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Exploring the Quad-Tone Zone

(October 2008) posted on Thu Oct 02, 2008

Trimingham looks at one of the more powerful separating options available in Adobe Photoshop.

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By Thomas Trimingham

What’s the real hang-up when it comes to producing separations? Those who say consistency are the ones who settle into a specific method that they feel will deliver the same result each time. But I believe it’s quality, because separations are so image-dependent that trying to force every image through one separation process is, in many cases, a guarantee of lower quality.

Introducing a new method of separating to artists who are set in their ways can yield mediocre results. They then determine that the method is inferior to the one they’ve always used. However, we all know that making a determination based on one test is premature. Realistically, a trained artist—one who is also experienced in printing—can innovatively use of a variety of separation methods to complement an image and deliver the best reproduction method for the design. Several approaches to separating garment graphics are at your disposal. This month, we’ll consider at one of the more powerful options available in Adobe Photoshop.


A look at quad-tones

A dogmatic, static approach to separations can limit the full potential of speed and efficiency when challenging graphics are due and time is short. Experimentation with new processes exposes new concepts and illustrates their weaknesses and strengths. Many times, what results from an experiment is an overall stronger method that is more flexible and efficient, even though it may appear to be similar to the original process. But small changes can add up over time and result in big improvements. For instance, a savings of 15 minutes per design in separation time adds up to hours every month.

The four standard methods of separating colors for garment screen printing are four-color process, simulated process, spot color, and index. Our discussion will focus on an alternative to these: the quad-tone. As is the case with the four common methods of separation, your decision to use quad-tone separation should depend on the image—its artistic style and design composition. The initial creation and setup time in Adobe Photoshop’s quad-tone mode might make this separation process seem intimidating at first, but once established, it can be a blazingly fast way to quickly knock out some simple separation sets.


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