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Tirage au charbon

The first non-silver photographic process, the carbon print is part of a group of techniques that use alkaline bichromates to form the image layer. In the 19th century it was the most popular pigment printing process. With excellent stability, prints can be bright or satiny and, depending on the nature of the pigments used, the process can produce images with a wide range of tones. The most popular pigment used was black or brown charcoal.

Carbon prints were patented in 1855 by Louis-Alphonse Poitevin, who had made use of existing research into insolubilization under light of bichromatic colloids – gelatin in this case. It represented an important breakthrough in the search for stable photographic processes.

These first carbon prints, known as "direct carbon" or "carbon without transfer", were created using the following steps: a sheet of paper is coated with a mix of bichromated gelatin and pigment. It is then dried in darkness before being exposed to light in contact with a negative. The image is obtained in warm water: areas exposed to light are hardened and become insoluble, whilst in areas that have not been exposed, the gelatin and the pigments dissolve in the water.

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