Achieving the look with image, ink and an optical illusion


Home and Garden Packaging Design

How do you print pictures on packaging when you only have one colour and a simple ‘stamping’ style print process? The solution starts in the photographers studio and finishes with an optical illusion. This article shows how the effect was achieved and explains (without too much technicality) why it was an important design solution.

What’s all the fuss about?

(This section contains all the technical stuff.)

Everything we see printed on paper and displayed on a computer screen is made up of tiny coloured dots that, from a distance, merge to form the illusion of a picture. To get a sharp and detailed picture requires very small dots and they need to be squeezed in very tightly next to each other. This is referred to as DPI (dots per inch) and the basic rule is the higher the DPI, the sharper the picture.

Designers deal with DPI a lot. Standard computer screens are 72dpi with three colours (Red, Green and Blue) whilst the standard print process is around 300dpi with four colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black). Generally this is true for most projects, however, there are times when we have to work with different DPI and that can create a number of creative challenges.

This Packaging Range

(This section onwards contains a lot less technical stuff.)

With this range of packaging the quality of the printable image was going to be a creative challenge. The boxes were to be printed with only one colour ink (only black, with no ability to achieve grey tones) and with a basic print process only capable of a small DPI. You can think of the process as a mechanical potato print which works well with text and lines – it is big, fast, relatively cheap and that makes it ideally suited to this type of packaging.

The problem was this, we had lots of products and each product had a name and a description that really didn’t help the customer understand what on earth was in the box. The solution was, of course, to show a picture but the problem was the print process.

How the problem was solved.

The solution was to apply a big dot effect called a Halftone – it is the process newspapers once used to show photography. However, the quality we could achieve was a lot lower than that of an old newspaper. We had to make our dots really big but still try and keep the image recognisable.

How to do it.

First we took a strongly lit black and white photograph of each product.
The lighting contrast created strong differences between the light and dark areas which would translate well into one colour black (printed) and white (not printed) areas.

High contrast black and white image

Once we had finished the studio photography we needed to process the images and apply the effects before we could add the artwork to the packaging. The first process was to clean the image of noise which, if left in, would make the big dot process really messy.

Reduced noise image

Once cleaned up the images were ready to have the Halftone effect applied. There are many pieces of software that can apply this effect including Photoshop. The key is to get the DPI settings just right.

Haltone Screen Image

This is what the Halftone process does to an image. For this article the dots have been given a really wide spacing to demonstrate the look. If we placed the actual images in here and scaled them down then the computer screen would, in effect, do what the human eye does in reality and make the dots appear to be a black and white photo.

Once all the images had been processed they could be added to the packaging templates in a production ready format. In this case all were processed and converted to a vector format.

Vector halftone printed on packaging

Here is the original photo, cleaned and processed on the pack. The effect is distorted slightly by the computer screen but you can still clearly see what the product looks like. Whilst the final effect is not a pin sharp image, it is still a tremendous help for the customer and the print production process remains cost effective for the client.

If you haven’t seen what the finished product looks like yet, take a look at the packaging in the portfolio by clicking here >