Updated on December 19, 2017

A halftone is a reproduction of a photograph or other continuous tone picture in which only various-sized dots of black ink or ink of a single shade are used to create the effect of intermediate or middle tones of gray.

The illusion of different tones is due to the observer's vision, in which the dots are blended. The halftone technique is used to reproduce pictures in newspapers, magazines, leaflets, and other matter printed by letterpress, offset, rotogravure, or silk screen processes.

Example of a halftone
Example of a halftone

Making a Halftone

In making a halftone, the original continuous tone picture, such as a photograph, painting, or pencil or pastel drawing, is photographed through a screen, which is usually scribed into glass or plastic and placed between the camera lens and the film. Each tiny square of the screen transmits light from a very small area of the picture. Areas that are light in the original appear in the negative as large, often overlapping opaque dots.

Transparent, pinpoint dots (highlight dots) appear, even in the darkest areas on the negative; these correspond to the intersections of the screen lines. Dark areas in the original appear on the negative as large, transparent dots with only tiny black centers (shadow dots), which correspond to the centers of the screen's square holes.

The screened negative is used to make a halftone plate, or cut, by any of several methods, such as conventional photoengraving, planographic, or gravure techniques. The halftone plate and the halftones printed with it are positives.

In the printed halftone, light areas of the original are reproduced as areas of tiny dark dots (highlight dots). Dark areas in the original are reproduced as masses of large dark dots with tiny central light dots (shadow dots). Intermediate tones in the original are reproduced as areas with dots of various sizes, depending on the tone.

There are several theories explaining the halftone screen's action. In one theory the dot pattern is thought to be due to the diffraction of light as it passes through the screen. In another theory, the pattern is assumed to be formed by the shadow cast by the screen.

Special Techniques and Screens

Sometimes the highlight dots are removed from a halftone plate photographically, chemically, or by routing, to produce highlight, or dropout, halftones. Halftones may also be silhouetted by removing background dots, or vignetted to produce an image that appears to fade gradually around the edges.

Portions of the halftone plate may be removed and replaced with type or a line cut. Also, portions of the screened negative can be removed and replaced with line negatives. Plates made with line and halftone negatives are known as combination plates.

In addition to conventional, rectangularly scribed screens, there are screens scribed with only parallel lines, concentric circles, or other patterns, some creating effects of mezzotints or crayon drawings.

Color Reproductions

To reproduce full-color pictures using the halftone technique, four halftone plates are made. One each is made to print a dot pattern in yellow, cyan, magenta, or black ink. The dots in the reproduction made with all four inks are mixed in the viewer's vision so that the halftone appears to contain all the variations of colors of the original.

Screen Size

The fineness or coarseness of a screen is indicated by its size-that is, the number of lines it has in a linear inch. Generally the finer the screen used, the greater the detail.

However, fineness is limited by such factors as the smoothness and porosity of the paper and by the printing process. On coarse paper, such as newspaper, 55-line screens are used for letterpress printing; finer screens may be used in offset and gravure printing, even on coarse papers. Screens finer than 200-line have been used, but this is the finest commercially practical. The dots formed by using a 140-line screen are invisible to the naked eye.


Henry Fox Talbot, a British pioneer in photography, invented the halftone process around 1852; the first printed halftone appeared in the Montreal Canadian Illustrated News in 1869, apparently the work of William A. Leggo.

The first commercially manufactured screens were produced in Philadelphia in 1891 by the Levy brothers, Louis and Max, who made the process practical for all printing.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, feltmagnet.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)