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How to Make Stock Art Sizzle

(January 2007) posted on Mon Jan 15, 2007

Transform clip art from amateurish images into amazing garment graphics.

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By Thomas Trimingham

A rule that I like to follow when working with custom halftones is to primarily overlap organized patterns with random patterns. This overlap eliminates most issues with frequency and/or clumping of pieces. In some cases, if the pattern is large enough, I can clearly see any potential problems with the final print on the computer display. Overlapping the positives is another way to check for moiré in the print. Moiré can sneak up on you if you have grayscale gradients in a design that fall behind a custom pattern in the art. You won't see the halftone overlap in these areas on screen, but the printer's RIP will generate it on the positives.

Resolving issues with resolution, edge quality, and custom-image overlap that may cause moiré in the final print can be challenging to figure out at first. That's why I like to work at higher resolutions and create files that have no halftone patterns produced by the RIP when I have a graphic created with a lot of custom halftones in Photoshop. True, the image file can get huge in a hurry when created at actual size and with a lot of layers. But due to the nature of screen printing, poor edge quality on a halftone pattern may not even be apparent unless closely inspected.

I made separating the tattoo art for printing a far simpler task by first converting the skull into an index separation. The reason that this worked so well was that the original design came from clip art and already had nicely defined areas with minimal blending. I converted just the skull on a duplicate RGB file and made a custom Color Table (>Image>Mode>Index Color>Color Table>Custom) of four shades of gray (Figure 5). I then copied the converted file and pasted it back into the original file as an additional layer. Next, I used the Color Range tool for all of the major separating work because it could easily select areas within the indexed skull that I could then save as different channels. Finally, I built the white underbase by duplicating the selection of the white, red, light gray, and medium gray channels and then contracting this selection by a pixel so that it undercut the top colors.

As you can see, custom-halftone graphics can breathe new life into boring clip art (Figure 6). All it takes is some careful manipulation and testing to make an exciting and original illustration that is surprisingly simple to separate and print.


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