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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

Separating Flesh Tones in Photoshop
For the majority of flesh tones, you can use the “sandwich” style of separating. The base of the separation (some would call this the “bread” of the image) is the medium tone, or largest area of color in the graphic. This color can be obtained by copying the flesh selection you created in the prep stage and saving this information into an Alpha Channel selection (see Figure 3). You can then edit this using the Curves menu to darken the midtone areas to define the main flesh color in your image.


The same copy that should still be on the clipboard can then be used to create the shadow areas by pasting it into a second Alpha Channel on top of the midtones. For this channel, edit out the highlights and midtones and save just the shadow areas. (This can be considered the “meat” of your separation because it creates most of the dimension in the image.)

The last two steps are the “condiments.” Create the darkest shadows using a thin black overlay, and then separate the white or lightest highlight areas, the elements that create the polish in the final design. (See Figure 4.)


After you have saved your three Alpha Channels – main flesh tone, shadows, and highlights – create a visual proof by putting the selected colors into the Channel Options menu and turning each Channel Eye on in Print Sequence to look at how the colors are stacking up. You may want to add a certain amount of pink or other colors if you need some blush on the cheeks or reflections of light.

The final step is to extract out 100-percent areas of each color from all the other colors in the graphic. Copy each skin tone channel; squeeze out the low and middle parts; make a selection from the densest, opaque areas; and extract it from the other channels. This will prevent too many colors mashing together in your skin tone areas.

The flesh tone separation steps:
1. Select just the flesh tone areas from your merged, prepared graphic. (To create a selection from an Alpha Channel, control-click or command-click on the image part of the channel in the Channel Docker dialog box.)


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