Printer Lights

Printer Lights


Printer points were mechanical adjustments that affected the color balance and brightness of film before the digital age, and the technical process was done by a color timer. The systems used a series of dichroic filters that split the light into red, green, and blue, and each color then passed through 'light valves'. These were metal vanes that opened and closed in precise increments to allow the exact amount of light through to replicate the exact value for each light point. The three colors were then recombined back into full spectrum light and output to the film.

Mike Chewey at MGM labs developed the FCC system, which is the system still in use today.

- Dan Muscarella -

In digital grading, printer points are still very popular and common corrections for setting the primary balance, but also for creating looks. One of the reasons for its popularity is that printer points move the signal in its entirety and alter the entire tonal range in the image. This way, we stay true to the way the original image was shot, and the result can be very clean and cinematic.

To illustrate this we can look at the waveform when we add red and subtract green to a grey-scale image. The relationship between the shadows, midtones and highlights stays consistent, and the contrast never changes.


By using controls that separate tonal ranges such as lift, gamma and gain, we betray the natural relationship between the shadows, midtones and highlights. This is illustrated with a gain adjustment in the example below.

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On 1/13/2019 at 7:46 AM, Luca Di Gioacchino said:

Can the RBG Mixer be considered an alternative to using PPL?  It, too, offers precision.

No, in Resolve the RGB Mixer has a completely different function. I tend to use Offset very early in the grade (usually followed with a Custom Curve), to get a broad overall adjustment, and once I get the image in what I call "quasi-Rec709 space," then I can start making more precise balances. I tend to use Pots (individual RGB controls) in the Primaries to start the adjustment, but you can make a good argument for other methods. I sometimes work with film-based projects where there is no Raw data per se (that is, no Raw adjustments), so sometimes I'll use either the RGB Pots or sometimes the RGB Mixer to fix color temperature problems. In particular, it's helpful if you have an underexposed Blue channel, and you can "steal" some information from R&G to give the Blue a cleaner signal to work with. This will help minimize noise in cases where the Blue channel is underexposed. 

There are a lot of different ways to work, and the beauty of Resolve (or Baselight or Mistika or any top-flight system) is you can choose one of a half-dozen different methods. As long as it works, the end justifies the means. I do tend to start with a very well-balanced picture first and then degrade it later on if we need to go to (say) an extreme blue look or a bleach-bypass look. I'm not a fan of starting with an image that leans off to one side early on in the signal chain, because the danger is that later on, you can wind up with distortion and noise because you're overdriving the signal (or worse, destructively crushing the signal and then being unable to normalize it in subsequent nodes or layers.

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Amazing article I have been following " The way of the printer lights" since I read Walter and Marc talk about this :)

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