Panchromatic Make-up

Most early American black and white silent movies were made using blue-sensitive or orthochromatic film. These film stocks were insensitive to red light which meant that, in early black and white movies, reds looked black and natural skin tended to look dark and dirty on the screen. Applying stage make-up in the traditional way proved to be problematic and many early screen actors resorted to using bright blue, green and/or yellow make-up to achieve a suitable result. Things must have looked very strange on early movie sets.

See also: Early Movie Make-up

Panchromatic film

Panchromatic film, as its name implies, is sensitive to the entire visible spectrum so black and white movies made with it had colours rendered more faithfully as tonal shades of gray than those movies made with blue-sensitive or orthochromatic film. Although experiments with panchromatic film occurred as early as 1913 in the United States, and it was used in some American films as early as 1918, it would not be until 1922 that an entire film (The Headless Horseman, Sleepy Hollow Corp.) was shot completely with it.

Any American cinematographer who wanted to use panchromatic film before 1922 had to order it specially as, prior to that date, it was not regular product of the Eastman Kodak Company – the main supplier of film stock in the United States. Although panchromatic film had a wider spectrum sensitivity than blue-sensitive or orthochromatic film, its use was constrained by it being less stable, slower, and more expensive. Some cinematographers put up with these limitations and used it for outdoor shots because it produced superior images of landscapes and clouds (Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson, 1985, p. 283).

In 1923, Eastman Kodak began commercial production of a new, more stable, and faster panchromatic film and then, in 1926, lowered its price to a level that was similar to the blue-sensitive film it also produced. The switch by Hollywood from blue-sensitive or orthochromatic to panchromatic film was very rapid after that. As well as reducing its price, Eastman Kodak began to actively promote the new film, pointing out its ability to render skin tones more faithfully in close-ups, and to produce better pictures of landscapes and skies in outdoor scenes (Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson, 1985, p. 284). The adoption of sound recording after 1927, resulting the replacement of arc lamps by quieter tungsten lamps in the studios, also played a role, as did the release by Du Pont of its panchromatic film onto the American market in 1928, and the introduction by Eastman Kodak of Ciné Panchromatic Type II film in the same year (Mees, 1954, p. 126). By the time Eastman Kodak introduced its Super-Sensitive Ciné Panchromatic film in 1931 the conversion was largely complete.


As panchromatic film was sensitive to the full colour spectrum, the make-up practices used for blue-sensitive or orthochromatic film no longer worked and make-up artists and film studios had to adjust. Perc Westmore, for example, produced a panchromatic make-up by combining Stein pink greasepaint with eye shadow (Grant, 2007, p. 110). Some studios however, simply abandoned greasepaint or decided not use make-up at all in their panchromatic films.

Improved cameras, better lighting and more sensitive film are making it possible for the stars to appear before the lens without reinforced layers of grease and cosmetics.
In the early days, faces were done in yellow to make them photograph lighter. Since then they have passed through most of the colors of the rainbow, some actors even using blue and purple paints to gain better effects.
Women with their finer skins and lighter coloring fared well enough but the “he-men” of the thrillers were wont to be reflected with the faces of ghastly pallor but with necks and arms that photographed as shocking challenges to soap and water.
But even with the technical improvements made, dethroning of King Grease Paint is not without a struggle. Actors recruited from the stage are hard to wean from the grease pot. They blush at the facial nudity of acting a part without a mask of paint.
The announcement of Cecil De Mille that he will produce his next picture without grease paint being used by any of the players stirred some protest, more of it, surprisingly from the men than from the women.
Allan Dwan, in directing the Paramount picture, “Sea Horses,” had a cast including Florence Vidor, Jack Holt, William Powell, George Bancroft and others that used no make-up. It was successful.

(Milwaukee Sentinel, April 2, 1926, p. 90)

Given the practices of the past, it might be thought that Hollywood would respond to the change in film type the way it had previously coped with any new technology, that is, in an ad hoc manner. However, Hollywood in 1925 was a very different place from the way it was before the First World War.


Hollywood in 1925 was more homogenised than it had been in 1914. The founding of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (1916), the American Society of Cinematographers (1918), and the Motion Picture Make-up Artists Association (1927) meant that information was now more widely shared. These bodies also proposed and maintained standards and promoted progress across the industry as a whole. One outcome of this was an increasing level of technological standardisation, a process that was accelerated by the founding of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1927 (Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson, 1985, pp. 254-255). The development of these institutions meant that when new technologies arrived on the market they were frequently referred to committees for evaluation.

The Mazda tests

In 1927, some studios who were using panchromatic film began to switch their lighting to incandescents – also known as Mazda lamps or ‘Inkies’. These lamps produced light across the full spectrum, unlike Cooper-Hewitt mercury-vapour lamps that produced light predominantly in the blue-green end. They were more portable and – because they used less current, required less maintenance and were easier to change – they were cheaper to run (Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson, 1985, p. 294). Incandescents were also much quieter than arc lamps, a factor that became important after the introduction of ‘talkies’ in 1927.

As there was no industry standard for incandescents, the Technicians’ Branch of the newly formed Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences proposed that lighting tests be conducted.

The Technicians’ Branch invited all suppliers of incandescent equipment and panchromatic film to send representatives and new equipment. General Electric contributed thousands of dollars worth of lamps, and Mole-Richardson sent their entire line of products. Du Pont, Eastman, and Agfa supplied free film and processing. Max Factor donated a make-up artist and make-up materials. Eventually, over a dozen service firms participated in the tests.

(Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson, 1985, p. 295)

The tests, involving lighting, cameras, film and make-up, were conducted early in 1928 at the Warner Brothers Studios. Known as the Mazda tests, they would establish incandescent light and panchromatic film as industry norms, a situation that was reinforced as more and more films were made with sound.

Eventually, two revolutionary technical developments made the incandescent light imperative. The first of these was the development of panchromatic film. In this type of film, the sensitivity is not only in the blue end of the spectrum, but extends far into the yellow and red. So it was soon found that inkie light was far more efficient with this film than was either the arc or the vapor tube. The second innovation, which followed close on the heels of the first, was sound. When the microphone appeared on the set, it demanded absolute silence—and the arcs sizzled and sputtered very loudly, while the Mazda bulb was, once it was warmed up, completely silent. Therefore, as sound pictures became the rule, the incandescent light became, perforce, universally accepted. This acceptance was given grudgingly, but as time wore on, and we became more and more accustomed to using inkies, we found that they were, after all, a real improvement. Therefore, even now that the arc has been satisfactorily silenced, very few cinematographers have returned to their use.

(Howe, 1931, p. 50)

Max Factor

The Max Factor company sent the make-up artist Edward Kaufman to participate in the Mazda tests. During the four months of testing the company succeeded in developing a panchromatic make-up that made allowances for the differences between the colour sensitivity of panchromatic film and the human eye, as well as the spectral output of incandescent lights. Although panchromatic film registered light across the full visible spectrum it was more sensitive to blue than red, unlike the incandescent lamps which put out more red than blue. So, a make-up was needed which balanced the colours and produced a monochrome image that looked natural to the human eye.

The eye sees yellow, more readily than any other color, with a relative proportion of more red than blue. The photographic emulsion, on the other hand, does not record in the same manner. As is known, the panchromatic photographic emulsion has a high sensitivity in the blue, with a proportionately lesser sensitivity in the red.
The characteristics of the Mazda illumination, on the contrary, as used on the motion picture sets are relatively low in the blue and very high in the red end of the spectrum. The characteristics of photographic emulsions that are particularly sensitive to the blue give rise to the condition of a too dark color rendering in the red end of the spectrum and too light in the blue.
… The purpose of make-up, then, is to add to the face sufficient blue coloration in proportion to red in order that the photographic tonal rendition will be such as the eye sees in real life, and to prevent excessive absorption of light by the face.

(Factor, 1937, p. 54)

Max Factor was also concerned about the psychological effect on the actors and, unlike make-up of earlier times, attempted to keep the new Panchromatic Make-up as natural looking as possible.

The psychological problem must also be considered. A combination of the correct blue-violet and yellow-orange with sufficient blue in a range that would be desirable for a correct panchromatic recording would result in a brownish make-up. On the motion picture set before the camera, this brownish make-up would distinctly affect the psychological responses of the players; for example, if two players were enacting an emotional scene and had to look at each other in unnatural colors, a certain interference of response would result. Even though containing the desirable panchromatic colors in the make-up composition, the make-up must be sufficiently natural to overcome this psychological factor.

(Factor, 1937, pp. 54-55)

The lack of suitable colourmetric instruments meant that although the company had a general idea of what would work, colours were selected through trial-and-error. The final colours ranged from No. 21, with no blue, through to No. 31. Darker colours were achieved by increasing the amount of yellow and blue with relatively less red (Factor, 1937, p. 61).

1930 Panchromatic colours

Above: Make-up colours for Max Factor Panchromatic Make-up (Factor, 1930, pp. 161-162).

Panchromatic powders were added to set the greasepaint and reduce its sheen and reflection. These were also produced in shades ranging from 21 to 31 but, being powders, they appeared lighter than their corresponding creams. The final result was a much more natural make-up than the blues and yellows sometimes employed in the past.

Formerly grease-paints of intense colours, especially rich, bright yellows and vivid greens, were employed to give the desired effects. It has been found, however, as might be expected on theoretical grounds, that with the introduction of panchromatic films and improved forms of lighting, softer tones of yellowish or brownish flesh-coloured grease-paints give much better and more natural-looking results. There is, in consequence, a tendency nowadays towards the use of more natural flesh tints than those amazing yellows and greens which made the movie studios of yesterday appear such queer, ghost-haunted places.

(Redgrove & Foan, 1930, p. 149)


The exact formulation of Max Factor’s Panchromatic Greasepaint is unknown to me. The product was a cream not a stick which was easier to apply, could be applied more thinly and did not need cold cream or mineral oil as a base. It was sold in tubes which Max Factor thought made the make-up more sanitary.

Because the old theatrical stick make-up was not easily applied and was unsanitary, the unguent form of make-up, with a base composed of vegetable oils, was introduced in a collapsible tube. Soon the old theatrical stick make-up was discarded in favor of the unguent panchromatic foundation color.
The unguent base aided in the manufacturing processes since the pigments could be introduced in closer balance and could be added in finer and smoother forms. … Because of the fineness of the pigment in the unguent panchromatic make-up, it is possible to apply a desired protective color coating adequately without an unduly heavy application of the make-up.

(Factor, 1937, p. 60)

Panchromatic Make-up was spread with moistened fingertips which suggests that it was not produced simply by suspending finely ground pigments in an unguent or oil base, as this would be immiscible with water.


The Max Factor company provided detailed instructions on how panchromatic greasepaint was to be applied.

Directions for the Application of Make-Up
1. Preparing the Face—The face must be thoroughly cleaned before make-up is applied. The best way is to wash the face with soap and water. Men should be smoothly shaven.
2. Base for Grease Paint—It is often necessary to use cold cream before applying grease paint. In my laboratory, however, we have developed a grease paint which eliminates this need.
3. Grease Paint Application—Squeeze about one-quarter of an inch of grease paint from the tube into the palm of the hand. Then with the tips of the fingers of the other hand apply the grease paint in “dibs and dabs,” covering the face with little dots of grease paint until it acquires the appearance of a freckled face. Grease paint must be applied sparingly, too much will spoil your make-up.
4. Spreading Grease Paint—Now remove the grease paint from the hands and dip them into cool water, then with the finger tips moistened with water spread the grease paint over the face, blending it smoothly, evenly and thinly into the skin. The movement of the fingers should be from the center of the face outward. Keep dipping finger tips into water as it is essential to blend the grease paint in order to have a smooth and thin application.

(Factor, 1930, pp. 157-158)

Panchromatic Make-up was removed in the usual fashion with a cold cream.


As the make-up was developed in conjunction with the Academy and the film studios Max Factor’s Panchromatic Make-up became an industry standard. It was rapidly adopted by Hollywood, a process helped by the fact that the major studios had make-up departments and, as Hollywood began to dominated the movie industry both at home and abroad, it was soon found in film studios worldwide.

Today what we call Panchromatic Make-Up is the rule, being used by every studio in America and the principal studios throughout the world. And the development of Panchromatic Make-Up we consider one of the most important achievements in the art. This was brought about because of the introduction of Panchromatic film, a film sensitive to all colors, recording them in their true, harmonious relations, and eliminating finally those sharp, hard contrasts so common with the use of the old-time orthochromatic film.

(Factor, 1930, p. 158)

The development of Panchromatic Make-up helped Max Factor consolidate his company in a preeminent position vis-à-vis Hollywood and it became the ‘first point of call’ for any new development in Hollywood that required testing for make-up.

After 1928, to guarantee uniformity, Factor had to create careful testing and research procedures. By 1934, his factory had an assembly-line operation, a quality-control laboratory, and a research laboratory to develop new formulas. Every innovation in lighting or film stock sent studios to Factor, and the company devised make-up to suit faster emulsions, arc lamps, three-color Technicolor, and Eastman Color.

(Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson, 1985, p. 293)

All in all, Max Factor came out very well from the Mazda tests. An already strong relationship between the company and Hollywood was strengthened. The award presented to him in 1928 by the Academy in ‘recognition of his valuable service’ was a bonus.

See also: Pan-Cake Make-up

Updated: 4th January 2017


Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (1928). Academy reports (No. 1). Incandescent illumination. Author.

Bordwell, D. Staiger, J. & Thompson, K. (1985). The classical Hollywood cinema. Film style & mode of production to 1960. New York: Columbia University Press.

Factor, M. (1930). The art of motion picture make-up. In Hall, H. (Ed.). Cinematographic Annual (Vol. 1) (pp. 157-171). Hollywood: The American Society of Cinematographers.

Factor, M. (1937). Standardization of motion picture make-up. Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 28(1), 52-62.

Grant, B. K. (Ed.). (2007). Schirmer encyclopedia of film (Vol. 3). New York: Thomson Gale.

Howe, J. W. (1931). Lighting. In Hall, H. (Ed.). Cinematographic Annual (Vol. 2) (pp. 47-59). Hollywood: The American Society of Cinematographers.

Mees, C. E. K. (1954). History of professional black-and-white motion-picture film. In R. Fielding (Ed.). (1967). A technological history of motion pictures and television: An anthology from the pages of the journal of the society of motion picture and television engineers. (pp. 125-128). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Redgrove, H. S. & Foan, G. A. (1930). Paint, powder and patches: A handbook of make-up for stage and carnival. London: William Heinemann.