View Full Version : That halftone look

Michel Hardy-Vallée
03-27-2006, 10:38 PM
I suppose the term "vintage" applies here, but in case I'm mistaken, please, dear moderators, move this thread where appropriate.

I am fascinated by the peculiar aspect of old halftone reproductions in manuals, especially photo items. However, I'm at a loss trying to describe it in plastic terms because I don't understand how it came to be. To illustrate what I am referring to, here are some snaps taken from a Praktica L manual.

Surfaces like metal or leather have that really neat unreal look to them. It doesn't seem to be just a question of boosting the contrast because there are gradations and midtones.

So what was the process behind the particular aspect of these reproductions, especially the way the specular reflections are rendered? Was there some retouching involved? Is it something that can be duplicated with film photography only?

03-27-2006, 10:55 PM
I do believe the photos you show have been airbrushed prior to being rephotographed for publication and the artist was NOT "painting with light" but "lighting with paint".

My guess...

03-28-2006, 08:56 AM
Ah, we seem to share a love here. Good to know.
Different techniques were used: airbrush as well as pencils, ink pens, paint brushes, diluted white or light paint. I think you can still buy some of the retouche paints (Schminke -or Schmincke?- still sold them some years back). IIRC, one worked on rather contrasty prints of the original analog photographs. Afterwards a copy of the finished art work was made on a contrasty (lith?) film used for offset printing.
It took regular and thorough training to work on a retouche department. If you want to find out more about the tips and tricks of the trade, you do well to look for books on vintage advertising techniques, vintage (pre-press) graphic design and halftone printing techniques. In very early air brush manual you may find a chapter on photo retouching. It may be worthwhile to figure out how to do this without a computer, since it takes as long with the aid of software programs as it does by manual labor.
HTH, Norm

Michel Hardy-Vallée
03-28-2006, 09:36 PM
Ah that airbrush look! I knew it reminded me somehow of 80's heavy metal records cover (not one of my passion, however). So I guess this was one of the main ways halftone reproductions could have some zest and overcome the repro limitations? I would be curious indeed to read a history of photo retouching. Constraints in press quality must have changed the type of doctoring, but something tells me that there must be persistent attitudes towards photo corrections across the decades.

jd callow
03-28-2006, 09:40 PM
Kino and MedF-norm are correct.

03-28-2006, 09:49 PM
Oh, yeah, I clearly remember the air brush technique surviving well into 1980's catalogs -- it certainly helped overcome less expensive reproduction process limitations.

Here's a great book on the subject (the craft) at a reasonable price...


03-29-2006, 05:43 AM
Or check out this website, with an illustration of the book mentioned by Kino (hmm, I even might consider buying it myself):

jd callow
03-29-2006, 07:07 AM
Back in the 80's I would get 11x14's (or larger) retouch them, with soft lead pencils and airbrushes and have the halftones or negs shot to size (always reduced) and keyline them onto the artboards or flats. It was fun, but risky (something I was never trained to do). In the second half of the 80's I started to do it digitally and exchanged one set of risks and fun for another.

03-29-2006, 07:28 AM
it must be my English, but what is keylining onto artboards?

I ordered the book, but only on condition it has more than 150 pages and illustrations. I did a little eBay and found there are plenty other vintage books about airbrush techniques for photographers to make up for your possible loss (I know, I'm a rat). Oh, and do avoid the ones from the 80's - you know, with the harlequin masks on the cover or dreamily airbrushed female portraits ;)

On a second note: if you do a google for the title of Stine's book, you hit upon an Excel file with a truckload of interesting titles of vintage books relating in one or another to this subject. It's interesting to download and use it to search for titles. I would have posted the list here, but it's not a jpeg, obviously :rolleyes:

jd callow
03-29-2006, 07:57 AM
A Keyline is a board that contains the text (galley from a typographer -- later a lino), images (halftones or stats) and any borders (often keylining tape or rapidiograph drawn). Each item was pasted (I used hot wax, others used contact cement or spraymount), taped or drawn to the board. From there your client would look it over (often make wholesale changes requiring 1-3 days to make). When it was approved it would be shot to negative and taped up to a flat (with other items if it was going to be printed in gang or was part of larger publication) and then used to burn a printing plate.

This was how black and white was done. Colour was somewhat more difficult. The whole process from conception to completion involved numerous roles/skills (typographer, camera operator, keyliner, stripper*) and took days to complete. The advent of DTP systems shortened the turnaround for the mechanical aspects to hours or even minutes and produced a higher quality product.

The terms I use may be colloquial, mis spelled or may not be exact in that I haven't done this for a living in 10 years --closer to 20 since I needed to create my own keyline.

*This was the guy who 'stripped' the negs together to create the flat prior to burning a plate.

Michel Hardy-Vallée
03-29-2006, 08:38 AM
Cool! so there must be a PS filter for it then? Just kidding.

I've found some titles related to pre-press photo preparation at my uni library, so I'll go check them out later today and come back with a detailed report. I think what fascinates me with the old process is that it's entirely dependent on photography, cameras, plates, and masks. I'm sure lots of people now still know that film is good for taking picture, but I wonder how many people my age would even have a clue as to how you could do DTP and print photos before digital ...

jd callow
03-29-2006, 09:23 AM
It wasn't glamours, took lots of time and effort and at the end of the day your work would line the litter box or bird cage.

I think it is much more appropriate that DTP is used to create most printed materials. It takes less time to produce something that generally wont live a very long life and nor should it.

I remember all too well killing myself over a miniscule advert filled twice over with crap.