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Dye-Transfer Printing

Technicolor’s superior dye-transfer printing process was its greatest legacy. Introduced for two-color printing in 1926, it was adapted for three-color in the 1930s and remained in use in the United States until the mid-1970s.

Dye-transfer printing shared many characteristics with lithography, in which an etched metal or stone surface was used to print a dye image or text onto paper. For motion picture use, separate color records had to be imparted onto a blank 1,000-foot strip of gelatin-coated 35mm film. Cyan, yellow, and magenta dyes were added one at a time by pressing a dyed matrix, or relief film, into contact with the blank for a short time. Exact registration of the dye imprints was crucial.

Foxfire (1954) was the final American film shot with Technicolor’s bulky three-strip cameras, but the dye-transfer process continued in use another twenty years for films shot using the single-negative Eastmancolor process. The closure of Technicolor’s Hollywood laboratory in 1975 marked the demise of dye-transfer printing in the United States. The British laboratory followed suit in 1978, while the Italians held on until 1980. In the United States, some of the last films to be printed in dye-transfer were The Godfather Part II (1974), and a 1975 re-release of Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson (1960). The process was revived briefly in the 1990s.