How to Make Halftone Effect Patterns and Brushes in Photoshop and Illustrator

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

In this tutorial, I’ll show you what halftone is and how to achieve a color halftone effect. I’ll also show you how to make your own halftone brushes.

What Is Halftone?

You might be familiar with halftone patterns being used in printing. While the pattern is essential for that specific medium, halftone patterns also give a unique look to design work. Halftone is a technique that simulates tone gradations by using dots. These dots vary in size, spacing and sometimes even shape to generate a halftone gradient effect. The closer and bigger the dots on the halftone, the darker the image is. The smaller and more spread out the dots are, the lighter the image is. When it is all put together, the halftone effect creates the illusion of gradation when seen from afar.

Nowadays, halftone is commonly used digitally to achieve a comic-book look, representing nostalgia in the digital age.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to achieve a halftone effect in Photoshop. You can apply these steps to any image of your liking to achieve a black and white halftone and color halftone. We will also take a look at how to create your own halftone brushes in Photoshop, which can help you add great details to your artwork. Lastly, we will look at how to create halftone brushes in Illustrator. This is perfect if you are getting started in the illustration world and want to develop your skill and style. 

What You Will Need

You’ll need access to Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator; if you don’t have the software, you can download a trial from the Adobe website. You’ll also need this image:

  • Headphones isolated on white background

Download the image, and when you are ready, we can dive in! Advertisement

1. How to Make a Halftone Pattern in Photoshop

First let’s jump into learning how to create a halftone effect in Photoshop. 

Step 1

Drag the Headphones isolated on white backgroundimage into Photoshop. We will convert this into a variety of halftone images to try different settings.

To achieve a color halftone in Photoshop, go to Filter > Pixelate > Color Halftone. 

drag the headphones image into adobe photoshop and apply the color halftone filter

Step 2

In the Color Halftone option window, you’ll notice the Max. Radius and Channels options. Max. Radius dictates the maximum size of the dots, which will dictate how detailed you want your image to be. The bigger the dots, the less detailed it is; the smaller the dots, the more detailed it will be. 

The Channels represent cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, and the angle these colors will get mixed in. This is to achieve specific colors and tones. The angle creates moiré effects and rosette patterns that are useful for printing when halftoning is necessary. In this tutorial, we will focus on the look of halftone effects that can be printed or used digitally as a style. 

The Color Halftone option window has default settings. Mine are set to the following: 

  • Max. Radius 8 pixels
  • Channel 1: 108
  • Channel 2: 162
  • Channel 3: 90
  • Channel 4: 45

Click OK. 

Use the default settings and click ok

In the example below, you can see that we’ve created a color halftone in Photoshop. The closer and bigger the dots are, the darker the image is, and the smaller and more spread out, the lighter the image is. The image is very textured due to the low Max. Radius. Look at the image from afar, and you’ll notice that the dots disappear, lending a tone gradation illusion. 

headphones image with the default settings halftone

Step 3

Press Command-Z to go back a step. Go to Filter > Pixelate > Color Halftone. Let’s try the halftone effect with a different Max. Radius setting:

  • Max. Radius 20 pixels
  • Channel 1: 108
  • Channel 2: 162
  • Channel 3: 90
  • Channel 4: 45

Click OK.

You’ll notice the dots are much bigger, and you can see the CMYK color mix as a scattered pattern. 

headphones image with max radius of 20

Step 4

Press Command-Z to go back a step. Go to Filter > Pixelate > Color Halftone. Let’s try the halftone effect with the same Max. Radius setting as above and changing the channels to 45:

  • Max. Radius 20 pixels
  • Channel 1: 45
  • Channel 2: 45
  • Channel 3: 45
  • Channel 4: 45

Click OK.

You’ll notice the dots are the same size but the angles are lined up on a grid, creating a neat pattern. 

headphones image with all channels at 45 degrees

Step 5

Press Command-Z to go back a step.

Another way of achieving a halftone effect is by using the bitmap option. With the bitmap option, you can create a black and white halftone effect and use different halftone shapes. This technique will maintain the edges of the image as a cookie-cutter to create the halftone pattern. In order to access the bitmap option, we need to turn the image to grayscale. 

Head over to Image > Mode > Grayscale, followed by Image > Mode > Bitmap.

convert the headphones image to grayscale

Step 6

In the Bitmap option window, set the Output to 72 Pixels/Inch. Under Method, Use: Halftone Screen and click OK. 

convert the image into bitmap under method use halftone screen

In the Halftone Screen option window, set the Frequency to 3 Lines/Inch, the Angle to 45 degrees, and Shape to Round. Click OK.

You’ll notice in the image below that compared to the Halftone Effect, this instead cuts out the dots on the edge. 

set the frequency to 3 angle to 45 and shape to round Click ok

Step 7

Let’s say you want to achieve a different kind of halftone effect. Press Command-Z to go back a step.

Go to Image > Mode > Bitmap. In the Bitmap option window, set the Output to 72 Pixels/Inch. Under Method, Use: Halftone Screen and click OK. 

Let’s use the same settings, but this time change the Shape to Line. Click OK. By the traditional definition, this isn’t exactly halftone because it is not composed of dots, but it has the same idea. We are creating a halftone gradient with the lines.

Headphones image with the shape option set to line

2. How to Make Halftone Brushes in Photoshop

You can also create this halftone effect in Photoshop with brushes. Halftone Photoshop brushes will help you create a halftone texture in your designs.

Step 1

Go to File > New and create a new file named Halftone brush. 

Set the Width and Height to 1500 Pixels, Resolution to 72 Pixels/Inch, and click Create.

create a new photoshop file

Step 2

Select the Brush Tool (B) from the toolbar. Right-click on the document to open the brush options. 

Select the Hard Round Brush, and set the Size to 500 px and the Hardness to 25%. The hardness will help spread out the brush, and this will translate into a halftone gradient in which the dots vary in size as they spread out.

select the hard round brush and set the size to 500 px and hardness to 25

Step 3

Click once on the document to create one brush stroke.

Head over to Filter > Pixelate > Color Halftone. Set the Max. Radius to 20 Pixels and all the Channels to 45. Click OK.

click once on the document and apply the color halftone filter

Step 4

Go to Edit > Define Brush Preset. In the Brush Name option window, set the Name to Halftone Brush. Click OK.

select the define brush preset option under edit to create a new brush

Step 5

Now you can use the new brush by brushing strokes on the document. 

brush is ready to be used

Head over to Window > Brush Settings to open the Brush Settings panel. Here, you can change the settings to achieve different looks. Change the Spacing to 1% to achieve a smoother transition and to 95% to separate the strokes. Now your brush is ready to use. 

open the brush settings to modify brush options

3. How to Make Halftone Brushes in Adobe Illustrator

Now let’s learn how to create a halftone effect in Illustrator with Illustrator brushes.

Step 1

Open Illustrator, and head over to File > New. 

In the New Document window, select the Print tab. Select the Letter size blank preset. Name the file Halftone, and set the Units to Centimeters and Orientation to Horizontal. Click Create. 

create a new illustrator file

Step 2

For this brush, we will create a halftone pattern in Illustrator from scratch and later build up to a composition.

Select the Ellipse Tool (L) from the toolbar. Click on the artboard to open the Ellipse option window. Set the Width and Height to 1 cm. Click OK.

Set the Fill color to Black. 

Create a second Ellipse, this time setting the Width and Height to 0.3 cm. Click OK. 

create a 1cm circle and a 03 cm circle

Step 3

Select both circles. Open the Align panel by going to Window > Align. Select the Horizontal Align Center button. 

Select the Blend Tool (W) from the toolbar. Click on any of the circles followed by the other circle. This will fill the gap between the two objects by creating a number of steps. 

use the blend tool to create steps between the two

Step 4

To alter the number of steps between the two objects, double-click on the Blend Tool button on the toolbar.

In the Blend Options window, check the Preview box. Set the Spacing to Specified Steps, andset the number to 9. Click OK.

set the specified steps to 9

Step 5

Head over to Object > Expand. In the Expand option window, select Object and Fill. Click OK. This will convert steps into objects. You’ll know you’ve done so when the line from the Blend Tool running across the steps has disappeared. 

Duplicate the object to the right by holding Shift-Option and dragging. Shift will keep the object at the same axis, and Option will Duplicate the object.

Select the Blend Tool (W) from the toolbar. Click on one set of circles followed by the second set. This will create steps to fill in the gap.

Expand the object and duplicate Use the blend tool to fill the gap

Step 6

Go to Object > Expand and click OK in the Expand option window. 

In order to create a brush, we need to create a tile that is able to multiply. Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a square that covers the center of the outermost circle from left to right. Below, I’ve colored the rectangle in cyan for you to see.

create a square that covers all the circles making sure each corner is placed on each circles center

Step 7

While selecting the circles and the square, press Command-7 to Make a Clipping Mask. 

create a clipping mask

Step 8

Hold down Shift-Option on your keyboard and drag to the right three times to create a tile. 

duplicate the tile a few times

Step 9

Open the Brushes panel by going to Window > Brushes.

Select all three tiles and drag into the Brushes panel. In the New Brush window, select Art Brush. Click OK.

open the brushes panel and drag the tile into the panel

Step 10

On the Art Brush Options window, Name the brush Halftone. Set the Width to Fixed and Brush Scale Options to Stretch to Fit Stroke Length. Click OK.

create a brush with the tile

Step 11   

To apply the brush on a path, select the Pen Tool (P) from the toolbar. Create a line on the artboard. Set the Stroke color to Black. 

On the Brushes panel, select the Halftone brush we created. 

using the pen tool draw a line and choose the pattern as a stroke

Step 12

You can control the size of the pattern by opening the Strokes panel. Go to Window > Strokes. On the Strokes panel, set the Stroke Weight to 0.75 pt. 

control the size by going to the stroke panel and changing the weight

Step 13

Let’s apply this halftone brush pattern to a circle. 

First, head to the Brushes panel and double-click on the halftone brush to change the settings. In the Art Brush Options window, set the Colorization Method to Hue Shift. 

change the method to hue shift to apply color to the pattern

Step 14

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create an ellipse on the artboard—any size is fine. Set the Fill color to 40% Cyan. 

Select the Brush Tool (B) from the toolbar. Draw a curve on the bottom left quadrant portion of the circle. 

Set the Stroke on the Strokes panel to 0.5 pt. Set the Stroke color to a darker cyan. Position the stroke on the ellipse. 

create an ellipse and a curve to create the illusion of shadow under the ellipse

Select the ellipse and press Shift-Command-] to bring the shape Forward. Select both the ellipse and the stroke and press Command-7 to Make a Clipping Mask. 

Select the ellipse again and set the Fill to 40% Cyan. 

This is great to add subtle shadows to your illustration.

create a clipping mask
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