In 1926 Hayter settled in Paris and enrolled at the Académie Julian, while studying burin engraving with Joseph Hecht. In 1927 Hayter began to work with his own pupils and in 1933 established the Atelier 17 printing workshop, named after the street number of its address. Rejecting traditional printing practices, Hayter insisted on a cooperative approach to working with artists in the studio. Experimenting with techniques he concentrated on adapting traditional intaglio printing methods to express concerns of modern art.
With the outbreak of war in 1939, Hayter moved to New York City with his wife American sculptor Helen Phillips. As a professor at The New School for Social Research Hayter taught until 1945, when he opened the Atelier 17 workshop independently in Greenwich Village. Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, William Baziotes, David Smith and Louise Bourgeois were among the list of artists who printed at Atelier 17. In the 1950s and 1960s, after returning to Paris, Hayter revolutionized color etching—developing a method for printing several colors from one engraved and etched plate.