The premium Disney collectable is the animation cel. “Cel” (short for celluloid) is film industry jargon for the celluloid on which each frame of a cartoon was painted (in the days before computer animation). Disney cels were sold as works of art by the Courvoisier Galleries as early as 1938. They were sold at Disneyland once it opened in 1955.
The earliest cels were made of cellulose nitrate. As this is a highly flammable material, cels were not stored but were either washed and re-used or destroyed. In 1940, during the making of Fantasia, Disney switched to more durable cellulose acetate cels.
As well as the original production cels, used in making the actual animated film, Disney produces hand-inked limited-edition cels, xerographic cels and serigraphic cels for collectors. The limited-edition, hand-inked cels are produced by tracing a cartoon drawing onto an acetate, colouring it by hand and adding a lithographic background layer. Xerographic cels are similar except that the cartoon drawing is reproduced onto the acetate by a xerographic process rather than being hand-drawn each time. Serigraphic cels, or “sericels”, are produced by transferring a painting of a character to acetate by a screen-printing process.