Carbon Transfer Prints

Several months ago I went to an photo exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The subject was the history of photographic portraiture. I was really taken by the images from the 1850’s that were created using a technique called Carbon Transfer. It is a process that has been around for a very long time and provides a very unique looking print. The amount of detail surpasses anything I’ve seen. It is light years ahead of the digital printing that is commonly used today in terms of tonality and detail.

A couple of months ago I became aware of a company in Spain that uses carbon transfer to create photographic prints called The Wet Print. The owner, Calvin Grier, is an artist that uses the carbon transfer process to create incredible images.

I’ll go over the process from the photographer’s perspective. I suggest you visit his website to see what really goes into creating the final print. The first step is selecting a image your want to print. Since the process produces a black and white image, selecting the right one is important. Next, I contacted Calvin via email and sent him a downsized image to see how well it would render via carbon transfer.

The next step was to send him the full size image in a TIF format. Since I was dealing with foreign currency (the Euro) for payment I opened an account with Transferwise in order to pay for the print.

After that, the ball was in Calvin’s court and he kept me abreast of what was happening on his end. Below are photos of the process.

Ken Rieves Photography

Negatives, tissue, and Temporary support.

Ken Rieves Photography

Exposing one of the negatives.

Ken Rieves Photography

Developing the first layer.

Ken Rieves Photography

The first layer.

Ken Rieves Photography

Developing the second layer.

Ken Rieves Photography

Transferring the image from a plastic sheet to paper.

As you can see, the process used multiple layers to create the final image and is a much more complicated process than even traditionally produced photographs. Calvin’s website has videos that give you much more information as to how the images are produced.

For the photographer, the most difficult part of the process is waiting. It obviously takes time to produce the final print, but there’s also the matter of shipping (in my case shipping from Spain to the US). It took just over two weeks for me to receive the print, but it was well worth it.

First of all, the packaging was bulletproof. Which is appropriate considering the time, effort, and money invested in producing the final image.

Ken Rieves Photography

The print arrives sandwiched between two pieces of 1/4 inch thick pieces of particle board lined with foam.

Ken Rieves Photography

Inside, the photo is protected by a glassine envelope.

Finally, I took the finished print to Frames Unlimited to get it matted and framed. Just a tip: when framing anything you care about behind glass, use museum glass. The difference is completely remarkable.

Ken Rieves Photography

The final image. Without museum glass the glare would render the photo unrecognizable.

I’ve decided have another image printed as a companion image that will be hung in our formal living room.

That’s it for today, be sure to check out The Wet Print‘s website to learn more about the process. I highly recommend it!