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Separating Fine Art for Screen Printing

(December 2008) posted on Fri Dec 05, 2008

Reproducing fine-art designs on garments requires some careful decision making about how the images are captured and separated.

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By Thomas Trimingham

A popular contention is that we should separate artwork in the least possible time to establish an acceptable level of reproduction. It’s possible, but we need to analyze the artwork first and consider the shirt color to determine the best solution. In the example image, the leopard is composed of muted earth tones in greens yellows and browns with few hot colors showing. The advantage is there are few saturated colors to worry about. The disadvantage in this case is that the image has a lot of blended watercolors in light tonal percentages, which can contribute to noticeable dot gain very easily.

The decision was a simple one after a careful review of the artwork. With so many earth tones, yellows, and greens, this design was a natural for a split four-color process. I use this method many times for watercolor designs because the split can help compensate for the lower tonal ranges and experiences far less dot gain over the course of the print run.


Split process separations

The steps for creating a split process design are surprisingly simple to execute. The difficult part is usually deciding that it is really necessary. A lot of printers don’t want to add colors unless they absolutely have to, so adding in an extra two or three screens to a four-color design is a tough sell. Instead, save the job using traditional four-color process and then redo it using a targeted split process. The results are particularly convincing when the runs are beyond a couple dozen shirts.

The first step to process separations was to examine the artwork and make sure the art was the best that it could be. I took the original scan and used the Eyedropper tool to determine a white point and then a black point (choosing the darkest and lightest areas on the screen). I then manually adjusted the image to accommodate the higher contrast. The next stage was to adjust the saturation of the colors and make sure that the image was color balanced. I checked to make sure the image wasn’t unbalanced by reading the black and white setting and looking at the gray values. Doing so would’ve indicated whether the scanner had put a color cast on the image. As it was, the retouched image was a lot better than the original scan (Figure 3).


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