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Vertical stacking of organic light emitting devices (OLEDs) that emit the three primary colors is a means for achieving full-color flat panel displays. The physics, performance, and applications of stacked OLEDs (SOLEDs) are discussed in this and the following paper (Papers I and II, respectively). In Paper I, we analyze optical microcavity effects that can distort the emission colors of SOLEDs if not properly controlled, and describe design principles to minimize these parasitic effects. We also describe the fabrication and operating characteristics of transparent contacts that are an integral part of SOLEDs. We demonstrate that both metal-containing and metal-free transparent electrodes can serve as efficient electron and hole injectors into the stacked organic semiconductor layers. Two different transparent SOLED structures (metal-containing and metal-free) that exhibit sufficient performance for many full-color display applications will be discussed in Paper II. © 1999 American Institute of Physics.