photos guide Judging the Authenticity of Photographs

© david rudd cycleback,





The following is a short list of other standard photographic processes/prints.  These prints are rarer, often substantially rarer, than albumen prints, gelatin-silver prints and c-prints.  Several are considered high-end by photograph collectors due to the high quality image quality and rarity. 

     The processes and prints are listed in alphabetical order.








Detail of 1867 Carbon Print by famed British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron


Key:  High quality antique process and print, often mounted.

Duration: Invented in 1864, though popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Modernized versions made today.

Population: Scarce.

Carbon prints are known for images superior to the contemporary albumen and gelatin-silver prints. They come in a variety of colors, often having deep browns like shown in the image on the left.  The image surfaces have a subtle relief effect seen when held at a near 180 degree angle and under the correct light. Parts of the surface are slightly higher than other parts. If the carbon print is held at a certain angle to the light, the shadows of the image should appear shinier than the highlights. If there is cracking in the surface, large cracks appear in the dark areas only. The prints are not susceptible to the severity of deterioration of albumens, gelatin-silvers and salt prints, and will not have silvering. In the 1800s the prints were often mounted, including as cabinet cards and cartes de visite. Sometimes the mount will have text saying it is a carbon print.

Under the microscope the fibers of the paper are visible in the image. Tiny flecks of dark pigment are often visible. The image should appear to lie on the surface of the paper, instead of being imbedded in it.

The carbon print’s image is difficult to distinguish from the photomechanical print Woodburytype (see chapter 28).  The Woodbury-type was only made in the late 1800s, and, luckily, often has ‘Woodbury-type’ printed below the image.  The Woodbury-Gravure is a closely related photomechanical print also from the 1800s, and will often have the name printed beneath the print.   Whether or not it is a carbon print, Woodbury-type or Woodbury-gravure, you know the photo is antique.

     The carbon print was invented in 1864 and used until the 1930s.  Along with the platinum print, the carbon print is considered by collectors and historians to be the pinnacle of early black and white color paper photography, with an image of highest quality and lacking the typical aging problems of more common prints.

A few artists and hobbyists make moderns version of the carbon print today.  These will often have modern subjects and will usually be sold as modern, often by the photographer.  The paper can often be identified as modern with a black light.  The modern carbon prints themselves are scarce and considered high quality.







Cibachrome (also known as ILFACHROME)


Key: Modern high quality, ultra glossy color photos

Duration: 1960s to today

Population: Scarce but can be found.


Cibachromes are known for their high quality images and are often used by fine art photographers including for public exhibition.  They are cheaper to make than the rarer dye transfer.  The colors have a depth that give them a magical, almost 3-dimensional quality.  The colors are bold, some photographers think too bold. 

Cibachromes were introduced in 1963 and are still used today.  They are on resin-coated paper (plasticy feel both back and front).  Though there is matte-style cibachrome, the cibachrome images usually have ultra-glossy, liquid-likes surfaces unlike any other photograph.  If there is a border, it is often jet black.  Avoid touching the image, as fingerprints show up easily.  As with the dye transfers, the images are resistant to fading.  This makes them suited for display.  The high quality image and super glossy image makes the cibachrome easy to identify.

Due to their relative scarcity, high quality images and durability, cibachromes are desirable and can add to the value of a modern photograph.

The common c-print photo is sometimes mistaken for a cibachrome.  However, the c-print usually has photo branding printed on the back (ala “Kodak Paper,” “Fujicolor Paper”), while cibachromes have no such printing.  If there is a border, the cibachrome’s border is often black while the c-print’s is usually white.  Note that there are cibachromes with white borders. Most cibachromes are much, much glossier than the average c-print.


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The glossy black border on a recently made cibachrome.  Unlike many c-prints, this photo has no manufacturer’s branding printed on back.











Keys: Old photo with a blue image on matte paper. 

Duration: Invented in 1840, though popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Examples made today.

Population: Not common, but examples are found regularly.

There is no mistaking the cyanotype or ‘blueprint’ processes, due to the brilliant blue image color. Architectural blueprints are cyanotypes.  The images are on matte paper, back and front.  Under the microscope, the paper fibers can be seen in the image area.  The images usually do not fade or age as with the more popular gelatin-silver and albumen prints.  Vintage cyanotypes come in a variety of styles, including real photo postcards and cabinet cards.  Though rarer than gelatin-silver prints, many collectors do not place a premium on the process as the find they blue unappealing.

In recent years there has been a revival of the process amongst artists and hobbyists.  These modern versions are usually sold as modern, fluoresce brightly under black light (see chapter 25) and can have modern image subjects.








Dye Transfer and cabro prints


Key: Highest quality modern color photograph on matte paper.

Duration: 1940s to today

Population: Scarce.


Many consider the modern dye transfer to be the highest form of color photograph.  The images of unparalleled quality and depth and do not fade. Photographs you will find in Sotheby’s and Christies auctions and in museums are dry transfers.  This includes Bert Stern’s famous portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Harold Edgerton’s super high speed photos.  Introduced in 1945, dye-transfers are only made by a handful of people today.  The process takes great skill, is time consuming and expensive. You will not find a dye transfer by a famous photographer for or subject for $2 on eBay.

The photos are fiber based (matte surface instead of glossy) both on front and back, which is unlike the other color photos.  Chomogenic photos are usually glossy on one or both sides, while Cibachrome and Polaroids are glossy on both sides.  The super high quality images, matte back and front and high price make dye transfers easy to identify.  Their resistance to fading makes them great for displaying at home or in public.

Giclees can sometimes resemble dye-transfers as giclees can be on matte paper.  However, the giclees are quickly identified due to the fine dot pattern in the image. 

Quality dye transfers of famous athletes and by famous photographers are rare and highly desirable.

The dye-transfer is a close relation to the earlier cabro print, which also offers quality and long lasting true color images.


1930s cabro print of actress Elsa Lanchester.  Color prints from the 1930s are rare.










Gum bichromate with charcoal/painted-like quality


Key: Artistic, charcoal sketch or painting-like images

Popular use 1900-40s

Population: Vintage examples are rare.  Modern versions less rare.


The gum bichromate, bromoil and oil pigment prints are closely related with a distinct artistic look.  These processes gave the photographer unique control over the image. Due to artistic manipulation, these prints do not have the detail of most photographs and often resemble charcoal drawings or watercolors sketches. Brush strokes can sometimes be seen on the surface. They can  come in various colora, and the image lacks the aging problems of many other processes.

     Early gum bichromate prints are rare, highly desirable and usually expensive. The process was replaced by the bromoil process. The earliest examples, 1800s to turn of the century, are bichromate prints.  Examples after the 1930s are most likely bromoil or other oil pigment prints.  A few modern hobbyists and artists make modernized versions of these prints.  At sale, these modern versions are usually clearly advertised as modern and can fluoresce brightly under a black light.













Key: High quality black and white photograph on matte paper

Duration: 1880 to 1930s, Popular Use: 1900-1910s.  Revived in recent years.
Population: Scarce but not impossible to find. 


The platinum print, also known as platinotype, is a premium process that produces high quality images.  They are usually used in fine art photography and not for things like snapshots or press photos.  The images are a soft grey/black/white, sometimes with a bluish tinge. A few examples have browns.  The blacks are usually pitch black and the greys silvery.  The whites can be snow whites.  The images do not fade as the more common albumen and gelatin-silver prints.   The paper is matte/fiber-based back and front.  Under the microscope, the paper fibers can be seen in the image.  A transfer image may rub off on any paper that has been in contact with the image over time.

After decades of hibernation, a new version of the platinum print was invented in recent years and used in the fine arts.  The modern paper will often fluoresce brightly under a black light (see chapter 25).  Most modern platinum prints are clearly represented as modern and often have clearly modern subjects.

Palladiam is a closely related print, and is often lumped together with platinum prints.  Palladiums resemble platinum prints but are a bit more susceptible to aging deterioration.  For the collector, there’s rarely a pressing need to differentiate from palladium and platinum prints.

Gelatin silver prints are sometimes mistaken for platinum prints, as they can have similar black and white tones.  Gelatin silver prints typically, though not always, have glossy images, while platinums are matte.  The paper fibers cannot be seen in the image gelatin silver print, while they can be seen in the platinum print.  Gelatin silver prints are much more plentiful and, when in doubt, it’s safe to guess it’s gelatin silver.

Salt prints and platinum prints are also sometimes confused, as they can have similar image tones and microscopic paper fibers can be seen in both images.  However, the salt prints are from an earlier time with earlier subjects, and usually have significant wear and image deterioration.

The commonly found giclee prints (see chapter 28) are sometimes mistaken for platinum prints, as the giclee can mimic the platinum tones and can be on matte paper.  As a digital/computer print, giclee is quickly identified due to the fine dot pattern in the image.









Key: Usually small instant developing photographs that look physically distinct to other photos.

Duration: 1963 to today

Population: Common


Polaroids are those instant self developing photographs, and usually have an appearance distinct from the other photos. Though there were other brands of instant self-developing photos, the brand name Polaroid has always constituted most of the market.  Polaroid was bought out by Fuji.  The photo backs can be have printed the name Polaroid, Fuji, Fuji Polaroid or initials FP printed on the back.

Polaroids were introduced in 1963 and are still used today.  Polaroids have been used in daily life (family picnics), professionally use (dentists, police work, test photos for magazine shoots) and in the fine arts.   They are usually small, but can be large.  At their best Polaroids have beautiful colors and sharp images.  Polaroids can also be black and white. 

The photos are thick and resin-coated, with a plasticy feel on back.  Polaroids have a distinct white border, many with a wider bottom edge.  The photo image will have a different gloss than the surrounding white border.  The image will have a gloss, while the border will be closer to matte. 

To a large degree Polaroids are self authenticating.  This is due to their one-of-one, on the spot development.  Though there are methods to make Polaroid copies, most Polaroids are vintage, original and unique.

The Polaroid transfer and emulsion transfer are experimental, fine art manipulations of the Polaroid that produce distorted, artistic images.  Each of these is usually original and unique.












Key: The first type of paper photograph

Duration: 1841-1860.  Revived in late 1890s and late 1900s.

Population: Examples with sports images are extremely rare.


Salted paper prints, also known as salt prints, were made either with a paper negative (called a Collotype negative) or a glass negative. The image printed from a paper negative lacks detail and has a romantic, fuzzy quality. The grain of the paper negative often appears in the image. Salt prints made from a glass negative have a clearer image, without the grain of the paper negative.   The earliest salt prints were made from a paper negative. These prints are held in high esteem today as extremely rare and historically significant. Even poor grade examples are expensive.

Salt prints usually have matte surfaces and are on very thin paper, similar to albumen paper.  The images are brownish-red, purple or brownish-yellow. The images usually show heavy signs of age.  This includes fading, often around the edges in a halo effect, foxing and soiling.  Salt prints sometimes have light hand coloring.

Under the microscope, the fibers of the paper are visible. Unlike the more common albumen print in which the image seems to float on the paper surface, the salt print image is imbedded in the fibers.

Salt prints are sometimes mistaken for platinum prints, in part as both have matte surfaces.  The platinum prints, however, have superior image detail and lack of image fading and other deterioration. Also, the platinum print was used much later, which means the photographic subjects and fashion are from a later era.

The plentiful albumen print is sometimes mistaken for the salt print as they both existed in the 1800s.  The image surface of the albumen is usually, though not always, glossy which distinguishes itself from the common matte surfaces of the salt prints.  Though uncommon, there are matte albumen prints that are hard to distinguish from salt prints.  The albumen prints mostly come from a later era and can be identified by the modern dress of the subjects in the image and style of mounts.

Salt prints from glass negatives were also made for a period in the late 1800s and modernized versions are made today.  Today’s versions lack the aging problems, have clearer images and are usually clearly represented as modern.  The modern paper is often thicker than from the 1800s and will often be identified as modern with a black light (chapter 25).      photos guide Judging the Authenticity of Photographs

© david rudd cycleback,