Photochrom, Fotochrom, Photochrome[Note 1] or the Aäc process is a process for producing colorized images from a single black-and-white photographic negative via the direct photographic transfer of the negative onto lithographic printing plates. The process is a photographic variant of chromolithography (color lithography). Because no color information was preserved in the photographic process, the photographer would make detailed notes on the colors within the scene and use the notes to hand paint the negative before transferring the image through colored gels onto the printing plates.
The process was invented in the 1880s by Hans Jakob Schmid (1856–1924), an employee of the Swiss company Orell Gessner Füssli—a printing firm whose history began in the 16th century. Füssli founded the stock company Photochrom Zürich (later Photoglob Zürich AG) as the business vehicle for the commercial exploitation of the process and both Füssli and Photoglob continue to exist today. From the mid-1890s the process was licensed by other companies, including the Detroit Photographic Company in the US (making it the basis of their "phostint" process), and the Photochrom Company of London.
Amongst the first commercial photographers to employ the technique were French photographer Félix Bonfils, British photographer Francis Frith and American photographer William Henry Jackson, all active in the 1880s.  The photochrom process was most popular in the 1890s, when true color photography was first developed but was still commercially impractical.
In 1898 the US Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act which let private publishers produce postcards. These could be mailed for one cent each, while the letter rate was two cents. Publishers created thousands of photochrom prints, usually of cities or landscapes, and sold them as postcards. In this format, photochrom reproductions became popular. The Detroit Photographic Company reportedly produced as many as seven million photochrom prints in some years, and ten to thirty thousand different views were offered.
After World War I, which ended the craze for collecting photochrom postcards, the chief use of the process was for posters and art reproductions. The last photochrom printer operated up to 1970.
A tablet of lithographic limestone called a "litho stone" was coated with a light-sensitive surface composed of a thin layer of purified bitumen dissolved in benzene. A reversed halftone negative was hand colored according to the sketch and notes taken at the scene, then pressed against the coating and exposed to daylight through gel filters, causing the bitumen to harden in proportion to the amount of light passing through each portion of the negative. This would take ten to thirty minutes in summer and up to several hours in winter. A solvent such as turpentine was applied to remove the unhardened bitumen. The plate would be retouched to adjust the tonal scale, strengthening or softening tones as required. The image became imprinted on the stone in bitumen. Each tint was applied using a separate stone that bore the appropriate retouched image. The finished print was produced using at least six, but more commonly ten to fifteen, tint stones.
A photochrom of Mulberry Street in New York City c. 1900, which shows the evocative coloration characteristic of the process
A photochrom of Hildesheim town hall in the 1890s, using fewer color plates
A photochrom print of Shelbourne Hotel, c. 1900
A photochrom of Belgian milk peddlers with a dogcart, c. 1890–1900
Entrance to Fingal's Cave near low tide, 1900
HMY Osborne photochrom print, c. 1895
Ruins of the Castle of Arques, near Dieppe, France, c. 1895
- "Photochrom" (English: / - -/,) is the spelling used by the Library of Congress, for historical reasons, in its classification and description of its collection of such images. Variants of the spelling exist, both in English and in German. "Photochrome" is the English spelling used in some contexts, even by the Library of Congress in a few of its image descriptions. "Fotochrom" is the German spelling used today by Orell Füssli, the Swiss company that invented the process.
- "Photochrom". Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 2020-03-22.
- "Photochrome (1939–Present)". University of Vermont. Archived from the original on 2008-07-24.
- "Orell Füssli Company History (in German)". Ofv.ch. Retrieved 2012-06-16.
- "History / Erfolgsgeschichte" (in German). Retrieved 28 October 2012.
- "MetropoPostcard Guide to Printing Techniques 5". metropostcard.com.
- Farbige Reise, Paris bibliothèques, 2009, p. 41
- Marc Walter & Sabine Arque, “The World in 1900”, Thames & Hudson, 2007 contains about 300 well-reproduced photochromes from around the world.
- "An introduction to photochromes". www.photographers-resource.co.uk. Retrieved 2021-03-05.
- Description of the Photochrom process
- The Library of Congress Public Domain Photochrom Prints Search
- Search at the Zurich Central Library (holds probably world's largest collection: 7600 of their 10000 prints are accessible online)
- Detroit Photographic Company’s Views of North America, ca. 1897–1924 from the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library