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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

The last step was to split the process channels. I used the yellow and magenta channels for the leopard image. The cyan and black channels didn’t have enough midtone areas to justify this step so those were left as original. I split the process channels by making a duplicate file of both the yellow and the magenta, and then I curved out the top 50-100% of the yellow channel and bumped up the 30-40% and made that the darkest black in the channel (Figure 5). This step accomplished two things. The new yellow channel, when printed with a split ink (50% process yellow, 50% finesse) would maintain great tonal range in the lower highlights without gaining too much and squeezing out the soft watercolor look. The second is that it would allow for far more ink coverage, which helps to mat down shirt fibers so that the final image doesn’t fade in those soft areas as dramatically when washed.

The original channels that are split to form the lighter versions need to have the lower 40-0% curved out. This allows the lighter, more transparent ink to replace the original process ink in those areas. In the example the original yellow and magenta channels needed to have the low mid tones curved out and then replaced by the extra screens with lighter inks.

I repeated these steps with the magenta channel so that the final print had a print order and screens as follows: white, flash, split yellow, yellow, cyan, split magenta, magenta, highlight white, flash, black. The highlight white is a great idea on shirts with split process as well, because it helps to visually trick the eye into seeing all of the colors as being brighter, and it can help cap some of the highlight dot gain too. Screen mesh was 190 threads/in. for underbase and highlight, 305 threads/in. for top colors—all set at 57 lines/in. and offset by 22.5° from one another. Squeegees were hard 70/90/70 blades, and screen tension was an average of 28 N/cm.

Using this method of separation for a selection of fine-art watercolors simplifies the separation process for other designs because we can follow the same steps (Figure 6). Most importantly, keeping good records of the process makes the separation of the next piece of fine art for garment printing that much easier to complete.


Suggestions for Capturing and Separating Fine Art

Oil paintings and oil pastels with heavy brushstrokes These are best captured by shooting the art with a camera for a transparency with carefully balanced light to keep off excessive shadows. These images are best reproduced using traditional halftone dots and simulated or extended process color.

Watercolor paintings and pen with watercolor accents Most watercolors have a light tonal range as a prominent element in the imagery, so they tend to rely heavily on the 0-40% range to create the detail and softness. A careful flatbed scan or high-res drum scan is the best way to capture this type of art. Split process is typically the best method of reproduction for a majority of these works.

Graphite, colored pencil, pastel, charcoal This style of art recently made a huge resurgence, in part from the popularity of the il-lustrations for books like the “Harry Potter” novels. The specific characteristic of these images is that they use texture to create a moderately rough tone to the whole image. These styles of illustrations are best captured by direct scan into the computer using a high-resolution scanner or a high-quality transparency photo. As stated previously, the index dot is an effective choice at recreating the feel of the grainy image in these styles of drawings.

Airbrushing or smooth illustration Good photography is usually the best answer for capturing these images, which include some acrylic paint styles that are super realistic, into the computer. The incredible softness and detail of these images typically require a modified process color with added spot colors for effective reproduction. Simulated process sometimes works on images that have very limited color palette. All separations of air-brushed art usually require a traditional halftone dot that shrinks in size, depending on the percentage of the halftone.


Thomas Trimingham has worked in the screen-printing industry for more than 15 years as an artist, art director, industry consultant, and head of R&D for some of the nation's largest screen printers. He is an award-winning illustrator, designer, and author of more than 45 articles on graphics for screen printing. Trimingham can be reached through his Website,







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