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Halftones and Hybrids
LITHOGRAPHIC & LINE BLOCK HYBRIDS
Only subtle effects could be created through optical mixing in chromolithography. All qualities of value and saturation considered essential to the composition had to be created through individual drawings pulled from separate stones. If a dark, light, and medium red were needed then three different stones would be used to print them. While black halftones could produce the same characteristics of a drawn key plate, problems usually arose when attempting to integrating it with other halftone plates holding color. In chromolithography the drawing on each stone used to print a color was made in the form or randomly drawn dots or ink spatter that could easily overlap without notice. Unfortunately the geometric patterns found in halftone screens could create interference patterns (moiré) if more than one were overlapped. A number of creative methods were used to overprint halftones with a minimal amount of complications but most printers just took a simpler route based upon time tested tinting techniques. Instead of overlapping different screen patterns, only the crucial key plate that carried bulk of the detail in black would be made with as a halftone. The plates carrying color would be all be hand drawn through the traditional method of random dots and spatter. This simple solution started to be used as early as the mid-1880’s. It was applicable to any medium that employed a halftone screen. This processes allowed for a lot of variables that would spawn a whole new range of postcard types of varying quality. They are all referred to as tinted halftones though specific names have been applied such as the Autochrom process.
Tinted Halftone: Even though this lithographic postcard was produced in a limited palette with the aid of a halftone screen, many such cards manage to display rich bold colors similar to those printed in chromolithography. Despite the rigidity of the screened dots and almost haphazard placement of color, there is still an amazing amount of nuance as seen in the small detail below. When done correctly and with care, these hybrids easily contended with more expensive cards.
Hybrid postcards printed in lithography may look very similar to those cards made with line blocks but there are noticeable differences. Since the printed ink from halftone line blocks does not spread outward, their results usually do not achieve the same amount of color saturation as their lithographic cousins. On the other hand this same trait of producing dots with a more clearly defined edge usually allows line blocks to carry a sharper image. This effect however can be thwarted when ink squash grows so severe that it looks as if there is a white line screen running through the halftone pattern.
Tinted Halftones: The postcard above from 1926 is a very typical lithographic hybrid. A black Euclidian halftone makes up the key plate, which is then printed over red, blue, and yellow spatter. The overall image is very soft playing to mood rather than details. The postcard below from 1906 is perhaps the most typical type of hybrid. A black Euclidean halftone key in line block printed over red, blue, and yellow dots. Note the difference in color saturation between the two cards despite their similar palette.
Tinted Halftone: All four colors on this postcard have been applied differently; light blue was put down as spatter, yellow is printed as an elliptical halftone that yields a screen like appearance, and red appears as both blots and a series of small dots that almost look screened but their frequency is too uneven. The key plate made up of an Euclidian halftone on line block is printed over the colors in black. While the line patterns are rotated in a similar fashion to that used in process printing, the angles are not quite correct allowing for a slight moire pattern to form.
Tinted Halftone: While many printers believed that they needed an RGB palette to print a full color gamut, they continued to work with the inks they were most familiar with, usually RYB for a variety of reasons. Sometimes this switch was obvious, but at other times they did their best to disguise this choice to make a card look like it was printed in RGB colors when it was not. This postcard may be dominated by green but no green ink was used to print it; the color was created by overlapping blue with a transparent yellow. Though yellow seems to be absent from the palette, some can be observed in the detail shown below at the edge of the image where it is off register.
Tinted Halftones: Both the postcard above and the one below were created with the same red, yellow, and blue palette overprinted with a black halftone key, but because of the unique way that each retoucher distributed the color dots, the palette looks different. The card above emphasizes the limited number of colors used to make it while the one below creates a variety of optical mixtures.
Tinted Halftone: The way color markings were placed on a plate could greatly affect the final appearance of an image. While it seems that a black halftone key was laid over a variety of large color blots on the card above, all hues are optically blended from a combination of small red, yellow, and blue dots.
Tinted Halftone: On this postcard a black halftone key is printed over three sets of drawn color dots. While the intensity of the yellow and blue dots are typical of tricolor printing, red is represented here by a very pale pink. An extra spot plate has been added to print blots in a deeper red to place local color on the apples. Even when such flourishes did not produce a more realistic rendering, it still helped to make the conceptual point of the card.
While many printers were satisfied printing their black key plate over mixtures of red, green, blue, and often yellow, others wanted to create images with more subtle, moody, or natural effects. To achieve this many borrowed ideas from the simpler duotone techniques. Printing light colors always posed a problem since only one value could be laid down at a time. In the tricolor method the three printed hues would need to optically combine with the black halftone and white paper to produce all other tonal values. This did not always work well especially when a small dark dot sat in a much larger field of white. Sometimes the contrast between these two values grew so great that the halftone pattern became visible to the naked eye. By printing dark dots over a light subdued tints the contrast could be lowered and the halftone pattern was more likely to remain hidden. The overall effect of tinting was a softer more pleasant image. A light warm to neutral grey was a common choice for a tint. It could be applied across an entire image as dots in the same rotation as the black key or used sporadically as a spot color. While these dots could be made through a second halftone plate, they were usually just added by way of paper or mechanical tints. The exact alignment between the patterns on these two plates could vary resulting in different looks.
Tinted Line Block: On this postcard a black line block is used as the key plate, which is printed over hand drawn blue and yellow lithographic dots. Small red dots laid down with benday permeate the entire image to create the effect of an even tint. While the red adds an overall warm cast, the contrast of the dark dots against the white paper is so high that it is disturbing to the eye.
Tinted Halftone: This slight variation on the typical hybrid style uses a halftone key made up of black Euclidean dots in line block that are printed over hand drawn RGB dots and blots. The fourth color is added is not the typical yellow but a light tan resulting in a softer but duller image.
When tints are spoken of in regard to tinted halftones, it must be noted that they were employed in two distinct ways. While all hues placed under a black key could be considered a tint, the purpose of those deemed to be primaries was to add color to an image, either as straight local color or to create additional colors through optical blending. Grey, pale magenta, or fawn were sometimes individually added to a palette to help tie an image together by lowering contrast. Although these hues were meant to work like a traditional tint, they could also alter the optical mixing of color. In general these tints represented highlights when printed as dots, but they could also combine to form into solid blots for mid-tones. In the darkest areas tints would be obscured by black key printed over it. An additional light blue or light red was sometimes added as a tint so there would also be a light and medium value for the same hue. One tone would print light to lower the dot contrast while the darker tone would act as a spot color giving extra punch to the image. Adding in extra colors increased the cost of production but these types of effects could not be achieved by optical blending alone, in fact they were often added to correct what optical blends could not do.
Tinted Halftone: On this lithographic card, a black key is printed over red, blue, and yellow spatter. A fifth plate carrying a light modulated grey is not used to render detail but is printed throughout the entire image in benday to create a soft misty atmosphere.
Tinted Halftone: Red, blue, and yellow spatter were also used under a black key on this postcard, but a pale grey and a tan of the same light value have both been added to reduce contrast. In the detail below we can see how these two tints expand the color range while controlling value.
Tinted Halftone: Palettes were sometimes chosen to meet the needs of the image while some printers consistently used a set formula and then adapted the image to it. For a time Edward H. Mitchell produced postcards with a consistent look to them due to their elaborate hybrid construction. Both halftone and benday were used to create red, cyan, and black dots on this card, all printed on the same 45-degree rotation. Two tinting plates have also been added, which are obvious in the detail below; grey dots in a 90-degree rotation, and a light tan as solid tones and spatter. Cyan has also been printed in the form of irregular spatter and a regimented dot pattern. All these types of cards tend to emote a cool temperature.
Tinted Halftone: This postcard was printed with a light blue, yellow, and a medium red applied as spatter over which a black halftone in Euclidian dots was laid. The lighter palette has allowed for more subtle optical blending while an extra light magenta-grey tint helps soften the tonalities and overall color.
Tinted Halftones: Both the postcard above from the 1920&esquo;s and the linen card below from the 1930’s look very similar because they were produced by the same methodology. A black halftone key is printed over colors laid down in solid tones and benday dots, all at the same angle of rotation. Although both palettes consists of RYB primaries, a light red has been included as an extra color. While yellow is used instead of green, the general color scheme is designed to read as a RGB image. The color on the linen card is just a bit brighter because a dye based ink was used to print it.
Line Block Hybrid: This is a very unusual postcard in that the typical roles of key and tint have been reversed. The photographic quality of the portrait was created with a light brown ink printed as a halftone. The marks that make up the darker shadows have all been drawn in by hand. An additional metallic spot color around the portrait has also been drawn by hand.
A black key plate created through gravure could be combined with hand drawn color dots from a litho-stone, but the process required two different types of presses to make a single card. While this lessened its cost effectiveness for a look that was fairly equivalent to a standard lithographic halftone, many publishers utilized this technique for their postcards. Their coloration tends to be highly saturated so it can hold up against the very dark blacks produced by the gravure process. There was also no need to lower contrast with the aid of medium tone tints since gravure alone was capable of producing a full range of values in continuous tone. While the rotogravure texture is easy to spot on these hybrids, those using photogravure are often difficult to distinguish due to the nature of their grain that can range from nearly nonexistent to that similar to collotype.
Tinted Gravure: On this postcard rotogravure is printed over red, yellow, and blue lithographic spatter. The overall tone seems nearly seamless except in areas of high color saturation where the use of lithography becomes conspicuous. The use of high color also makes the slightest registration problems more noticeable.
Tinted Gravure: The black key printed over lithographic dots on this postcard has an aquatint-like trxture. It is very unlikely that an actual aquatint was used due to its delicate surface, which would most likely make this a tinted photogravure. The light tones within the black outlines of this texture are so thin that they are barely readable even when greatly enlarged in the detail below. In the darker areas they resemble collotype in feel but not in pattern.