TORONTO — Imax took a big step Tuesday with the announcement of its first joint venture in Europe.

The deal with Cineplexx Kinobetriebe, Austria’s largest exhibitor, will see the installation next year of Imax theaters in Graz, Vienna and Hohenems, all equipped with the company’s digital projection system.

“This joint venture agreement is an important first step for our digital growth strategy in Europe,” Imax co-CEOs Richard L. Gelfond and Bradley J. Wechsler said in a statement.

“Imax’s new digital projection system, which can be retrofitted into our existing auditoriums, combined with Imax’s joint venture business model, offers us an economical and highly efficient way to enter the Imax business,” said Cineplexx managing directors Christian Langhammer and Christof Papousek.

Cineplexx, a subsidiary of Vienna-based Constantin Film Holding, has 20 cinemas and 160 screens.

Imax has 18 digital projection systems in operation, with 45 to 50 expected to be running by year’s end and signed contracts for more than 100 systems yet to be installed. The print-free system runs both Imax and Imax 3-D presentations.

Major releases slated for the very bigscreen this year include “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” (DreamWorks) and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (Twentieth Century Fox).