This article is about the term as used in media and computing; for more specific uses, see Black and White.

Black-and-white is a broad adjectival term used to describe a number of forms of visual technology. Most forms of visual technology start out in black and white, then slowly evolve into color as technology progresses.

"Black-and-white" as a description is also something of a misnomer, for in addition to black and white most of these media included varying shades of grey. Further, the original stock of many early photographic and film formats were in sepia, which gave a richer, more subtle shading than reproductions in plain black-and-white, although less so than color.


Some popular black-and-white media forms of the past include:

  • Movies and animated cartoons. While some color film processes (including hand coloring) were experimented with and in limited use from the earliest days of the motion picture, the switch from films almost always being in black-and-white to almost always being in color was a gradual process mostly taking place from the 1930s to the 1950s, with higher budget pictures being in color earlier.
  • Photography was black-and-white or shades of sepia. Color photography was originally rare and expensive, and early on often less true to life. Color photography became much more common in middle of the 20th century.
  • Television was originally broadcast in black-and-white. Some color broadcasts began in the 1950s, with color becoming common in western industrialized nations during the 1960s and 1970s. The United States upgraded to the color standard between 1964 and 1967, while the United Kingdom settled on an official color system in November 1969. Australia would keep airing black-and-white broadcasts until 1975.
  • Some newspapers were black-and-white until the late 1970s (and still remain largely colorless); the New York Times and Washington Post remained in black-and-white until the 1990s, some claiming USA Today was the major impetus for the change.
  • Jet magazine was either all or mostly black-and-white until the end of the 20th century, when it became all-color.

Today black-and-white media often has a "nostalgic," historic, or anachronistic feel to it. Some modern film directors will occasionally shoot movies in black-and-white because they believe it captures their vision better.

For example, the 1998 Woody Allen film Celebrity was shot entirely in black-and-white. Other films, such as Pleasantville and The Wizard of Oz play with the concept of the black-and-white anachronism, using it to selectively portray scenes and characters who are either more outdated or dull than the characters and scenes shot in full-color. This manipulation of color appears in the film Sin City and the occasional television commercial.

The term black-and-white is sometimes used in a derogatory sense, with full-color being regarded as more desirable.


Most personal computers had monochrome (black-and-white, black and green, or black and amber) screens until the late 1980s.

In computing terminology black-and-white is often used to refer to an image consisting solely of black or white pixels; what would normally be called a black-and-white image is more accurately referred to in this context as grayscale or greyscale, ie an image containing shades of grey.

External links

Converting a Color Photo Into Black and White ( includes interactive photos showing how it works, a background on color filter use in traditional film photography, and a comparison of digital conversion techniques

fr:Noir et blanc


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