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Three Fast Ways to Separate Designs in Photoshop

(March 2014) posted on Sat Mar 01, 2014

Use the tips presented here to streamline the way you separate color for all kinds of garment graphics.

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By Thomas Trimingham

Garment screen printers continue to feel increasing pressure from clients to turn jobs around in record time. While these demands aren't too tough to meet when the print runs involve one color, the heat is definitely on for shops that handle multicolor and process-color work. Time is of the essence, which means you need to be able to crank out good separations without delay—separations that are production-friendly and compatible with your entire workflow. This discussion focuses on three effective ways to do just that.

The methods described below are fast because they essentially do a big chunk of the work for you. They can make the difference between making or missing a deadline.

A little prep work goes a long way
Can you make the image more separation-friendly by breaking it up into colors? Herding color hues together—also known as color crunching—can take a bit of time up front, but it will pay off significantly when it comes time to separate the design. You'll see that the colors will flow much better into the proper channels that you have selected.

Color crunching can be as simple as corralling the hues that are similar in an image (Figure 1) and then using the Color Range tool in Adobe Photoshop to isolate those colors and save them in an extra alpha channel. Once you have this extra channel, you can add to it or adjust it to include or exclude areas of the image that you wish to color-combine. In the example shown in Figure 1, it was a matter of combining all of the warm and cool colors into red or blue hues so the graphic could be separated onto two screens instead of six.

Here, color-combining involved selecting from the alpha channel, creating an extra layer, and filling the new layer with the color from the selection. This layer was then color-merged using layer-blending modes to adjust it, all the while considering the original image underneath. The resulting layer was then bumped down in opacity so that it would blend well with the original image (Figure 2).


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