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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

Here's a great trick. If you're getting a lot of extra colors that you don’t want selected through Color Range, just create a selection of a more intense color than what is shown in the design (change the color in the Color Selection panel's foreground box on the lower left of Photoshop's toolbar), save this selection, and use Curves on it to make it almost solid black and white. You can then click on it and make a pre-selection from your image and extract a color range from just those specific areas without drawing from other areas in the image. Doing this has saved me hours and hours of drawing painful selections using the Path tool.
When your channels are rebuilt and looking good, simply turn on all of the eyes on the channels in order and check to make sure your digital reconstruction of the image is as close to the original as possible. This also makes a great digital proofing process to test separations sent from outside artists, separation programs, or your own work before you send it to film, because it will clearly show whether the underbase is too big or whether the separations are muddy, fuzzy, or improperly blending.

Choosing the right technique
The type of image you wish to separate dictates the separation method you'll use. Taking into consideration the style of the artwork and how it was put together tends to yield better results. Work with the design; don't try to force it into a process for which it isn't suited.
Know each separation process's limitations ahead of time. For example, index-style dots have a grainy look at a bigger size; therefore, designs that have a texture or rough look to them are the best candidates for index separations. A quad-tone separation works best when the artwork has a certain color cast and it is all in the same color family. The color-range separation is the most versatile, but it sometimes has a hard time with details that are rendered in near-neutral colors and, as a result, tends to grab extra colors you don’t need.

The faster you can separate artwork—and do it well—the more profitable your art and pre-production department becomes. It is difficult to bill for separation time anymore, and a lot of companies chalk it up to the cost of doing screen printing. So, the faster you can do it, the faster the order can start making your shop some money.

Thomas Trimingham has worked in screen printing for more than 21 years as an industry consultant, freelance artist, and high-end separator. He is an award-winning illustrator, designer, and author of more than 110 articles on screen printing art and separations. For more information, visit



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