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December 17, 2018

1940s Printing Technique: When Printing Photos on Fabric Was the Next Big Thing

In the 1940s, men and women had been pushing the technical limits of photography ever since the medium was born, well over a century before — but no one , it seems, had ever bothered to devote the energy, time and money it would take to devise a method for printing pictures directly on to fabric. Two New York-based companies were out to change that grave dereliction: by 1947, the “photographic fabrics [were] being produced in quantity by two new and rival processes.”

Both methods depend on a series of secret chemicals and dyes with which fabric is impregnated to make it light-sensitive. In the Foto-Fab process used by Leize, Inc. of New York a light shining through a negative film makes a positive print on cloth. In the Photone process of Ross-Smith Corp., also of New York, a positive film is used.

For the textile-printing industry photographic fabrics are the big news of the year. Although now limited to a group of restrained monotones, both pioneering companies are working to develop techniques that will give them full-color photographs on fabric and an opportunity to compete vigorously with traditional methods of printing fabric.

(Photos by Nina Leen—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images, via



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