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What Is Halftone and How to Use It in Photography

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There are a number of different techniques that photographers can use to edit their images. One that is commonly used, but not very noticeable is halftone. Halftone is an editing technique that focuses on the colour tones of a photo. Adding halftone to an image is a way to create depth and texture by breaking up colours.

Let’s get into some more detail about this technique, and learn how you can use it in your photography:

What is halftone? 

Halftone is when the colours in an image are broken down into small dots. These dots vary depending on the overall effect the halftone has, but together, they create one larger colour. It’s called halftone because the colour is being broken down into separate circles or dots, changing the overall gradient of it. Going from smaller to larger dots creates a gradual gradient, while using only larger ones adds depth and texture. With the right size and distance between dots, you get a seamlessly blended colour. 

This technique originated in the printing industry, so that printers did not have to use as much ink. Breaking down a colour into smaller circles meant there was white space, but from a distance, it would look like one block of colour. It was also done because old printers were unable to print gradients of colour; they could only print in blocks. In today’s world, printing is more advanced, so this technique isn’t always used. If it was, you might not be able to tell just by looking at it. You can find examples of halftone images and use them as inspiration for your own photography with these free stock vectors

Where can you find halftone?

Halftone is used across different mediums, but it can be hard to spot. It is commonly found in newspapers, magazines, posters and leaflets. This is because printing in bulk can be more cost-effective when halftone is used. You can also spot halftone in comic illustrations. Comic books use halftone to add depth, and outline the highlights and shadows of images. This type of halftone looks very different because the circles used are large and visible, however, it is the same principle. Halftone can be applied to any image or photo, the effects differ depending on how you use it.

How to use halftone in your photography?

When applying halftone to your photography, you will need to do so in the editing stages, usually at the end of your process. You will need a professional editing program or app such as Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator. When you have your image ready, the best way is to experiment depending on what result you have in mind. In Photoshop, for example, you can click ‘pixelate’ and choose ‘colour halftone’ from the menu. You can play with the size of the dots and their layout. For black and white halftone, you need to take a different route by altering the greyscale, then editing the Bitmap. Think outside the box when applying halftone to images. You can apply it to lettering or backgrounds, or use it as highlights or shadows. The results for each usage will be unique and different.

To sum it up

Halftone is a technique used to edit the colour of an image. It works by breaking down a colour into small dots, where there is white space in between. It is commonly used in printing to lower costs, or to print in block colours. The position and frequency of the dots will influence how the colour appears, creating varying tones and gradients. You can add halftone to images through editing software where you can experiment with different layouts of the halftone and the effects it creates. 

Alicia Saville did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in mental health and well-being.  

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