The Dye Transfer Printing Process – Technicolor 100

The Dye Transfer Printing Process – Technicolor 100

The Technicolor dye transfer, or imbibition
printing process was introduced in 1926. It had been in development for almost eight years and was seen as a replacement for the
problematic cemented printing technique. It was largely invented by Daniel F. Comstock who was one of the founders of Technicolor. The dye-transfer process became one of
Technicolor’s greatest legacies and remained in continuous use for almost
fifty years until the mid-1970’s. At its simplest, the dye-transfer process meant
transferring a dye image onto another carrier. In Technicolor’s case, this meant transferring
multiple color records one-by-one, onto a blank piece of film. This may sound simple in principle,
but it was actually very complicated and took millions of dollars of
experimentation to perfect. The Technicolor dye-transfer printing process
started with a blank piece of film and then pressed the dyes on with a matrix
relief one color at a time. The full spectrum could be reproduced by
combining cyan, yellow, and magenta dyes. It took two minutes for each of these dyes
to transfer from the matrix film to the blank film so the whole operation had to be kept
constantly moving in order to handle the huge quantities of film. To do this, the matrix and the blank were
held together tightly on a long strip of metal 35mm wide, with pins, or teeth, along its edges. This was called a pinbelt. It was originally 240 feet long and was joined in a loop. This of course took up a lot of space,
so in Technicolor’s lab it was spread through several rooms the constantly moving film path would go
through holes in the wall and holes in the floor and ceiling. One of the crucial parts of this printing process
was the point where these three components combined the matrix, the blank, and the pinbelt. It was called the roll tank. The dyed matrix was pressed into contact with the blank while passing through a series of rollers. After traveling along this loop, the matrix
would separate from the pinbelt while it was still moving and the next dye layer
would be added in a second pass. Technicolor prints were inherently a little soft. They weren’t as sharp as black and white prints. This was because the dyes had to transfer
into the blank film and they spread a little bit. To maintain a level of sharpness during the
early days of three-color printing Technicolor applied a key image underneath the dyes. The key image was actually a light or
soft black and white image printed on the film. Each dye was then printed on top of this,
one-by-one as normal. This enhanced the definition and the contrast. Technicolor’s imbibition technology was used
in the United States until 1975 in Britain until 1978, and in Italy until around 1980. Despite the superior quality and cost savings
when making large quantities of prints Technicolor struggled to maintain the
process with competition from Kodak’s Eastmancolor and other rival processes. Technicolor’s imbibition technology is now
considered obsolete. The equipment was de-installed years ago. It has been dismantled and dispersed it can’t be reconstructed again, at least not
without huge investment. Because of this, Technicolor prints are
now irreplaceable. They cannot be recreated. The technology is effectively extinct. Another benefit of Technicolor is that the
prints don’t fade. When compared to other companies’ color processes which became notorious for fading to
pink or magenta over time Technicolor prints have held their vibrancy to this day. For this reason, they are valuable documents
of what audiences originally saw and are frequently consulted for film restorations. You could compare these prints to original
artworks in museums and galleries. To truly understand and appreciate the beauty
of this process you have to experience it in person.

19 thoughts on “The Dye Transfer Printing Process – Technicolor 100”

  • This is brilliant, and will be sharing on my channel. Thanks so much GEH, and James Layton. Looking forward to the book!

    Matias Bombal
    "Matias Bombal's Hollywood"

  • Re your web membership web address as shown at the end of this, and the other videos in this series . . .

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    You tried to access a document for which you don't have privileges.

    ! ?

    Steve Bell.

  • It's sad that this process is no longer available to us. I wonder if there is a process that approximates this technicolor process?

  • It's unfortunate these machines were completely disabled when there should be at least 2 in museums somewhere. I mean it's huge part of cinema history.

  • The Senator Theatre in Baltimore used to have screenings of privately owned dye-transfer prints, and I was lucky enough to see CARABRET, BLOOD FOR DRACULA, APOCALYPSE NOW, and the ultra-rare STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE (only 6 dye-transfer prints were ever made).

  • The Senator Theatre in Baltimore used to have screenings of privately owned dye-transfer prints, and I was lucky enough to see CARABRET, BLOOD FOR DRACULA, APOCALYPSE NOW, and the ultra-rare STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE (only 6 dye-transfer prints were ever made).

  • I know Technicolor no longer does film processing and printing but they should come back to it or at least sell or rent their printing process plans to other film processors, or work with film restoration with negatives. I would imagine being difficult and expensive trying to return to printing films since the majority of theatres are digitally printed.

  • i just learned that even after the talkies were introduced that there was demand for some cement process prints ,cause they looked more sharper.How could one use the cement process on the movie tone ? It was probably used for the disc process sound version.

  • I remember visiting LA in 1974 as a young aspiring filmmaker from Sydney, ringing Technicolor labs in the hope of having a tour, to my disappointment they never conducted any.
    Such was the mystique of this legendary film process.
    Shot in ''TECHNICOLOR'' was a logo which etched itself into my visual memory at an early age, when I saw my first Western, the other which was so closely linked, was
    ''Filmed in Cinemascope''.

  • Heartbreaking loss. I adore the dreamworld larger-than-life quality it brings to films, especially useful for highlighting colour symbolism. There must be a way of replicating the effect on a computer!

  • Ein wunderbares Video und eine großartige Technik, die nur noch selten original im Kino zu sehen ist. Vielen Dank!

  • I can’t believe that this process isn’t still around. Like, I mean we know how it’s done at least, can some eccentric billionaire help us out.

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