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Making Photos Friendly for Simulated Process

(May 2007) posted on Wed May 23, 2007

Four-color-process printing can be a real challenge, and it only gets tougher when the job involves photographic reproduction. Learn about methods you can use to incorporate photos into your garment designs, boost their color, and enhance their edge definition.

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By Thomas Trimingham

Many garment screen printers consider consistent success with photographic reproduction to be the highest level of accomplishment. One of the reasons that printers cringe when a photo is involved with the artwork is that the human brain has an amazing ability to recognize tiny shifts in color and image correction. If the photo has recognizable colors in it--or what some people call memory colors, like flesh, wood, or metal--a very small shift in hue can make the whole design look wrong. The people in a design may look like they have high blood pressure or liver disease (magenta or yellow shift) or a wood table may look like it's in the freezer (cyan shift).

The difficulty in reproducing memory colors is that we often don’t have all of the variables under control from the printing end, and our inks seem to take on a life of their own. When you say the term four-color process in a room full of garment printers, you’ll usually see the room clear out quickly. Most avoid the process because it comes with wide array of variables that can cause problems during a typical press run. Even the most experienced printers who have a knack for four-color work still admit that before they earned their stripes, they were struggling to control the variables and achieve consistency.

Converting a photograph into a simulated-process print is an effective way to control the variables. The methods used to convert a photo into a simulated design are somewhat image specific, but they apply to many styles of photos. Controlling the color in a photo for simulated-process output involves preparing the image, adjusting the edge quality, and then extracting the colors.

Image preparation
The example in Figure 1 shows a simple black-and-white photo to which I had to add color. In a sense, this is the exact opposite of what you might typically do to prep a full-color photo for screen printing. We’re always talking about limiting the number of colors in an image, not adding more. But this method of colorizing an image does show how to create color in a section of an image without adding a lot of unnecessary colors.


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