A past article from the pages of

Reel Deals

The original version of this article appeared in REEL DEALS back in 1995. Color film fade is a continuing problem for those who collect film on film formats. Judging by the number of films in my collection that are “on the turn” the information is as relevant today as it ever was.


Whether it be the recently obtained print with the pinkish grass, or the old favorite that looked fine the last time it was screened 2 years ago, or the prized western that's been in the collection for years that seems to have less blue in the sky each time it's screened, these films are suffering from color fade.

Many color films produced over the past 40 years are showing signs of the color fading. The amount of fading can range from a slight shift in color balance to, in the worst instance, almost no color at all, with only a pale light pink image being visible.

Industry experts attribute this problem to a variety of causes; these include poor stability of the print stock, incorrect processing, high temperature rapid processing, poor storage, high humidity, etc. Probably all of these factors play a part, but all evidence now points to the first reason as being the major cause. If this is the case, then all we can do is to try and slow down the process by storing our films in the coolest spot available.

Most discussion on color fade takes place with the assumption that the fade has been towards the red or pink end of the spectrum. Whilst this is the result on the screen, the problem results from a combination of the color emulsions fading – in particular the cyan (greenish) emulsion, leaving the magenta and yellow (=pink/red) to predominate the image. The end result will depend on the degree to which each of the three colors that make up the image has faded. It should also be realized; that not all color fade is in the red direction – there are plenty of examples of films that have faded towards the brown, green or even yellow.

The following information on various color film types may assist in selecting films that will retain their color.


This process in its modern three-color form was used from 1935 until it's demise in the 1970s. The letters IB refer to the process of " imbibition " or dye transfer printing. Technicolor was not printed photographically, but used a printing process involving dyes, similar to that used for color magazine reproductions. An "IB TECH." print can usually be distinguished by its bright sharp colors and a sound track of either silver/grey or blue. Technicolor prints were produced in 35mm, 16mm and 8mm formats. 7Omm was never printed in Technicolor. As this process was discontinued in the 1970's (It has been suggested that STAR WARS (1976) was the only Dolby Stereo film to have been released in IB Technicolor) good condition prints are much sought after by collectors.

Technicolor prints are subject to the same wear and tear as any other film. As the vast majority of genuine Technicolor films are now well over 40 years old, the physical condition of the film should be checked before purchase.

Defective Technicolor prints are not unknown, apart from splices and scratches due to wear, the main type of defects found are poor registration and poor color balance, and ‘crazing’. These problems are predominately found with 16mm prints.

Poor registration is due to a lab printing problem, which has caused one of the three-color images to be displaced from the others. The on-screen result is multi-color fringing on solid edges.

Poor color balance can result in excessive color level caused by an excess of one of the primary printing colors; this is especially evident on facial coloring. It is not unknown for the color balance to vary from one print to another, so if a feature has been made up from two different prints, some variation in color may be experienced from reel to reel.

"Crazing" results in minute cracks in the color layers, giving irregular patterns of fine random lines on the image. This is theame effect that can sometimes be seen in the glaze of dinner plates, etc.

The presence of the wording 'COLOR BY TECHNICOLOR' in the titles, should not be taken as indicative of the print necessarily being in 'genuine' Technicolor. The Technicolor labs changed over to release printing in Eastman Color after the closure of their "IB" plant in the 1970s. It should also be noted that many of the films originally released in genuine Technicolor have been re-released or reprinted onto less stable color stock, even some onto black and white for early TV release.


This positive print film manufactured by Kodak is guaranteed low fade, and is currently being used for release prints. The letters LPP can be found in the perforation area (generally in yellow print). This film should offer the collector some certainty of a long color life.


This film is well known to home movie enthusiasts as camera stock. It has been used for release printing of the occasional feature, but more often for shorts. Color retention is very good, it can be recognized easily by its black sprocket area and it’s name printed within the sprocket area. Be aware that Kodachrome is a very contrasty film stock and that in many instances, prints will be found with excessive contrast, giving very dark or sometime no detail in darker areas of scenes. Also, it should be born in mind that although Kodachrome has been used for the occasional feature film release on 16mm, it is also the film stock most often used for color duping (see later).


In its early form was subject to color fading, my experience is that the fade is often towards the green end of the spectrum. In common with Eastman Color its color stability has improved over the years. It should be noted that the film base is often polyester, which is somewhat thinner and more durable than the usual acetate base. A tape splicer is required for joining.


There is no such thing! Many collectors ( and especially American dealers ) use this term to suggest that you are getting a Technicolor print. Color Reversal Intermediate (CRI) refers to the use of a fine grain duplicating negative for the printing of the release print. The print is usually printed onto Eastman Color or other release stock. The term “ CRI TECH. “ would appear to result from the fact that many of these films have the wording “COLOR BY TECHNICOLOR” in the title. This may also apply to re-issue prints of original IB Technicolor prints.


Dupes are second-generation copies – usually copied from a ( perhaps well worn ) release print. A dupe as most collectors understand the term means that a release print has been copied onto reversal film – that is, there is no negative involved. Reversal films are intended for camera use (such as home movies) and as such are fairly contrasty. The usual question asked about a dupe is ‘how’s the contrast?’ The image can vary from reasonable grey scale to the ‘soot and white wash’ effect, where there is just nothing in between white and black.

In the hands of a good laboratory, a film can be copied to produce very acceptable results – this usually involves producing a fine grain low contrast negative from the original and then printing onto positive stock – not a cheap process. Many dupes circulating amongst collectors appear to have been made “on the kitchen table and processed in the bathtub”. The end result can range from pretty good to very poor. The most common problem with black and white dupes results from the use of unsuitable film stock. Unless low contrast duplicating stock is used the end product will be overly contrasty with poor grey scale reproduction.

Color dupes are another thing altogether. Most color dupes can be picked for poor color balance and lack of contrast. Usually the reds and blues are reproduced poorly. Duplicating a color film is a very expensive process, and good results will only be achieved by a reputable film laboratory. Most color dupes that I have seen are not worth having ! Also, unless special care is taken to print the sound track separately, the sound will usually be low level and have a high degree of hiss.


I occasionally ask myself the same question when I see a red print of a film that I would like. If there is no other possibility of getting a print of a sought after film and the price is right, well maybe. But remember the color will only ever get worse with time. There are lots of red films around, in all gauges. There are also a lot of collectors who would like to get rid of red films at prices resembling what was originally paid for them. My experience is that unless the film is something special, such as a musical, it is very hard to get more than a few dollars for it.

© MIKE TRICKETT 1995 / 1999 / 2006



This print film manufactured by Kodak was predominately the film used for release printing from the late 1960s through to the early 1990s. Prints made prior to the mid 1980s are particularly susceptible to fading; prints made after that time are supposed to be more stable.

Prints released under the processing laboratory’s name, such as De Luxe Color, Metrocolor, Warner Color, etc. are all printed on Eastman stock and are subject to the same fading problems.

The wording Eastman Kodak will be generally found within the sprocket area of the film.

                                    Right: Eastman Color - Badly faded to light pink with no other colors visible