What is a Halftone?

Halftone printing is a process seen every day, though not always conscious of it. It’s seen in newspapers, magazines, billboards, comic books, and anything else that requires mass production of images.
The process itself is the manipulation of an image into hundreds upon thousands of small dots, rather than all the lines and tones seen by our eyes. However, when these specifically placed dots are seen from a distance, a smooth gradient is all that is recognizable. It’s essentially the illusion of a solid tone, by instead using something that is not.


Although the official credit of the first use of halftones goes to American printer Frederic Eugene Ives in 1880, the idea actually came from William Fox Talbot. He was the first to suggest “photographic screens or veils” along with a photographic intaglio process.
Years later, due to a need to express very detailed and shaded images onto plates for printing, Ives devised the system of halftone printing. It was a very complicated process that involved re-photographing a photograph with grid lines over it in such a way that dots of various sizes would appear. It must then be “photoengraved” onto a metal plate in order to then add ink onto it and make prints.
The color halftone process was introduced shortly after, using overlays of cyan, magenta, yellow and black dots to produce various hues and shades. Halftone printing would then stay more or less the same until further advancements in technology.