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Three Fast Ways to Separate Designs in Photoshop

(March 2014) posted on Sat Mar 01, 2014

Use the tips presented here to streamline the way you separate color for all kinds of garment graphics.

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By Thomas Trimingham

Method one: Index separations
If you're provided an image that has an artistic look to it—particularly one that has a texture or rough style—then you can separate it quickly with an index color table in Photoshop. The index style of separation is fast and relatively simple, but it does have limitations.

To split up a design into an index separation, take your prepped source image (Figure 3) and then size it appropriately in Photoshop. For index printing, it is useful to know what size of dots you can print. The size of an index dot is the same as one pixel at the resolution of the original file. That means, for example, that a 180-dpi index dot is 1/180th of an inch (0.005 in.). If your stencil can hold the size of dot you specify, then the index separation will work perfectly for your final output on the screens.

Once you've sized the design and dialed in the appropriate resolution, you can change it to index color by using the Color Mode command in Photoshop. The index color table will appear on screen, and you will need to turn the preview off so that you can select colors from the design. The next step is to clear out the existing color table by selecting the lower-right square in the table, then clicking and dragging the mouse up to the upper-left square (it will show that all the colors in the table are selected), and then releasing the mouse click. The program will then ask you to select the first and last colors of the blend you have selected. You will just put in white for both to clear out the table.

You will then create your custom ink table by selecting one color at a time from the image until you have all of the colors you feel you will need. Don’t forget to select a white and a black as well. When you approve the color table, the design will then convert to the new indexed design using the colors that you selected. The initial result will likely be less than satisfactory. If that's the case, you can just undo the changes to the color table and then adjust the table with the colors that need to be changed or added.


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