When was Color Film Invented?

Almost everyone knows that earlier films were black and white. Emergence of using color came after many years of inventing first feature film. In the mid 1900 color became one of the most important storytelling tools. Cinematographers start considering that color creates mood and visual metaphor. Color also influences how the audience responds to a picture.

Far more, fundamentally color affects the viewer in the same way that music or dance does. It can reach one’s emotional level. Color is a subtle tool that can transport a viewer from our ordinary lives to extraordinary world of cinema. For this reason, color film started inventing. In this article I will let you know a brief history about first color film invention.


This is quite difficult to answer exactly when first color film invented because color stands for many terms like hand color, natural color, techni color etc. However, as with most developments in art and technology, there is no exact break between when the industry stopped using black and white film and when it started using color film.

Hand Color & Stenciling Process

From the outset of using colors in film history, studios used to apply hand colors frame by frame. But hand-coloring process was not cost-effective unless films were very short. In the mid 1900, as films began to move closer to the length of a rail and more prints of each film were sold, mechanical stenciling process was introduced. In this process, color was then applied through the stencil frame by frame at high speeds.


One of the most important developments in color film was Kinemacolor. It was the first successful color 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. Kinemacolor movies projected film through red and green filters to simulate the actual colors used in the film. Kinemacolor was most popular in its native U.K., but installing the necessary equipment was cost prohibitive for many theaters.

Tinting and Toning Process

With the emergence of the feature in the 1910 and the transformation of the industry into mass production, frame-by-frame stenciling was replaced by a mechanized process called ‘tinting and toning’. Tinting means all light areas of an image were achieved by immersing the color palette and a dyed black-and-white print or using a colored film base for printing. On the other hand, The toning process involves treating the film emulsion chemically to color the dark areas of the print.

Each process creates a monochromatic image, the color of which is usually chosen to match the mood or setting of the scene. Almost all American features in the early 1920 included at least one color sequence; However, after 1927, when it was discovered that tinting or toning film stock interfered with the transmission of optical sound, both practices were temporarily abandoned, leaving the market open to new systems of color photography.


Photographic color can be produced in motion pictures by using either an additive process or a subtractive one. But, none of them was that much successful because all additive systems involve the use of both special cameras and projectors, which ultimately makes them too complicated and costly for widespread industrial use.

One of the first successful subtractive processes, a two-color in final Print, introduced by Herbert Kalmas in 1922 that is called ‘Technicolor’. This process needs to be handled with an extra care but can be projected with common tools.

In 1928 Technicolor introduced an advanced process where two gelatins were used to “print” the color of a single strip of film as a positive relief metric. This printing process, also known as imbibition or die-transfer, makes it possible to produce solid, high-quality prints. Its introduction led to a significant increase in technical production between 1929 and 1932.

Technicolor’s Three-Color System

Technicolor replaced it with a three-color system that applied the same basic principles but included three primary colors. For the next 25 years almost every color film was created using Technicolor’s three-color system. Although the quality of the system was great, there were some problems too. The size of the camera made location shooting difficult. Furthermore, Technicolor’s virtual monopoly gave it indirect control of the production companies, which required to high rent of equipment, crew, consultants, and laboratory services.

After three-color Technicolor was used successfully in Disney’s cartoon, it gradually worked its way into mainstream feature production.

Early Color Films

Well, above discussed the history now I am giving a chronological film list on order to get more clear notion of early color films. This film used stenciling color process, in which each frame of a film was hand-colored.

1902: “A Trip to the Moon”

A Trip to the Moon is a French adventure short film directed by Georges Méliès.

1903: “Vie et Passion du Christ”

Vie et Passion du Christ is a 44-minute French silent film that is one of the earliest feature-length narrative films. The film, with sequences made in the stencil color process. In some scenes hand color also used.

1908: “A Visit to the Seaside”

A Visit to the Seaside was the first successful motion picture filmed in Kinemacolor. It is an eight-minute short film directed by George Albert Smith of Brighton. The film shows everyday activities of people. This film has a place of high historical significance.

1912: “With Our King and Queen Through India”

With Our King and Queen Through India is a British documentary. The film is silent and made in the Kinemacolor additive color process. It is also called the first full length “natural color” documentary.

1917: “The Gulf Between”

Gulf Between is a 1917 American comedy drama film that was the first motion picture made in Technicolor, the fourth feature-length color film, and the first feature-length color film produced in the United States. On March 25, 1961, the film was destroyed in a fire.

1918: “Cupid Angling”

Cupid Angling was a silent film starring Ruth Roland, and was the only feature film photographed using the Douglass Natural Color process. It is the most accepted ‘first’ color feature-length film. It is also the oldest listed on IMDB as color film.

1922: “The Toll of the Sea”

The Toll of the Sea is an American silent drama film directed by Chester M. Franklin, produced by the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation. Technicolor’s improved process was first used in this film.

1932: “Flowers and Trees”

Flowers and Trees is a Silly Symphonies cartoon produced by Walt Disney, directed by Burt Gillett. It debuted for the first time Technicolor’s three-color system.

1939: “The Wizard of Oz”

The Wizard of Oz is an American musical fantasy film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Many film lovers argue that it is the first full-color film though color films were being created more than 35 years before The Wizard of Oz. This misconception probably comes from the fact that after the first scene is described in black and white, many frames uses in this film has a great symbolism of colors.

Final Words

Some filmmakers choose to shoot their films in the black and white decade after color film became the standard. Some ideal example of this type of films are: “Young Frankenstein” (1974), “Manhattan” (1979), “Raging Bull” (1980), “Schindler’s List” (1993), and “The Artist” (2011). In fact, for many years in the early decades of film, color shooting was the same kind of artistic choice – color films existed longer than most people believed. I think, color films add an extra mood and tone in the film. Color as a visual metaphor can emotionally reach to audience. Although I know some classic masterpiece was made in Black and white but my personal preference is color film. Your’s…..???