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Index Color: The Fastest Proof-to-Print System?

(February 2008) posted on Wed Feb 06, 2008

Index separations are often avoided by those who fear being stuck with too many colors to print. This month, Trimingham debunks some myths about index color and explains how to use it as an effective tool in prepress.


By Tom Trimingham

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The index separation can be the fastest and truest proof-toprint system for screen printing. The benefits of index separations are numerous, but one of the biggest advantages to the index model is how simple it is to set up a job in vector software and then proof it and print it with an accurate result from the same file. An experienced separator who uses index well can separate most designs in less than 15 min, and the final set of files can be proofed and then printed with very close approximation because of the opacity and predictability of the inks.

If this sounds too good to be true, that’s because of all of the assumptions that are alive and well in the majority of screen-printing shops. When index separations are brought up in conversation, most screen printers immediately talk about how they make grainy looking prints or how an index job always takes 12 colors to work right. The truth is somewhere in between. Index separations do come with headaches, but the printers who really explore index dots and test them thoroughly most likely will regret not using them on a regular basis from the beginning.

It is true that some art will never look very good as an index print, but with proper modification, the majority of artwork works fantastic as index dots and uses surprisingly fewer colors than what printers typically assume. The biggest advantage to putting an index separation process in place at your shop is not necessarily the printing advantages, but the ability to lay out a design, customize it in vector software, and then print out color proofs and final separations from the same file. This means saving the entire step of creating a separation file, importing graphics, and double checking each separation plate for proper placement and accuracy.

Printers often find it difficult to imagine separating a high-end graphic in fewer than 15 min, placing it in CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator, customizing the type, and then printing out an accurate proof and final separations from the same file. This can call into question a lot of previous processes and why they were used in the first place.


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