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The Search for the Supreme Separation Method

(August 2007) posted on Mon Aug 20, 2007

Explore common color-separation techniques, the ideal situations in which to use each one, and how to combine the methods for optimum results on press.

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By Tom Trimingham

Some art can be executed as spot color, while other designs really need to be separated into halftones. Often it is simply a matter of not having enough available heads on a press that pushes a design job to the next level. I’d be willing to bet that some printers would rather set up for a 20-color print than work with four-color process, but press limitations force them to consider it and other options.

Companies that print mostly spot-color designs tend to develop an affinity for artwork that is vector-based and utilize software to accommodate this preference (e.g., CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator). Printers who work with bitmapped images and more complicated methods of separation may develop a negative attitude about spot-color printers. I like to remind those who get too high-tech to take a second look at the spot-color prints and take a particularly close look at the profit margin on those boring spot jobs. It doesn’t take an engineer to figure out that companies that get more simple spot-color work tend to be very profitable because these types of jobs are quick and easy to produce.

Printers should always consider how they can push up the percentage of spot-color printing to help offset some of the less profitable and more challenging work. Some printers I’ve worked with have redefined their catalogs and even recreated preprint lines to include more spot-color designs (particularly name drops) to make production far more profitable.


Four-color-process separations

Many garment printers frown upon this method of separation and printing because all of the variables must be controlled to achieve consistent results. I have received some seriously dirty looks when suggesting this method as a solution. I think that the issue is more about the fear of the unknown than anything completely logical.

Four-color-process separations use the printing method of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK) broken up into small dots that reproduce a wide array of colors by visually blending these colors to create other hues. Most commercial printing on paper and for magazines uses a variation of process printing to reproduce colors. Screen printing four-color process is more of a hassle because garments and screen mesh can contribute to visual inconsistencies in color and clarity.


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