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Increasing Profit by Crunching Colors

(December 2007) posted on Mon Dec 10, 2007

This month, Trimingham describes how to reduce costs and presssetup time by determining the fewest number of colors required to produce a garment graphic.

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By Thomas Trimingham

A similar challenge with submitted photos and printed matter is artwork that is created by illustrators and graphic designers who are unfamiliar with the constraints of simulated-process screen printing. In these cases, the artwork that your art department receives is loaded with extra colors in an attempt to create a more rich illustration or layout. What they have really given you is a massive headache. You’ll have to reproduce all of these extra colors and fuss around with the art and seps in a long process of color matching, creating film positives, and making screen revisions. An example of such a piece is the lion image that was created for a martial arts competition (Figure 1). Upon casual inspection, the artwork appears to be relatively simple to separate—but zooming in on the lion quickly reveals a wide range of color variation that will surely play havoc with simple attempts to separate out a fair reproduction using the fewest number of screens. Instead of getting into the separation preferences and methods that would work best, it is a great idea at this point to crunch down the colors in the image to a simpler version.


Analyzing the image

Image analysis is not as technical as it sounds. The fascinating part of this process is how simple it is for the human brain to do it—yet no one has even come close to designing a software system that can imitate it. Take a careful look at the art and decide how many colors are necessary to recreate it. At the same time, it’s useful to squint your eyes at the design so it becomes slightly blurry so you can see which saturated colors (these are the colors that are deepest in hue) cannot be created with other colors in the design. These colors are typically primary or secondary in nature (red, blue, green, yellow, orange, or purple). Yes, it’s true you can make secondary colors out of primaries, but experienced printers know that highly saturated secondary colors are very difficult to effectively reproduce and tend to be unpredictable on press.


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