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This paper develops a distinctive class of color error diffusion algorithm, called hierarchical error diffusion (HED). It aims to achieve perceptually pleasing color halftone through neither conventional joint quantization nor interchannel error diffusion. Instead, it explicitly controls three critical factors sequentially to yield high-quality color halftone: dot-overlapping control, dot-positioning control, and dot-coloring control. A specific implementation of HED is presented with the objective of minimum brightness variation rendering (MBVR). First, an optimal color transform is derived for dot-overlapping control to achieve minimum brightness variation color density (MBVCD). Then, the embedded monochrome error diffusion is employed in dot-positioning control. By sequentially thresholding the elements in partial density sum vector, better dot-positioning is encouraged for more visible color dots. The ldquoblue noiserdquo characteristics of dot-positioning from the monochrome error diffusion are inherited by the color halftone. The simple density priority strategy is applied in dot-coloring control. The pixel color error is diffused channel-independently with a single error filter in halftone dot color space. A comparison with the state-of-the-art color error diffusion algorithms demonstrates excellent halftone quality of HED, while without the typical artifacts of vector error diffusion. Evidence also shows that HED is closer to achieve MBVR than the minimum brightness variation quantization (MBVQ) color diffusion algorithm proposed in.