Dot Gain in Screen Printing: A Comprehensive Guide

Midtone dot gain is a phenomenon that occurs in screen printing when the printed image appears darker than the original artwork due to an increase in the size of the halftone dots during the printing process. This can lead to color shifts and a loss of detail in the printed image, and it is something that screen printers need to be aware of in order to achieve the desired results.

In this article, we will take a deep dive into midtone halftone dot growth, including its causes, how it can be prevented or minimized, and how it can be compensated for in the printing process.

What is Midtone Dot Gain?

In screen printing, halftone dots are used to reproduce continuous-tone images, such as photographs, on a printing press. Halftone dots are created by breaking up an image into a series of small dots of varying sizes and spacing, with larger dots representing darker areas and smaller dots representing lighter areas. When these dots are printed, they blend together to create the illusion of a continuous-tone image.

However, during the printing process, the halftone dots can sometimes expand in size, resulting in an increase in the overall dot area. This is known as dot gain, and it can cause the printed image to appear darker and less detailed than the original artwork.

Midtone ink spread specifically refers to an increase in the size of the halftone dots in the midtones, or middle values, of an image. These midtones are typically represented by halftone dots that are around 50% to 75% of the size of the maximum dot size. When midtone dot gain occurs, these dots become larger, resulting in a darker overall appearance of the printed image.

It’s important to note that dot spread can also occur in the highlights and shadows of an image, but midtone dot spread is the most common and can have the most significant impact on the overall appearance of the printed image.

Causes of Midtone Dot Gain

There are several factors that can contribute to midtone dot enlargement, including the type of printing press being used, the ink and printing substrate, and the printing conditions.

One common cause of midtone dot enlargement is the pressure applied by the printing press. If the press is applied too much pressure, it can cause the halftone dots to spread out and become larger. This is especially true with presses that use a cylinder to apply pressure, as the cylinder can exert more force on the dots in the center of the image compared to the edges.

The ink and printing substrate can also affect midtone tone shift. Some inks have a higher viscosity, or thickness, which can cause the halftone dots to spread out and become larger during the printing process. Similarly, some printing substrates, such as fabrics, have a more porous surface that can absorb more ink, leading to an increase in the size of the halftone dots.

Finally, the printing conditions, such as temperature and humidity, can also impact midtone tone shift. If the temperature is too high or the humidity is too low, the ink can dry too quickly, causing the halftone dots to spread out and become larger.

Preventing and Minimizing Midtone Dot Gain

Fortunately, there are steps that screen printers can take to prevent or minimize midtone tone value increase. Here are a few strategies to try:

  • Use a printing press with adjustable pressure: By using a printing press with adjustable pressure, screen printers can fine-tune the amount of force applied to the printing substrate, helping to prevent midtone tone value increase.

  • Use low-viscosity inks: Inks with lower viscosity are less likely to spread out and cause midtone dot spread.

  • Choose the right printing substrate: Some printing substrates, such as paper, are less prone to midtone dot spread than others. Experimenting with different substrates can help screen printers find the best

  • Use the right mesh count: The mesh count, or number of threads per inch, of the screen, can also affect midtone halftone dot growth. A higher mesh count will result in smaller halftone dots, which can help prevent midtone halftone dot growth. However, it’s important to find the right balance, as a mesh count that is too high can result in poor ink flow and a loss of detail in the printed image.

  • Optimize the print stroke: The print stroke, or the movement of the screen during the printing process, can also impact midtone gradation increase. A slow, steady print stroke can help prevent the halftone dots from spreading out and becoming larger.

  • Use the right ink-to-substrate ratio: Applying too much ink to the printing substrate can cause the halftone dots to spread out and become larger. On the other hand, applying too little ink can result in a weak, washed-out image. It’s important to find the right balance and apply just the right amount of ink to the substrate to prevent midtone gradation increase.

Compensating for Midtone Dot Gain

In some cases, it may not be possible to completely prevent midtone dot enlargement. In these situations, screen printers can compensate for midtone dot enlargement in the printing process to achieve the desired results.

One common method is to use a dot enlargement curve, which is a chart that shows the relationship between the size of the halftone dots in the original artwork and the size of the dots in the printed image. By comparing the original artwork to the printed image, screen printers can determine the amount of tone shift that has occurred and adjust the halftone dots accordingly.

Another option is to use a software tool that can automatically compensate for tone shift in the printing process. These tools typically work by analyzing the printed image and adjusting the halftone dots in the original artwork to account for the tone shift.


Midtone dot spread is a common problem in screen printing that can lead to color shifts and a loss of detail in the printed image. By understanding the causes of midtone dot spread and implementing strategies to prevent or minimize it, screen printers can achieve better results and produce high-quality printed images. And when prevention isn’t possible, compensating for tone shift through the use of a tone shift curve or software tool can help ensure that the printed image matches the original artwork as closely as possible.


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