I was recently introduced to the screen-tone process. Here's a short video for reference. Why was this, and why is this still the prominent technique for coloring manga? What advantages do screen-tones have over grayscale fills?

To clarify, a fill is when an artist uses a solid color to completely color one area (with marker, paint, pencil, etc...).

  • I'm not familiar with the terminology - is a "grayscale fill" when you have a digital image and fill a region with a color (e.g. using the bucket tool)? Or is it a thing you can do purely with analog tools (pen, paper, ink, etc.)? If it's the former, I suspect the reason is basically that manga drawing has been a largely non-digital process since its inception, and the industry is slow to change.
    – senshin
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 20:43
  • I'd say it's for flexibility and artistic value. Screentones are not limited to adding shades of gray to an image, whereas a grayscale fill probably is (I'm only guessing based on the name, since I don't actually know what it is). Also, an image using truly grayscale tones looks quite different from one that uses screentones. You might as well ask: why are manga drawn by hand and not computer generated graphics? There are a number of manga with CG in it, and they're usually referred to as "cold". CG also tends to be less popular among fans.
    – Nolonar
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 20:48
  • Ah sorry. A fill, whether digital or not, denotes that an entire area is one shade. I've updated the question to specify the definition.
    – Bento
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 21:02

2 Answers 2


These are called Ben-Day dots. Depending on the size and spacing of the dots, you can create different shades using a single colour - or, with a limited colour palette you can produce different shades not available to you.

enter image description here

This is often used to save on printing costs, as you can get a wide range of shades/colours with a smaller usage of ink and no need for different levels of pressure.

Because manga is often a disposable medium, keeping costs low is often a priority for magazines and such to pull a profit - without increasing the prices for consumers.

You may see this in other non-manga print mediums as well - like free/low-cost newspapers: enter image description here

It has become associated with comics both East and West - so often shows will use it for artistic purposes as well.

enter image description here

Other screentones exists, like speed markings, shoujo sparkles and such - and simply, they are used because it is both easier and faster to get your desired effect.

As well as providing particular aesthetics, it ensures a colour is solidly evenly shaded, whereas when colouring manually it is easy to have uneven shades by angling or pressuring differently across an image.

  • 1
    Also note that making manga for big publishers is also a collaborative process, and shading can be delegated to less-skilled assistants. So it's best to use something that can produce consistent and acceptable results - screentone - without the risk of lost quality due to unskilled shading. Commented May 5, 2018 at 15:14

It's impractical to use a solid colour or shade of grey when printing manga and most other forms of printed media. Doing so would require using a separate ink to render each individual colour or shade. Instead most printing methods use a limited number of inks that are combined with the background and other inks using dots (other shapes) to render other colours and shades. For example a typical ink jet printer combines cyan, magenta, yellow and black dots to produce various colours, while the black and white pages of most manga use only black ink. Different shades of grey rendered are using techniques like hatching and screentones.

For example here's the cover of the first volume of the Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou tankoubon by Hitoshi Ashinano:

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou cover

While it looks like the letters of the title are a solid colour, if you look closely they're actually made up of different coloured dots:

Zoomed in detail of cover showing halftoning

The cover was probably produced by taking the original artwork, overlaying the title, and then using some sort of halftoning process to produce something that can be reproduced the publisher's colour printing presses.

Inside, the manga is in black and white, and the use of dots and hatching to represent areas in various shades of grey is more obvious. When the manga was originally published it was in the manga anthology Monthly Afternoon, probably on cheap coloured newsprint. The printing process here doesn't support the fine, almost impossible to see with the naked eye, halftoning used on the cover of the tankoubon volume.

B&W detail from inside the manga

You can see the shadows on the character's arms drawn using a hand drawn hatching, while screentones are used to shade her pants, her hair and the guard rail in the background. You can also see where hand drawn details were added to the screentoned clouds in the background.

If solid greyscale fills were used in these areas it would require using a separate ink for shade used. Separate printing plates would have to be produced for each shade, and the printing process would have to ensure that each was applied precisely on the page so they don't shift relative to each other. This would dramatically increase the cost of printing of what originally was a cheap disposable magazine.

Alternatively, the greyscale filled pages could be halftoned or digitally dithered in a fashion similar to the cover. This would allow a single plate with black ink to be used, keeping printing costs the same, but the result would look pretty crude. The dots can't be as fine as used on the cover. On cheap newsprint they'd just bleed together to make the entire page black. With larger dots, it would end up looking like a fuzzy low resolution image. It wouldn't be anywhere near as good what can be produced through the judicious use of screentones and hand drawn shading.

  • You're confusing halftoning for printing with screentoning. The principle's the same, but halftoning for printing colors (gray included) is a reproduction process (to make multiple copies) which the original artist has no control over (it's decided by the printer), while actively using screentone beforehand is a shading process which the artist has full control over (in choosing screen frequency and whatnot). Commented May 4, 2018 at 17:58
  • @Vun-HughVaw No, I'm using both terms correctly.
    – Ross Ridge
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 19:46
  • Not really. "The halftone pattern for the color" part is decided by the printer. No one their right mind literally paint in halftone. They paint in good old watercolor or whatever medium they're accustomed to. Therefore if you see color in halftone, it's reproduced - NOT the original. Compare this to screentone, which is added right from the START. Artists buy sheets of halftone-dotted screentone and apply them to the black and white drawings, so those halftone dots ARE original. Commented May 5, 2018 at 13:39
  • And who on earth prints using separate (gray, I suppose?) ink like you suggested anyway? I've heard there could be one more gray cartridge to use along with default black one, but it would be absolutely insane to print with a separate ink for every single shade of gray. Commented May 5, 2018 at 13:42
  • Think of it this way: for colored artworks - paint with whatever you like, the halftone patterns is none of your concern and completely irrelevant because it's what printers make (which is why there's no sense in including this part in your answer). For black and white artworks, use screentone sheets beforehand. Commented May 5, 2018 at 13:44

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