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Exploring the Quad-Tone Zone

(October 2008) posted on Thu Oct 02, 2008

Trimingham looks at one of the more powerful separating options available in Adobe Photoshop.

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By Thomas Trimingham

Create a shirt channel above all of the alpha channels and below the image channels in the original design, and turn on all of the channels that you have copied and placed. This is the best way to determine whether you made a mistake or whether the image is too choppy. The final design should be 80-90% safe to send to film and screens with the channels placed in the proper print order (Figure 4).

Developing this method to suit your shop and making many sets of separations greatly reduces the time and effort required to separate designs that already have quad-tone formulas. Even if this approach isn’t right for your shop, practicing with this style of separation is bound to jump start a new level of learning about how to split images and utilize the strengths of the Curves menu to create colors for screen printing.

A final example shows how using curves to decorate a multicolor image can be achieved (Figure 5). The colors were all created using preset curves, and then, using saved quad-tones, they were quickly separated from the same formula sets to create a super fast method of colorizing and splitting into separations. You also can personalize quad-tone separating for specific design styles, types of art, and even certain images, such as footballs and flames.

Putting a plan together and dedicating time to testing is one of the most underrated and least used practices in screen printing. More often customer requests get the R&D wheels churning up to speed, and knowing that other clients may jump aboard from the effort certainly sweetens the deal. However, a spectacular printing effect makes more of an obvious splash than a crafty separation technique. Still, plenty of satisfaction can come from other areas: saving time in the art room and on press, saving effort in revisions, and, hopefully, creating a more experienced staff that can handle issues as they arise.

Failure is OK with your first attempt to complete a new type of separation. In fact, if it doesn’t work well at all, you can still learn a tremendous amount. Artists and printers typically learn a lot more from a failure than a success—as long as everyone stays constructive, objective, and the experiment doesn’t occur at the last minute. And even if everything works great, it doesn’t mean success will happen with every image. It’s just another step in the process of expanding the ways of dealing with images for garment screen printing.


Thomas Trimingham has worked in the screen-printing industry for more than 15 years as an artist, art director, industry consultant, and head of R&D for some of the nation's largest screen printers. He is an award-winning illustrator, designer, and author of more than 45 articles on graphics for screen printing. Trimingham can be reached through his Website,



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