Screen Tones

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One of the most frequently asked questions I get is "How can I create Zip-A-Tone" in Photoshop? For those of you who are not familiar with Zip-A-Tone, it's the trademark name for a now defunct screen tone that came on transparent sheets.

Even though Zip-A-Tone isn't manufactured anymore people still use its name to refer to a wide range of similar products. Zip, as it's commonly refered to by artists, is a clear adhesive sheet with a halftone on one side and a sticky, adhesive on the other. By using a sharp craft knife, it can be cut up and applied to artwork to shade it.

Zip is used extensively in manga, but is now widely unavailable in the U.S. When you can find it, it's likely to be extremely expensive. Thankfully, with your copy of Photoshop you can make thousands of dollars worth of Zip for free. But more importantly, you can make custom patterns and you can't buy.

The method of making Zip is pretty simple, but I'm always reluctant to explain it because if it's printed improperly it can look terrible. So, a word of caution before we proceed: this technique is aimed only for comics destined to be professionally printed. This technique requires a fairly powerful computer since the file sizes are pretty large and I do not suggest straying much from the suggested resolutions.

The secret to creating halftones in Photoshop is located in the often overlooked mode change dialogue. Create a new document [ctrl N] with the following settings:

Fill the document with 25% black.

Halftone Screen

Leave the "Output" resolution the same. Under the "Method" category Photoshop defaults to a 50% threshold. Select the option for Halftone Screen. This is where the magic happens.

For our sample, use the following values:

Halftone Screen

Halftone Screen

Now, convert the image to bitmap mode [image>mode>bitmap...] You should see the following dialogue box:



| lines/inch * |


| Round ▼ |

Your image should now look like this:

Congratulations, you've just made your first Zip pattern. This simple technique is the basis for converting grayscale images into halftones. Now, instead of using a flat gray color, try a gradation or even a photo! The resulting patterns can easily be cut and pasted into your work. The possibilities are nearly endless!

The three options in the Halftone Screen dialogue control how Photoshop generates the halftone pattern. The "Frequency" is probably the most important. It controls the size of the dots. A higher frequency generates smaller dots. A larger number will create larger dots. The shape option gives you several different halftone shapes, including round, diamond, ellipse, line, square and cross.

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