Ed #3 Stochastic / Conventional

What’s the Frequency?

Stochastic printing (also known as Staccato®, Diamond™ and other trade names or, more generically, FM screening) takes an entirely different approach. Instead of changing, or modulating, the amplitude of the dot as in conventional AM printing, the second order stochastic printing that is being adopted today modulates both the size of the dots and how many dots appear, or their frequency (hence, FM screening). And rather than being equally spaced in a rigid pattern, the new dots, which are smaller than even the smallest traditional halftone dot, vary according to the tone value to be reproduced. Lighter portions of the image have relatively few dots, and darker areas have more dots that can begin to form into tiny wormlike shapes or clumps of color.

How small are the dots? Almost as small as the odds of having your boss give you an extra two weeks of vacation. Conventional screens are measured in dots (or lines) per inch, with a 200-line screen generally considered to be the maximum that is commercially feasible. But with FM screens, dot size is no longer limited by the halftone screen—because there isn’t one. Stochastic dots are measured in microns—or millionths of a meter. The period at the end of a sentence, typically about 1/64 of an inch, equals 615 microns. Stochastic dots, which are sometimes square in shape, can be as small as 10 microns. The 20-micron dots that are used most often are barely visible to the naked eye—roughly the same size as a mold spore.

The dots are not only small—they are virtually random. Highly developed software programs use complex algorithms to place the dots more or less often as required in order to reproduce the image with no determinable pattern—and no rigidly patterned screens. It’s this appearance of randomness that gives stochastic printing its name. (“Stochastic” is the mathematical term for having to do with random variables patterned by probability or chance.)

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