Sepia Toning

I am working on my next project, a three-leaf book entitled “The Gangster’s Christmas”. I thought I would use John Dillinger’s FBI mug shot as a cover image. The original image was almost certainly done with a 4 x 5 press camera, is supplied at fairly high resolution and to judge from the image quality, probably shot on Kodak Verichrome Safety film. Best of all is that it is a public domain image.

While sitting here staring at Dillinger… who is kind of a scary-looking individual even if one did not know his history… I started thinking that maybe this would look better as a sepia toned image. While the bulk of my target audience is young enough to be unfamiliar with the Dastardly Dude’s visage, a few might recognize him and I’d like to have his name at the end of the book be a surprise. Changing out the color might help with that. Most of us have only seen John Dillinger in B&W. Unfortunately, there is no way to do that with sepia toner, so I started thinking about doing it as a half-tone printed in Bismark Brown.

Has anyone ever tried this? What were the results like?

image: dillinger.jpeg


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I would suggest a split-tone so to keep the contrast.
A half tone could end up looking muddy. The black would help to keep the contrast of the original. The image posted is a great rep of how it may look as a split-tone.
Good luck.

There’s no reason why a halftone shouldn’t work in brown. Finger_Print’s suggestion of a split tone (duotone) is a good one as well.

Before you make the plate though, I would strongly recommend making a test plate and test print with a grayscale going from say, 2% to 10% dot in 2% increments, and then on up to 95% in 5% increments. Use the same ink and paper you are going to print the job on. You want to find the smallest dot you can hold on the plate and print, and on the other end of the scale, the largest dot you can print without having it go solid brown. Then when you make the plate, adjust the tonal range of the image so that the lightest shade in the photo is the smallest dot you can print, and the darkest shade in the photo is the largest dot you can print without having it go solid brown.

If you don’t do that, you run the risk of having the lighter tones end up white with no dots, and the darker tones solid brown with no dots. This is bad because if you have no dots in those areas, there is no ability to portray any detail.

Also, it would be good to have different screen rulings on the test plate (dots per inch). The trade-off in screen ruling is that the coarser it is, the easier it is to print and the more ink you can put on to get good darkness in the dark areas, but the worse it appears because the dots are more visible and there is less ability to portray fine detail. The finer the screen ruling, the better and more detailed the print looks, but the less ink you can put on because you will plug up the dots if you put on more ink.

Wow! I thought this was “Letterpress for Beginners”. I got lost at the term “split-tone”, though I do remember hearing the term “duo-tone” from some years ago. Not especially familiar with the process digitally or with wet darkroom.

I don’t make my own plates. Boxcar does that for me… so test plates are not an option.

In any case, I am not really looking for fantastic detail and tonal quality. My goal is to put the image out there and not have anyone recognize John Dillinger as John Dillinger. A coarse half-tone might do that rather nicely. Then when the reader has finished the book and gotten to the name, I want him to flip back to the cover image and say something like “Oh! I thought that guy looked a little like Dillinger!”

Now, a little chiaroscuro could go a long way toward that end as well, and I might also grab an different image. Also might do a vector trace of this image. Got plenty do with The Sasquatch’s Dilemma before I actually start the next project.

Thanks for the education.

How does this look? Maybe printed in red?

image: dillingermosaic.jpg


Of course you could run it in the sepia brown in one pass. But there is the “poor man’s duotone” technique of running the halftone in regular black, then running it a second time without moving plate or guides — therefore in register —using a light sepia varnish (transparent white with a little color) which will give a rich effect and the tint you desire.

Y’know, I’ve heard about printing with varnish before. I assume it is a special kind of varnish. This is a very educational website. I may just have to try this as it would take no real effort other than to obtain the varnish and white ink.

Right now I am leaning toward a 65 - 85 line halftone screen with brown ink printing a mirror image to trick the eyes of people who may have seen the original image. Most people today probably think Dillinger looks like one of the actors who played him… but not everyone.

Possibly (just possibly) re-shoot Your original with an old fashioned analogue camera, with just a yellow (translucent)acetate sheet on top, ?? With maybe a hint of *soft* focus.!!

Now that’s an interesting idea. I do actually have an old Graflex Speed Grapic 4 x 5 around here somewhere that still works. A K2 filter should be no problem to locate, soft focus would be easy enough. Now what would I be missing? ;)

Sadly, I fear that here in the UK, block-making knowledge
has faded to the extent that it may no longer be possible to get a proper duotone pair of blocks in any material. Whats worse, I suspect that the folk who even know what that properly means are mostly dead. Heigh Ho, and they call it progress!
I’d be delighted to be told that I’m wrong. .

A question: is there any firm in the USA still able to lay a true Ben-Day tint on artwork or indeed direct on the blocks?

Had to Google the term… and I have gray hair. Good luck!

I think I know some one who could generate the files for Litho here in the UK, the interesting thing would be if they could be transported across to making a pair of polymer plates, 4 colour process is still possible so why not 2 colour?

Talk to Rolly Rice at Crown Flexo in California

I’ve known him since the 1970’s. He is very knowledgeable, can do whatever art, negs and polymer plates you need, and he is used to working with small business and hobby letterpress printers. Wherever you are located, I wouldn’t think that shipping of negs and plates will be very expensive.