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One of the hardest things to accomplish in vector illustration is a halftone, wh

ich is a way of reproducing a monochrome image using only dots of varying sizes.
Halftones are especially important for graphic artists working with a limited n
umber of colors (in poster or t-shirt designs, for example), because they give n
uance to otherwise flat artwork. Moreover, vector halftones can be scaled to any
size without showing pixelation.
In this tutorial, I ll show you how to create a grayscale object and turn it into
a vector halftone. These steps are written for Adobe Illustrator CS5, but the pr
ocess is very similar for previous versions of Illustrator.
Step 1: Prepare your document
It s important that your new document has a large canvas. Choose File -> New. Once
the New Document window appears, enter an appropriate name (i.e. Halftone Objec
t). Choose Web from the New Document Profile pop-up menu and then add in a width
and height of 1800x1800 px. Now click OK to create the document.
You ll need to tweak one more setting before you can begin, though. Choose Effect
-> Document Raster Effects Settings. Under Resolution, click Other and enter 288
ppi. Illustrator uses the standard screen metric of 72 ppi, and by choosing a r
aster setting that is a multiple of 72, you ll get better results when tracing. To
continue, click OK.
Setting a relatively high resolution for the document s raster effects allows you
to get better results when tracing your halftone.
Setting a relatively high resolution for the document s raster effects allows you
to get better results when tracing your halftone.
Step 2: Create your object
You ll now need to create a simple object with a greyscale gradient. This can be a
ccomplished in a number of ways standard gradients, gradient meshes and blends but f
or now, let s create a blend with a star-shaped object.
Choose the Star Tool from the toolbar you ll find it in the same place as the Rectan
gle Tool and create a star shape that fills most of the document. (Or, choose the
Star Tool and click the center of the canvas. This calls star settings window. E
nter Radius 1: 800, Radius 2: 420 and Points: 5, and then click OK.)
Select the star and then choose File -> Copy, followed by File -> Paste in Place
. This pastes a copy of the star on top of the existing star, and for the moment
, it ll look as though there is still only one star on your canvas. Choose Object
-> Transform -> Scale. A Scale window appears, allowing you to precisely scale t
he object you ve just pasted. Click Uniform, enter 25% and then click OK. You ll see
a small star sitting atop the original large one.
Now you ll need to set to color for each star. Choose Window -> Color to call up t
he fill and stroke color panel. You ll see two boxes in the top left, which repres
ent the color of the fill (the solid square) and the stroke (the square with the
square hole in it). Clicking either square brings it to the front, allowing you
to change the color of that attribute. Select the small star, bring the stroke
square forward (if necessary) and then remove the stroke by clicking the white b
ox with the red line through it, found in the bottom left of the color panel. No
w bring the fill square forward and set the fill color to a dark grey (for examp
le, enter an RGB value of R=77, G=77, B=77).
Repeat this process for the large star, removing its stroke but this time settin
g the fill color to white (RGB R=255, G=255, B=255). When you click on the canva
s, the large star will disappear no need for concern.
Choose Select -> Select All, followed by Object -> Blend -> Make. Instantly, you l
l see a soft gradient appear between the two stars.
Once you ve set the colors for each star, you can create a soft gradient between t
he two using Blend.
Once you ve set the colors for each star, you can create a soft gradient between t
he two using Blend.
Step 3: Apply Color Halftone filter
Once you ve got a object with a smooth gradient, you can convert it into a halfton
e. At this point you ll actually convert the vector artwork into a bitmap, but don t
worry, you ll bring it back to vector mode before you re done.
Select the star and choose Effect -> Pixelate -> Color Halftone. The first field
in the Color Halftone window asks you to choose the maximum radius, a setting t
hat controls the relative size of the halftone dots. Enter 96 into this field. T
he next four fields ask you to set the the screen angles for four different chan
nels. Enter 128 in each field. Click OK to continue.
The conversion to halftone is a processor-intensive task and may take few second
s and you will see a progress bar. Once it s complete, you ll see that the object is
now composed of black dots. If you aren t happy with the size of these halftone d
ots, choose undo and repeat the process. Enter a different number for maximum ra
dius: a larger number gives you larger dots, and a smaller number means smaller
dots.
Applying the Color Halftone filter changes your object to a black-and-white hal
ftone but for the moment, it s a bitmap.
Applying the Color Halftone filter changes your object to a black-and-white half
tone but for the moment, it s a bitmap.
Step 4: Trace your halftone object
In order to turn your new halftone artwork into a vector object, you ll need to us
e Illustrator s Live Trace.
Select the halftone artwork with the Object Selection Tool and choose Object ->
Expand Appearance. Choose Object -> Live Trace -> Tracing Options.
In the top left of the Tracing Options window, you ll see a pop-up menu for Preset
s. Choose Simple Trace and then click Trace. The tracing process may take up to
a minute, depending upon the density of the halftone dots.
When the trace is complete, choose Object -> Expand. A pop-up window will offer
you a few options for the operation, but you don t need to change anything. Click
OK, and you ll see that your halftone has indeed been turned to vector. (The traci
ng process yields slightly imperfect circles, but they're certainly sufficient f
or a halftone.)
You can change your new halftone to any color you wish just select the object and
pick a color!
The completed vector halftone can be changed into any color you wish.
The completed vector halftone can be changed into any color you wish.
You can now use your slick new halftone object in a t-shirt design or poster, kn
owing that it will scale to any size without degrading. You ll find this halftone
technique works well on grayscale photos, too give it a try!
[Chris McVeigh is an author, illustrator and toy photographer who lives in Halif
ax, Nova Scotia.]