The Illusion Of Benday Dots

Benday Dots, a printing process named after illustrator and printer Benjamin Day, is similar to Pointillism. Depending on the effect, color and optical illusion needed, small colored dots are closely-spaced, widely-spaced or overlapping. Magenta dots, for example, are widely-spaced to create pink. In the 1950s and 1960s pulp comic books used Benday dots in the four process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) to inexpensively create shading and secondary colors such as green, purple, orange and flesh tones.

Benday Dots 1

Benday dots differ from halftone dots in that the Benday dots are always of equal size and distribution in a specific area. To apply the dots to a drawing the artist would purchase transparent overlay sheets from a supplier. The sheets were available in a wide variety of dot size and distribution, which gave the artist a range of tones to use in the work. The overlay material was cut in the shapes of the tonal areas desired– i.e. shadow or background or surface treatment and rubbed onto the specific areas of the drawing with a burnisher. When photographically reproduced as a line cut for letterpress printing, the areas of Benday overlay provided tonal shading to the printing plate.

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Benday dots were used extensively by American artist Roy Lichtenstein, who enlarged and exaggerated them in many of his  paintings and sculptures especially his interpretations of contemporary comic book and magazine images. He is famous for his comic book images and Benday dot patterns, which many consider the most enduring of all pop art imagery. Over more than four decades, he explored every printmaking medium, producing more than 300 print editions.

Lichtenstein Benday Painting

M-Maybe 1965 by Roy Lichtenstein

Other artists, illustrators and graphic designers have used enlarged Benday dots in print media for a similar effect. On a more contemporary basis, there seems to be a trend among artists and designers in reviving the Benday dots as well as half-tone screens. Perhaps this is the natural reaction of the artist in response to the precision and cleanliness of the digital image.

Benday Dots 3

Author: The Artist

Artist, Designer & Photographer