What is a halftone in screen printing?

What is a halftone in screen printing?

What is a halftone? Screen printing is a ‘spot colour’ process – this means that each colour is printed using a mixed ink, and each colour has its own screen to transfer the image onto the garment. Halftones are tiny dots used to recreate shades of an ink colour on press.

Halftones give the appearance of multiple shades while only using a single ink colour.

Halftones are an advanced technique that can help add much more depth in your design without extra screens.

Since we are printing with solid colours of ink, it doesn’t give any tonal range. We are either printing ink in an area, or not printing ink. When we look at a photograph we see a wide range of colours, shades, or tones – so how do we reproduce this on press?

tonal range

What is tonal range? In screen printing, tonal range refers to the total number of tones possible in the stencil. In black and white terms, tone is shades of gray.

This is where the halftone comes in. A halftone is an array of different size dots which allows screen printers to simulate tonal variation when printing with a single ink on press. What’s the benefit? A halftone allows to use one ink colour in one screen, and approximate various shades of that ink colour. The eye blends these tiny dots into smooth tones.

Looking closely at a black and white photo printed in a newspaper will show that the image is actually made up of different sized dots. The smaller the dot, the lighter the shade of grey it represents to our eye. We use the same effect on press.


This is a simple ‘spot colour’ design without any halftones. A screen works like a stencil. Ink passes through the screen to transfer the design.

Halftones can be used to add depth and detail to simple spot-colour designs, as well! This is where halftones really show their benefits and value.

In screen printing, costs are based on the total number of colours in your design. Choosing a screen printer that can confidently work with halftones opens the door for more depth and range in the design without adding more screens. A simple halftone can make any design more dynamic without adding costs.