I am preparing a textbook for use at my school. Eventually, I might hand-draw all of the illustrations, but in the meantime, I will use photographs. Some of these photographs will fill 1/3 of the page. To save as much money as possible, I will use the campus print center to make copies of the book. They have black and white photocopy machines. Unfortunately, the print center claims that it is very difficult to photocopy photographs. They demonstrated this with a page and showed that the photos were almost entirely illegible, and the process used too much ink.

  • How can I prepare all of my photographs, such that they will still have a consistent and legible appearance when photocopied?
  • I have found that lithographs, such as this illustration of Wimel Poort will photocopy just fine and they still retain a lot of detail. Is there some way to prepare the photograph to have a similar texture?
  • Are you actually getting multiple prints from a photocopier/printer, or making one print and photocopying that?
    – e100
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 17:09

4 Answers 4


What they say is true for photographs, which are continuous tone (have no dots (they actually do, but the are nearly molecular in size)).

HOWEVER: if you are printing a photograph on a laser printer first, and then photocopying that, you will be copying a dot pattern. Dots are a subset of lines or "line art" which xerox machines handle well.

You should experiment a little by adjusting the contrast of the photos before printing them out and xeroxing them.

I had a job recently where the client needed to print an addendum using provided ad materials. We experimented by printing one straight and one where the ad was converted to halftones first. The straight print looked better when printed using their laser printer and xeroxed using their photocopier.

If your laser printer's dot pattern is too fine, check the printer properties for anything where you can lower it (like from 1200dpi to 600).


You could use Photoshop to convert photos to greyscale then use a plug in such as Flaming Pear's India Ink or AlphaPlugin's Engraver

  • Filter→Sketch→Halftone pattern... works pretty okey-dokey on greyscale too; both scanline and dot patterns photocopy well. Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 1:08
  • as will Photocopy or Find Edges then desaturate :) There are several ways. But if you want the scratchboard effect, nothing beats the two plug ins I linked to :)
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 1:10

It's a matter of contrast. If you can use images that are at a high contrast (and ideally where the majority of the image is at the lighter end of the scale for the sake of conserving ink) they should reproduce relatively accurately. Problems mainly crop up when the contrast values in a colour image are all close to each other, turning everything into an illegible mess of ink.


Are you sure you need to actually photocopy them? Nearly every print shop can print to the same machines rather than do analog copies.

If you HAVE to photocopy, print the originals with a low line screen. This will give you a coarser halftone that will be easier for the copier to pick up.

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