The roots of carbon printing are found in the experimental work of Louis Poitevin in the mid-19th century. Carbon printing, more or less as we know it today, was introduced in1864 by Joseph Swan, who built on the experimental work of Poitevin and created a practical method of making carbon prints.
Swan used paper as a support, coated on one side with a pigmented-gelatin solution. After sensitisation and exposure, carbon pigment paper was transferred to a temporary rubber support for development.
When dry, the resulting pigment image was transferred to its final paper support. Swan began marketing carbon materials in 1866, offering his ready-made tissue in three colours: black, sepia and purple-brown.
Carbon was the preferred process of the top echelon of commercial photographers in the second half of the 19th century. Price lists of commercial printing houses of the period show that prints made by the carbon process were very expensive, often two or three times more than those of prints made by any other process, including platinum.
Materials for carbon printing were widely available in Europe and in North America from the second part of the 19th century until the early 1950s. The last major manufacturer of carbon tissue, Hanfstaengle of Munich, Germany, ceased production of carbon tissue in the late 1980s and for many years there was no commercial source of carbon tissue.
In 2004 Bostick and Sullivan in Santa Fe, New Mexico, began to produce carbon tissue for monochrome work. The quality of the carbon tissue produced by them has been considerably improved and is now offered in a greater range of colours.