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Simplifying Color Separations

(November 2015) posted on Tue Nov 24, 2015

These tried-and-true approaches to prepping artwork for print can make your process more manageable and repeatable.


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By Thomas Trimingham

Pulling colors from artwork so that they can be reproduced on screen-printed apparel doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, the whole process of breaking a design down into printable sections of color shouldn’t require years of experience, custom software, or intense mathematical formulas. The best way to separate a design for screen printing is often the simplest, keeping as much of the feel of the original design as possible in the final print.

Avoid trying to create extra colors using strange combinations of inks or applying semi-transparent overprints to detailed existing prints unless absolutely necessary. Over-involved or design-specific separation practices can be counterproductive to developing an easy-to-repeat process that will consistently produce good results without a lot of on-press headaches.



A good goal for a screen-printing production artist is to reproduce art in a way that a wide variety of press operators could handle and that customers would still be excited to receive. Developing a set of guidelines that plan out the separation method in advance will help you perform separation tasks quickly without losing control of quality. The guidelines should cover things like properly adjusting the artwork, defining color spaces, and pulling the positives for each color using an extraction method. Processing artwork using a defined set of steps can dramatically speed up your separation work without sacrificing detail or consistency.

A quick note: As with most rules that apply to artwork, my suggestions for simplifying separations will not work on every design. When you consider the tremendous variation of hues, color-saturation levels, value ranges, and image modes available, there will always be a small number of designs that will not fit any standardization process. The methods discussed below should provide a path that will allow you to separate a large percentage of designs with better results.


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