A halftone is a type of image reproduction which first appeared in the press in 1869, and arose to prominence in 1882. Halftones produce continuous tone illustrations by breaking down an image into a series of tiny dots, allowing for much better tonal variation. Halftones were mainly used for the reproduction of photographs. In order to create a halftone, the data source would be photographed through a screen overlaid with a fine ruled grid, thereby breaking down the image into lines of graded dots, which would then be etched into plates using chemicals.
Halftone reproductions, in their ability to capture tonal variation, gave the illusion of direct access to the original data source. Because halftone reproductions looked like photographs, they suggested objective representation, despite the fact that in their production, halftones involved a large amount of subjective artistic decisions. Halftones were revolutionary for their ability to reproduce images alongside text, ushering in a new relationship between the two that would complicate how we read magazines. Halftones were also important in terms of their multiplicity; the ability to make multiple copies of the same image was on the one hand more cost effective, but it was also indicative of the ephemeral nature of illustrations, and magazines in general.
Beegan, Gerry. “Introduction: Mass Reproduction and the Mass Audience,” The Mass Image: A Social History of Photomechanical Reproduction in Victorian London (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008): 1-28. Print.
Mussell, James. “Bibliographic Codes and Visual Modes: The Role of the Visual on Page and Screen,” The Nineteenth-Century Press in the Digital Age (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012): 69-113. Print.