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Separating Flesh Tones – Without the Horror

(October/November 2017) posted on Tue Oct 17, 2017

Transforming skin hues into printable graphics is a nightmare designers might shy away from, but with patience and the right preparation, it doesn’t have to be.

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By Thomas Trimingham

Preparing a Design with Flesh Tones
Your next steps will depend on the complexity of the graphic and any issues found in your review. If your design does have a level of color pollution, or it looks to have many different hues making up the flesh areas, an effective solution is to prep it for separation (see Figure 2). The best way to start is to create defined selections for all flesh areas in your image. In Photoshop, you can use the Magic Wand, Color Range, and Freehand or Lasso tools to create selections. As you make your selections, save them in the Channels Docker as Alpha Channels. It can be useful to name them “face,” “arms,” etc., for quick reference later.


Do not start separating the file without first creating some clean selections for your flesh areas. Although this takes more time up front, it will save a lot of time later on and prevent mistakes from making it all the way to the press. When in doubt, take the extra colors out.

The steps to prep the flesh-tone areas:
1. Define a selection area that includes only the flesh tones in the image. Save these areas as an Alpha Channel.

2. Make a copy of just those areas and save it as an extra layer on top of the original.

3. Use the Curves tool or the Colorize command to squeeze out excess colors and force all the flesh tones to use the same hue family.

4. Adjust the opacity of this modification layer if it is too harsh and blend it into the original by lowering the opacity so that the original colors come through slightly.

5. Create a new layer with everything merged together so you can start your separations from an all-inclusive layer.

Properly preparing your image will stave off the vast majority of separation issues that you will encounter when working with flesh tones. The real challenge is to edit your design without overdoing the color adjustment; skin should still include some color depth and dimension.


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