle of exposure through the base then transfer from one base to the other (see Laborde) but the imaged is reversed
    1860 Blaise French Double transfer to get a non-reversed image
    1861 James Clerk Maxwell English Principle of the trichrome separation influenced Louis Ducos du Hauron
    1862 Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron French Tricolor carbon process, see Charles Cros in 1867
    1863 Pouncy English Uses sensitized inks
    1863 Poitevin French Modification of his process: insolubility of the pigmented gelatin then solubility by exposure through a positive film
    1864 Joseph Wilson Swan English Swan process: uses rubber for the transfer
    1867 Charles Cros French Tricolor carbon process. See Ducos du Hauron in 1862
    1868 Marion French Procédé Marion: Uses an albuminated paper for the transfer
    1869 Jeanrenaud French Procédé Jeanrenaud: Improvement of the transfer
    1869 Jeanrenaud French Double transfer with an opal glass
    1870 Gobert French 1870-1873 printing on metal plates
    1873 Marion French Mariotype
    1874 Vogel French Principle of chromatic sensitization of the AgBr for the tricolor separation during the shot
    1878 Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron French Description of the heliochromie process
    1878 Fredéric Artigues French Charbon velours
    1881 Charles Cros French Tricolor process presented to the "Academie des Sciences"
    1882 Charles Cros French Tricolor process. Bulletin de la Société des Photographie
    1889 Artigues French Papiers charbon velours
    1893 Victor Artigues French Carbon velours à tons continus de 1893 à 1910
    1894 Ladeveze Rouille French Papier gomme-chrome
    1899 T Manly French Ozotype derived from mariotype
    1899 Henri Theodore Fresson French Procédé Fresson: sold in USA between 1927 and 1939 by Edward Alenias. Bought by Luis Nadeau, Canada, 1979
    1900 Fresson French Papier charbon Satin then papier Arvel to be processed with chlorine
    1902 Robert Krayn American N.P.G. Process: tricolor carbon process distributed in France by La Société Industrielle de Photographie
    1906 T Manly French Ozobromie
    1910 Arbuthnot English Dichromated watercolor or dichromated lavish
    1911 Dovertype English Sold in England by the Dover Street Studio, London, 1911-1914
    1913 S. Manners American Early form of three color carbro 1913-1922
    1919 H.F. Farmer English Carbro process based on Manly's ozobromie, Sold by Autotype in London
    1920 H.F. Farmer English Carbro Tricolor 1920 to 1960 by Autotype
    1923 H.J.C. Deeks American Raylo: three color carbon
    1950 KoloroÏd American Dichromated colloid: carbon transfer process
    1951 Pierre Fresson French Quadrichromie Fresson
    1965 3M American 3M Electrocolor Print 1965 to 1978
    1977 Kwik-Print American Light Impressions Corp , Rochester
    1982 Archival Color Co. American San Francisco: quad-color carbon process
    1983 George Griffin Canadian Quad halftone, duotone and mono contone carbon until from 1983 to 2006 Private collection of photographers work only.
    1985 Polaroid American Laser separation + transfer of pigment on a base. Stopped in 1986: Polaroid Permanent Pigment Print
    1986 Jerry Kuska & Douglas Madeley American & Canadian Four color carbon prints, Limited Edition Photo/Graphics, Santa Cruz, California, until 1991
    1993 Charles Berger American Ultrastable Color System. Pigmented quadrichromy
    1998 Racey Gilbert American Ataraxia Pigment Prints, until 2004
    2006 Tod Gangler American Art & Soul Photo, Seattle, Washington, Four color carbon prints and metallic quadtone black & white carbons

    See also

  • Woodburytype, a variation of the carbon process

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