METROPOSTCARD.COM GUIDE TO PRINTING TECHNIQUES 3
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Halftones and Hybrids


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MIXED TECHNIQUES


The ability to reproduce images through photographic halftones had an unforeseen effect on the appearance of postcards. While some publishers continued to produce images of high quality, many others found that the chromolithographic model in which a separate plate was created for each local hue desired could now be discarded. By using a halftone image printed in black as a key, the remaining composition could be held together with fewer printed colors underneath. While most printers reduced these colors to the basic primaries, there was no consensus among them as to which colors were primary. Some combination of red, green, yellow, and blue were the most commonly used. The concept of mixing different techniques was nothing new. Baxter prints, patented in 1835 had combined color wood engravings with a strong intaglio presence for line detail. Nelson prints, first printed in the 1850’s used wood blocks to create a background tint over which a linear lithograph would be printed.

For us who are so familiar with photographic reproduction it is hard to imagine the novelty of the first such image made. There was something unique about even the poorest quality reproduction that drew attention toward it. This license allowed publishers to experiment with all sorts of methods to create color postcards. Some sought ways to produce images with as close a fidelity to reality as possible while others were satisfied with any mannered yet attractive look. Some spared no expense to achieve their goals and others searched for ways to cut corners at every step of production as if the inclusion of color alone was enough to make a sale. While these hybrid cards were not as impressive as those printed with ten or more colors the results were often more than adequate considering the cost saved. The entire printing industry would quickly begin shifting toward this new efficient model.



DUOTONE TINTS

In the 19th century a second tinting plate was conventionally used to supplement black & white lithographic images in the same manner of drawings on colored paper. These duotones were not meant to create the illusion of natural color or to be a lead up to better color printing; they had practical applications in themselves. This added color helped reduce the unexpected starkness often found in a printed image since the stone or plate it was originally drawn on was grey or possibly even tan, but never white. Usually of a single light hue, this color field was sometimes scraped into to produce pure whites like the highlights added to a drawing with gouache or chalk. Ben day dot patterns were also often employed to create tinting plates because they could produce an unblemished continuous field with ease. This tonal effect was eventually taken up by postcard publishers, especially when it was seen that it could yield similar results when used in conjunction with halftones. This process helped solve the loss of subtlety in representing mid-tones created through crossline screening. Some methods were widely used in the trade while others became associated with specific postcard publishers. They also created a more striking look at a low cost that might arouse interest among potential customers looking for something untypical.

Flat Tints
A two plate printing method known as flat tinting was widely used in the 19th century and was latter applied to the production of many postcards. The tinting plate in this process did not carry an image but only a very light field of color that could be fawn or blue, solid or textured, and it would be overprinted with a black key plate. Lithography was the preferred medium for tinting plates because the stone it was printed from naturally produced solid flat tones that could easily be scraped into in order to produce whites. The black key plate was usually another lithograph but it could also be made as a collotype or in gravure. Eventually these key plates would make wide use of the halftone process. Both the Albertype and the Curt Teich Company used the trade name Duotone for these types of tinted cards that they produced in the 1930’s and 40’s.

Postcard

Duotones: Both of these postcards make use of a tinting plate in a flat warm color but the one above has an overprint in photogravure while the one below is overprinted with a black halftone key in line block.

Postcard


Postcard

Duotone: While the flat tint on this postcard nicely tones down the contrast of the black halftone key, the whites have been polished out of it with such little subtlety that it draws attention to itself jolting the viewer out of the illusionary scene.


Postcard

Hand Colored Duotone: Additional color was sometimes added to a postcard printed with a flat tint through hand coloring. Because the entire surface of the card was already covered with ink it was rather non-accepting of water based paints. Images that were already made to look mannered often took on an even more unnatural or bizarre continence.


Blue Tint
Blue tints were a variation of the duotone process where only a single tinting plate was used to primarily color in the sky. The tone on the tinting plate was usually laid down with a manufactured dot pattern, and then retouched to create lighter areas that would represent clouds. Any tonalities in the sky that originated from the halftone key plate were usually carefully removed so there was no overlapping of black with the blue on the tinting plate. This methodology was basically chosen to add color at the least possible cost, so craftsmanship also usually lagged and tints would just be haphazardly placed. The final effect is always stark, which can be quite jarring and unappealing. These types of cards were published under various names such as Blue-Sky or Sky-Tint. While the term Sky-Tint was a trade name used by the Curt Teich Company it is also commonly applied to all postcards that exclusively utilized a blue tint.

Postcard

Blue Tints: Above is a line block postcard from 1954 where the light blue sky seems completely separated from its blue-black foreground despite efforts to unify the image. Neither section is purely one color as halftone dots of black were added to the clouds in the sky to help create volume while random blue dot permeate the foreground to create a cool cast. There is perfect harmony between the blue and black halftones used to create the card below from 1921. It works better because black can dominate the entire composition because it is a night scene.

Postcard


Postcard

Blue Tints: Above is a line block postcard from 1954 where the light blue sky seems completely separated from its blue-black foreground despite efforts to unify the image. Neither section is purely one color as halftone dots of black were added to the clouds in the sky to help create volume while random blue dot permeate the foreground to create a cool cast. Even though there is no sky represented in the composition below, a blue is washed in as if there were one and the background trees were just printed over it. When this technique was used as a half measure the end results usually showed it.

Postcard

Double Tint
The double tint method, often used to reproduce drawings in lithography became popular during the 1830’s. It employed two tinting stones, one to produce a very light field of warm color as a flat tint, and another to print a slightly darker and more neutral color that would often represent shadows and sky. Sometimes these tints weren’t quite solid but made up of a dense series of small dots that created a more brilliant optical field and opened the possibility of creating tonal nuance. When these markings overlapped or faded at their edges, even more subtleties could be created. Both substrates would usually have identical non-printing areas on them as well to produce pure whites. The third stone would act as the key and carry all the details of the image in black. The Curt Teich Company used this process for their cards with the Doubletone trade name.

Postcard

Doubletone: Two tinting plates were used to create the image above, one holding a light warm grey and the other a medium neutral tone. They were overprinted with a halftone key in black. The postcard below also uses two tinting plates with a halftone key in black, only here one holds a light tan and the other a more obvious blue, which has been largely used locally for the sky. Color choices in the same tinting process could be used to help unify a composition or bring out stark contrasts.

Postcard

Rainbow Tints
Two distinct colors could be printed from a single plate by laying them out side by side on the same inking slab, and then gently blending only their edges together with continuous passes of a roller before transferring the ink to the plate. A darker key plate would then print the image over the tint. The colors most chosen were blue to represent sky and a reddish brown for the earth, but both were usually of the same tonal value. These choices were more symbolic than representational as they often had a standard division at the midpoint of an image making no real reference to the particulars of the composition’s subject matter. A rainbow roll could also be imitated by adding dot gradations with a shading medium. Rainbow rolls were largely used in conjunction with collotype, lithography, or line block printing in the early 1900’s.

Postcard

Rainbow Rolled Collotypes: The postcard above from 1907 is printed from two substrates, a collotype key inked in black and a lithographic tint inked with a two color rainbow roll. The whites are where the non-printing areas of both plates combine. The French postcard below illustrates how this technique could be used in an even less realistic way just to achieve a novel look. The same color is used for both sky and foreground with only a gap left on the inking slab to separate the tints.

Postcard


Postcard

Rainbow Rolled Lithograph: This lithographic postcard was drawn with liquid tusche to create large expanses of solid tone. It could have been printed entirely in black but a rainbow roll was used to impart some color on an otherwise oppressively dark image. The rainbow roll was also an easy way to create more variance in tonal values where none exist on the plate. Since the application of the tint is arbitrary, its presence can take away as much as it provides. The only rule followed seems to be color sells.



Postcard

Rainbow Rolled Line Blocks: The rainbow tint under the halftone on the card above may separate the man from the woman, but the colors do not reference anything in the composition. It seems that these bright colors were just added to a black & white image as an afterthought to attract attention, which they do, but they create a garish image in the process. The card below was designed to hold a rainbow roll; there is a tinting plate that holds the colors, which is incised to create some whites. A black from a line block plate was then printed over it. This palette was specifically chosen to enhance the composition.

Postcard

Duograph
The duograph process, invented by Louis Levy in 1914, was used to create a rich looking monotone image in lithography. Two separate processing negatives are made from the same photograph with one exposed to capture medium to light tones, the other darker values. Each is then used to make a separate halftone plate with one halftone screen rotated 30-degrees from the other screen to avoid forming a moiré pattern. When one plate inked in a light neutral color was printed with the other inked in a darker color, the combined results produced a much richer looking image than could be achieved from black & white alone. The printed dots do not overlap, and seen together they produce optical shading. The further filling in of the white paper also resulted in a more solid looking image resembling those printed in more expensive techniques such as gravure. This process became very popular by the 1930’s for the fine reproduction of photographs. While the use of halftones made duographs cheaper to produce than gravure, the process was still too expensive for the production of most postcards.

Postcard Detail

Duograph: On this detail from a postcard made in 1933, a black halftone is printed over another inked in a pale brown. This gives an overall warm tone to the final image as if it were printed in a deep brown. This effect could be used to create the illusion of various monotone hues.

Dutype
A dutype is a lithograph similar to a duograph in that it is designed to create a vibrant monotone look through the printing of two differently colored halftone plates. The difference between these processes was not in the look desired but in the economy of production. Instead of creating two halftones with dot patterns set at different angels from one another, the same halftone image would just be printed twice, each time with a different ink and slightly off register so the dots would not overlap.





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