How Color Print Film Works

  • Color print film is composed of eight or more microscopically thin layers, three to four of which contain embedded silver halide crystals and adjacent color dye couplers. The silver, at first, and eventually the dye couplers alone, work together to reproduce the full spectrum of color that we see in a fully processed color negative or color print.

  • When color film is exposed to light, silver halides undergo a chemical change. They are sensitized by the light, in much the same way blackand-white film is, and they form an invisible or latent image. When the film containing this latent image is subjected to immersion in a chemical color-developing agent, each of the color layers containing silver halides undergoes further chemical changes. Initially, halides are converted to black silver. Next, color couplers form dye clouds in one of three subtractive primary colors (yellow, magenta, or cyan).

  • Parts of the original scene photographed that were blue are represented on film in the yellow dye layer. Wherever green existed in the scene, that is now represented in the magenta layer, and red subject matter becomes part of the cyan dye layer of the negative. In sum, white appears black, blue records as yellow, green as magenta, and red as cyan in the bottom dye layer. It is important to note that dye clouds are not solid opaque blocks of color. They are color specks of varying densities, representing chromatic differences in specific colors. Dye clouds exist at different depths from top to bottom and, when viewed via transmitted light, combine to present a full color replication of the original scene. Eventually a fully processed negative is placed in an enlarger or other printing device, light is passed through the negative, and a full spectrum of color exposes sensitized color-printing paper. Before getting to the printing stage, several additional steps are necessary to complete film processing.

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