halftones explained

Creating Halftones for T-Shirts

There’s a lot of bad information online for creating halftones for T-shirts. I’ve seen video “tutorials” showing crazy methods that have nothing to do with screen-printing.

I’ve seen semi-decent videos that cover half of the topic correctly but swing and miss badly at the other half.

I’ve read blog posts written by people with absolutely no knowledge on the screen-printing process, showing how to make halftones. And you know what the best part of all this is?

You DO NOT need to create halftones in Photoshop in order to print a tee shirt!

Yep, it’s all bunk. The trend of people thinking you need to create halftones within Photoshop in order to print onto a tee is running wild at the moment.

I don’t mind so much because trends like this help keep people like me in business. But, the sheer amount of misguided tutorials out there is forcing me to write this. So, let’s put this to bed, shall we?

What Are Halftones?

To begin, let’s clarify some definitions.

On the left, we have a gradient. This is what a gradient always looks like on the monitor. This is what they look like when we begin a color separation. This is what they look like when we’ve finished the color separation. This is what they look like while in the computer, period.

On the right, the same gradient shown via halftone dots. Since we’re pushing ink through a screen covered in emulsion, we need halftone dots to trick your mind into thinking it’s looking at a gradient. Halftone dots simulate what a gradient looks like. However, they do not come into the equation until we output films.

Creating Halftones

To use the same picture from before, here’s when we see each.

creating halftones

Halftones are made during the film printing process.

“I thought you said we don’t need to create halftone dots within Photoshop?!”

I did, because you don’t. The halftones are created during the film printing process. Either the programs or RIP system (coupled with a postscript capable printer) handles converting your gradations into halftones.

There are only a handful of circumstances when creating halftones within Photoshop would be necessary. These would include, among others, trying to get a desired look using exaggerated halftone dots or if you don’t have a proper printer or RIP system.

Halftones are created during the film printing process.

So, now you know what goes into creating halftones and when it happens. You also know that it’s unnecessary to create halftones yourself within Photoshop in order to print tees.

In fact, if your prospective screen-printer told you that you need to, I’d suggest finding someone who knows what they’re talking about to print your goods.

Got questions? Ask ‘em in the comment section.

Comments 2

  1. I am learning from you to do steps. I have watched many of these videos and they all seem to enforce or bully the fact you need a rip software. I am in the process of needing a new printer. So what do you recommend for someone starting out? A rip software and printer or just a printer that can produce halftones? I want to be able to screen print color separation and 4color seps when needed. Thank you I have learned a lot from you and appreciate your videos. I also am looking to buy your seps files.

    Patrick Price

    1. Post


      There are a few different reasons having a RIP is a good idea. Boiled down into one simple statement, it’s because they save you time and money. They do this in a few different ways but if the question is, “Do I absolutely need a RIP?” the answer is no.

      What is necessary is a postscript capable printer. A postscript capable printer will allow you to output halftones. However, you’ll have to tell it (via the program you output from) what lpi and angles to use for each and every color. A RIP would have the lpi and angles built in (as per your personal preference(s)) and as a result, this would save a good amount of time per job. But, if you’re not printing a ton of films, not having a RIP is fine.

      However, a RIP would also help save money by nesting your seps during output. What this means is that it will put as many separate colors from a separation onto the fewest pieces of films possible. This can be very efficient if you’re printing a left chest separation onto a large piece of film. Instead of using one large piece of film per color, the RIP will use up as much space on that single piece of film as possible. With the cost of film, this is quite a useful feature.

      My personal recommendation for someone starting out (in regards to equipment) is to start small. Get only what you need and as resources (namely, cash flow) become available and it makes sense to upgrade (because it would be inefficient not to), that can be considered.

      In terms of a printer recommendations, check out a message board like The Shirt Board. They have a bunch of very cool people willing to help.


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