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Guide to Film Color Systems (Film Tinting to Technicolor)

Featuring this list are the important and most relevant film color systems throughout film history, with two of the movies/examples in which they were used. They are ranging from the oldest - Tinting (1890s) to the newest - Technicolor (1950s).

*Read notes* is essential for more information and hyperlinks about color systems.

Notable terms: List of color film systems, Color motion picture film, Film colorization, Bipack color, Dye-transfer process, Additive color, Subtractive color.

Also check out my other guides here, and if you are interested more in the subject, visit the site called Timeline of Historical Film Colors, which helped a lot.

  • Annabelle Serpentine Dance

    Annabelle Serpentine Dance


    Scene from the movie

    Full movie on YouTube

    Film tinting is the process of adding color to black-and-white film, usually by means of soaking the film in dye and staining the film emulsion. The effect is that all of the light shining through is filtered, so that what would be white light becomes light of some color.

    The process began in the 1890s, originally as a copy-guard against film pirates. The film was tinted amber, the color of the safelight on film printers. The discovery of bleaching methods by pirates soon put an end to this. Both the Edison Studios and the Biograph Company began tinting their films for setting moods. Because orthochromatic film stock could not be used in low-light situations, blue became the most popular tint, applied to scenes shot during the day and when projected, signified night.

    A variation of film tinting is hand coloring, in which only parts of the image are colored by hand with dyes, sometimes using a stencil cut from a second print of the film to keep colouring the same piece on different frames. The first hand tinted movie was Annabelle Serpentine Dance (1895).

  • The Adventures of Prince Achmed
  • The Kingdom of the Fairies

    The Kingdom of the Fairies


    Scene from the movie

    Full movie on YouTube

    Film colorization is any process that adds color to black-and-white, sepia, or other monochrome moving-picture images. It may be done as a special effect to "modernize" black-and-white films, or to restore color films. The first examples date from the early 20th century, but colorization has become common with the advent of digital image processing.

    The first film colorization methods were hand done by individuals. For example, at least 4% of George Méliès's output, including some prints of A Trip to the Moon from 1902 and other major films such as The Kingdom of the Fairies, The Impossible Voyage, and The Barber of Seville were individually hand-colored by Elisabeth Thuillier's coloring lab in Paris.

    Thuillier, a former colorist of glass and celluloid products, directed a studio of two hundred people painting directly on film stock with brushes, in the colors she chose and specified; each worker was assigned a different color in assembly line style, with more than twenty separate colors often used for a single film. Thuillier's lab produced about sixty hand-colored copies of A Trip to the Moon, but only one copy is known to exist. The first full-length feature film made by a hand-colored process was The Miracle of 1912.

  • Cyrano de Bergerac
  • A Visit to the Seaside

    A Visit to the Seaside

    KINEMACOLOR (Additive; 2 color)

    Scene from the movie

    Part of the movie from YouTube

    Kinemacolor was the first successful colour motion picture process, used commercially from 1908 to 1914. It was invented by George Albert Smith in 1906. He was influenced by the work of William Norman Lascelles Davidson and more directly, Edward Raymond Turner. From 1909 on, the process was known and trademarked as Kinemacolor. It was a two-colour additive colour process, photographing and projecting a black-and-white film behind alternating red and green filters.

    Kinemacolor enjoyed the most commercial success in the UK where, between 1909 and 1918, it was shown at more than 250 entertainment venues. Although in most cases the system stayed at licensed venues for only a few months there were instances where it remained at a hall for up to two years. 54 dramatic films were produced.

    However, the company was never a success, partly due to the expense of installing special Kinemacolor projectors in cinemas.

  • With Our King and Queen Through India
  • Venus of the South Seas

    Venus of the South Seas

    PRIZMA (Additive; 2 color)

    Scene from the movie

    Part of the movie from YouTube

    The Prizma Color system was a color motion picture process, invented in 1913 by William Van Doren Kelley and Charles Raleigh. Initially, it was a two-color additive color system, similar to its predecessor, Kinemacolor. However, Kelley eventually transformed Prizma into a bi-pack color system that itself became the predecessor for future color processes such as Multicolor and Cinecolor.

    The last few years of Prizma were somewhat fruitful. Samuel Goldwyn produced Vanity Fair (1923) in Prizma, and D. W. Griffith utilized the process in a couple of his films, including a scene in Way Down East (1920). Flames of Passion (1922), directed by Graham Cutts; The Virgin Queen (1923), directed by J. Stuart Blackton and I Pagliacci (1923) were all UK productions with one reel filmed in Prizma.

    One of the last films using Prizma was Venus of the South Seas (1924), where Prizma was used for one reel of a 55-minute film. Venus was restored by the Library of Congress in 2004.

  • Moana
  • The Toll of the Sea

    The Toll of the Sea

    TECHNICOLOR NO. 2 (Subtractive; 2 color)

    Scene from the movie

    Full movie on YouTube

    Technicolor is a series of color motion picture processes, the first version dating to 1916, and followed by improved versions over several decades. It was the second major color process, after Britain's Kinemacolor (1908 - 1914), and the most widely used color process in Hollywood during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

    The first subtractive 2 color process introduced by Technicolor No. 2 captured the incoming light through a beam splitter with red and green filters. However, in contrast to the Technicolor No. 1, the two b/w images were recorded on one negative strip. This was achieved by the pull-down of two frames simultaneously, a process that required the double speed in the camera. These two frames were arranged in pairs, whereby the green record was inverted up-side down.

    These two images were then step-printed onto two positives. A tanning process hardened the silver image. In the following step the soft portions were washed away. The relief matrices were then glued together and the opposite sides of the film dyed red-orange and blue-green respectively.

  • The Black Pirate
  • The Viking

    The Viking

    TECHNICOLOR NO. 3 (Subtractive; 2 color)

    Scene from the movie

    Full movie on YouTube

    The third Technicolor process used the same camera as process no. 2 to combine a pair of frames of the red and green record respectively on the b/w negative. In contrast to the former process, however, the two images were printed on one side of the positive by the dye transfer or imbibition process.

    For the dye transfer, again matrices were prepared by hardening the gelatin with a tanning developer and washing away the soft portions of the gelatin. These wash-off reliefs were then dyed with the complementary hues in green-blue and red-orange respectively. In the actual imbibition process the dyes were transferred by contact onto a blank film which was specially prepared to absorb the color and to prevent it from bleeding.

    While this process was very sophisticated in terms of mechanical precision, it was still a two-color process and as such it was not able to display the whole range of colors

  • King of Jazz
  • A Colour Box

    A Colour Box

    DUFAYCOLOR (Additive; 3 color)

    Scene from the movie

    Full movie on YouTube

    Dufaycolor is an early British additive colour photographic film process, introduced for motion picture use in 1932 and for still photography in 1935.

    With its mosaic of red, green and blue colour areas known as a réseau, Dufaycolor was an additive system, that is, one creating colour in the same manner as the modern red, green and blue pixels of a computer monitor. It’s even tempting to see its mosaic colour pattern, which blends at sufficient viewing distance into the intended colours, as a precursor of the modern colour pixel.

    This complex process emerged in 1933, though was soon to become outdated due to more effective subtractive systems such as Gasparcolor, Technicolor, Kodachrome and, eventually, colour negative film. But this was not before making some of the most beautiful British colour films possible, including the famous abstract films by animator Len Lye, such as A Colour Box (1935). The manufacture of Dufaycolor film ended in the late 1950s.

  • Sons of the Sea
  • Honeymoon Hotel

    Honeymoon Hotel

    CINECOLOR (Subtractive; 2 color)

    Scene from the movie

    Full movie on YouTube

    Cinecolor was an early subtractive color-model two-color motion picture process that was based upon the Prizma system of the 1910s and 1920s and the Multicolor system of the late 1920s and the 1930s. It was developed by William T. Crispinel and Alan M. Gundelfinger, and its various formats were in use from 1932 to 1955.

    A bipack color process, the photographer loaded a standard camera with two film stocks' an orthochromatic strip dyed red and a panchromatic strip behind it. The ortho film stock recorded only blue and green, and its red filtration passed red light to the panchromatic film stock.

    In the laboratory, the negatives were processed on duplitized film, and each emulsion was toned red or cyan. Cinecolor could produce vibrant reds, oranges, blues, browns and flesh tones, but its renderings of other colors such as bright greens (rendered dark green) and purples (rendered a sort of dark magenta) were muted.

    Before 1945, Cinecolor was used almost exclusively for short films. From 1932 to 1935, Cinecolor was used in at least 22 cartoons.

  • Scared to Death
  • The Golden City

    The Golden City

    AGFACOLOR (Subtractive; 3 color)

    Scene from the movie

    Full movie on YouTube

    Developed in Germany in the 1930s, but tainted by its emergence in the state-controlled cinema of the Nazi era, Agfacolor was the first successful colour negative material, and as such, a major innovation and a technical predecessor of the American Eastman colour negative introduced in the 1950s.

    Agfacolor was the German response to Technicolor and Kodachrome. Like Kodachrome, introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1935, the new Agfacolor film was an "integral tripack" with three differently color-sensitized emulsion layers. Unlike Kodachrome, the corresponding color-forming dye couplers were made integral with each layer during manufacture, greatly simplifying the processing of the film: with Kodachrome, the dye couplers had to be introduced one at a time during a very complicated development procedure that required special equipment and could only be done at a Kodak processing plant. One of the most important Agfacolor films is Veit Harlan’s The Great Sacrifice (1944).

  • The Great Sacrifice
  • Gone with the Wind

    Gone with the Wind


    TECHNICOLOR NO. 4 (Subtractive; 3 color)

    Scene from the movie

    Trailer from YouTube

    With the fourth Technicolor process the company dominated the market for color films from the mid-1930s to the 1950s.

    With prints that are essentially made in a lithographic, ‘dye transfer’ process, its vibrancy is reminiscent of the earlier, ‘unnatural’ applied dye colours, yet it was the first system to offer full ‘natural’ colour photographic moving images.

    Hollywood classics like Gone with the Wind (1939) are unthinkable without the systems, but there were also, in their aesthetics, distinctly European and British implementations of the system, such as The Red Shoes (1948). Even after the bulky Technicolor camera had to succumb to the use of Eastman color negatives in conventional film cameras, Technicolor printing remained the preferred way to ensure vibrant prints even from Eastman negatives, well into the 1970s, for everything from spaghetti westerns to Hammer horror.

  • The Red Shoes

    The Red Shoes


  • Johnny Guitar

    Johnny Guitar


    TRUECOLOR (Subtractive; 3 color)

    Scene from the movie

    Trailer from YouTube

    Trucolor was used mostly for its Westerns, through the 1940s and early 1950s. The premiere Trucolor release was Out California Way (1946) and the last film photographed in the process was Spoilers of the Forest (1957).

    At the time of its introduction, Trucolor was a two-color subtractive color process. About 3 years later, the manufacturer expanded the process to include a three-color release system based on DuPont film stock. They later replaced the DuPont film with Eastman Kodak film stock. Thus, in its lifespan around 12 years, the Trucolor process was in reality three distinct systems for color release prints, all bearing the same “Trucolor” screen credit. Yet, even by 1950, some filmgoers and entertainment publications found Trucolor productions at times deficient and visually distracting due to color inaccuracies. As part of its review of the Roy Rogers “oatuner” Twilight in the Sierras, the influential trade paper Variety stated quite pointedly, “Trucolor tinting adds to the production values despite the overall untrue reproduction of facial and landscape hues."

  • Come Next Spring
  • Vertigo



    TECHNICOLOR NO. 5 (Subtractive; 3 color)

    Scene from the movie

    Trailer from YouTube

    With the introduction of the chromogenic Eastmancolor negative/positive process, it became possible to shoot with a normal one-strip camera. Three b/w color separations were produced from the Eastmancolor negative and printed by dye transfer on blank film. For more information on the Technicolor dye transfer process see Notable terms section.

    In 1997, Technicolor reintroduced the dye transfer process to general film printing. A refined version of the printing process of the 1960s and 1970s, it was used on a limited basis in the restorations of films such as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Rear Window, Funny Girl, and Apocalypse Now Redux.

    After its reintroduction, the dye transfer process was used in several big-budget, modern Hollywood productions. These included Bulworth, The Thin Red Line, Godzilla, Toy Story 2, and Pearl Harbor.

    The dye-transfer process was discontinued by Technicolor in 2002 after the company was purchased by Thomson.

  • Lawrence of Arabia

    Lawrence of Arabia


  • Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

    Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones


    Scene from the movie

    Trailer from YouTube

    Digital cinematography is the process of capturing (recording) a motion picture using digital image sensors rather than through film stock. As digital technology has improved in recent years, this practice has become dominant. Since the mid-2010s, most movies across the world are captured as well as distributed digitally.

    As of 2017, professional 4K digital film cameras were approximately equal to 35mm film in their resolution and dynamic range capacity; however, digital film still has a different look to analog film. Some filmmakers still prefer to use analogue picture formats to achieve the desired results.

    In 2009, Slumdog Millionaire became the first movie shot mainly in digital to be awarded the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. The second highest-grossing movie in the history of cinema, Avatar, not only was shot on digital cameras as well, but also made the main revenues at the box office no longer by film, but digital projection.

    As of 2017, 92% of films are shot on digital. Only 24 major films released in 2018 were shot on 35mm.

  • Slumdog Millionaire