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Prepping Artwork for Fast Separation

(October 2011) posted on Tue Oct 25, 2011

Rushing the separation process can lead to disaster in production. Find out how to determine which approach represents the best mix of quality and speed for your shop.


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By Thomas Trimingham

If your main goal is speed, the end result is rarely ideal for a consumer product. The extra speed you obtain when you fail to consider quality or waste is lost quickly when you have to redo part or all of a job. This mentality is the same when considering the separation method that you use to process an image for screen printing.

Raw speed in separation doesn’t guarantee quality on press. This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to script the separation process with preset commands in Adobe Photoshop. Each image that is presented for separation has its own ideal color palette, and some adjustments must be made to prep a file before pulling out the right colors. After that, you have to select the right separation methods for the specific image.



Speed is still important in separations, of course. The ability to separate an image in 15 minutes instead of two hours yields production time that can be allocated to other areas. Additionally, too few screen printers charge adequately—or at all—for the separation process, which makes any delays costly.
A fast separation set may not be completely successful on the press on the first setup. Experienced printers know spending a little more time on quality separations makes for higher success rate during production and less downtime. Separations that fail on press are very expensive, no matter how fast they were done. How can a printer have fast separations that are also very reliable the first time they are put on press?

The best way to decide which process is ideal for a specific screen printer is to review some designs with three different separation methods and compare them to their individual speed of execution, accuracy of reproduction, and rate of success on press.

To keep it simple, the three different methods of separating detailed artwork are simulated process, four-color process, and index color. Determining which method of separation produces the fastest set of quality screens depends on several factors: preferences in the production and art departments, image variables, equipment limitations, and separator skill.


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