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How to Print the Ultimate Underbase

(February/March 2018) posted on Mon Mar 12, 2018

Though white is traditional, using other colors for your underbases can help you create incredible designs on dark garments.

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By Thomas Trimingham

When to Break the Rules
Knowing whether a design will look better, and/or print easier, with a color other than white as the underbase is challenging. Here are a few clues. This list is by no means all-inclusive, but it’s a good guideline for experimenting.
Consider an alternate color for your underbase when:

  1. The design has a consistent color cast over the majority of the image.
  2. The artwork has subtle, shadowy details that fade into the shirt and have a noticeable color.
  3. The design has very intricate details that scatter around the shirt like splatters, tiny lines, or dots.
  4. The artist or customer has requested a print that looks “vintage” or washed out and less bright.

Designs with a consistent color cast, such as a duotone photo taken at twilight, often benefit from an alternate underbase color. (See Figure 1, above.) The substitution can reduce the number of colors needed for the job by creating a tint across the entire image. It also eliminates any concerns about a white underbase showing through in areas of the image that have lighter overprint ink coverage. Another advantage is that a colored underbase will make the overprinted colors look more worn, which is preferable on a vintage-style design.

Separating a duotone image in Photoshop is easy. Here are the steps, which are specific to the use of a nonwhite underbase:

1. Create an Image Channel just below the RGB channels. Make it the same color as the shirt, name it “blue shirt,” and then make five Alpha Channels underneath it. These channels will be underbase blue-gray, blue, black, highlight white, and yellow gold. (See Figure 2, left.)

2. Next, duplicate the file, change the background to black, and convert it to L*a*b* color. Copy the Lightness Channel from the duplicate and then paste it into your original file as the “underbase channel.” (See Figure 3, right.)


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