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The Best Halftone for Different Styles of Artwork

(October 2012) posted on Mon Nov 19, 2012

This overview discusses halftone styles and how to match them to the designs you print.

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By Thomas Trimingham

Screen printers like to stick with techniques that work well consistently. This is a clear reflection of the printing process itself, because you don’t want to change the way a shirt is being printed halfway through the production run. It might start to look different, or even worse, it might become unacceptable to the client. So it stands to reason that a printer will always look for the best method that produces the highest quality reproduction in the shortest period of time.

The more experienced printers that have been around awhile have occasionally tried different methods and styles of printing with a wide variety of results. Often these experiences quickly can create a mindset of what does and doesn’t work in separations and printing and sometimes this in turn creates a real hesitation to attempting new techniques.

This “don’t fix what isn’t broken” mentality often will flow backwards from production into the art department. There may be very little time for changes in processes or testing new methods in a busy art department, and even less time to attempt things that may not end up being used at all. When considering these challenges, it is easy to see why so many screen printers stick with only one style of halftone. It is common to hear something like, “We use a 42-dpi elliptical dot at 22° on everything” in a lot of art departments. The downside to having such a fixed process for halftone printing is that a lot of diverse art styles can benefit from using a variety of halftone types that work best when used with the right type of artwork. A halftone that works incredibly on a pencil drawing may not be ideal for a watercolor print, etc.

The first step in advancing the detail and quality of screen printing is always addressing the ability of production to recreate the cleanest possible halftone dots on the press with the least amount of unnecessary dot gain. To try to forge ahead into art-related areas without defining production abilities first is clearly putting the cart before the horse. No matter how good the films are coming out of the art department, they will never look great with 35% dot gain and a lot of tonal compression (this is the tendency of the 0-30% and 70-100% to all appear similar).


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