RETRO CLASSIC: Remembering the Quantel Paintbox

The Paintbox had it all: Tom Baker voiceovers; Dire Straits videos; Adobe lawsuits. Here we celebrate the 80s workstation that revolutionised the composition of video and graphics.

Quantel Paintbox

For some, the mention of the Quantel Paintbox will be met with a look of confusion, whilst for others it will elicit fond memories of the early days of image and video composition (primarily within the broadcast industry).

Launched in 1981, and years ahead of its time, the Quantel Paintbox was a dedicated workstation, primarily used in the production of television graphics. According to Quantel: "The Paintbox package came together complete with its own disc store and library management. At that time a big hard drive held 70 megabytes on 14-inch platters that occupied about 4RU, took loads of power and cost about £5000."

Tom Baker reveals how the Paintbox revolutionised 1980s television and video

Utilising a touch-tablet and pen, rather than a mouse, the Paintbox was a breakthrough in design. Commonplace in every studio today, the pressure-sensitive pen used with the Paintbox was a world first, and offered designers a new level of control. Pop-up menus were another innovation of the Paintbox, and it dominated the 80s, being used for some of the decade's most iconic TV and video productions.

Falling out of favour

The 90s saw the Paintbox fall out of favour as more choice became available within graphics and video editing, and a lawsuit with Adobe, which spanned almost a decade, was finally lost in 1997. 2002 saw the last production model of the Lightbox, but nevertheless we should all celebrate one of digital design's most iconic products. God speed, Paintbox!

Quantel Paintbox highlights:

David Hockney: Painting With Light

  • This 1985 documentary featured David Hockney using the Quantel Paintbox, and unfortunately isn't available online.

Queen's 'The Miracle' album cover

  • In this video, art designer Richard Gray and Paintbox operator Richard Baker discuss the creation of the cover for Queen’s 1989 album using the Graphic Paintbox.

Dire Straits' Money for Nothing video

  • Winner of multiple video awards, Dire Straits' Money for Nothing video was nothing short of revolutionary within music video (most notably winning Video of the Year at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards). The video was produced by Steve Barron, and animated by Ian Pearson and Gavin Blair

For an in-depth overview of the Paintbox check out this blog post from Quantel.