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Three Ways to Isolate Color

(February 2009) posted on Fri Feb 20, 2009

Determining the best way to separate images in Photoshop can be a challenging decision. This month, Trimingham narrows the playing field with three useful approaches to color separation.

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By Thomas Trimingham

The amazing thing about color separating is that you can mold the process to meet the needs of a specific style of image. Using the Curves menu in Adobe Photoshop and making some careful selections allows you to separate a design that has bold, highly saturated colors. And the Magic Wand tool may be all that’s necessary to grab the right spots in an image that has isolated areas of flatter colors.

Your approach to creating separations must be flexible. Strict adherence to a certain set of steps or a particular style of separating can lead to disappointment and final prints that look stagnant, especially when the method you choose doesn’t match the style of the artwork. Capturing the details in separations is all about the subtle, little touches involved near the end of the process.

Here we’ll look at the three most common ways to isolate a color for separation using the tools available in Photoshop. Even though the basic tools may appear clunky at times, they are truly essential when applying some advanced masking techniques. Using the magic wand, color range, and image mode are all ways that I like to pull colors. These tools and the methods I describe for using them will allow you to create functional separations with the least amount of final tweaking after the initial colors are isolated.

The Magic Wand tool

This tool is easily the most underrated in the Photoshop arsenal. The key to its mastery is in understanding the tolerance settings and using the wand in combination with layers and alpha channels. I’ll demonstrate how to use the Magic Wand with layers by isolating one of the guitars shown in (Figure 1).

Creating a selection using the Magic Wand tool on a complicated and blended graphic isn’t normally possible. In this case the guitar was on its own layer so the task was easier. The only drawback was that the outline of the guitar had a glow on it that affected the edge quality of the layer if I used a direct-selection technique. To get around this, I duplicated the layer and then created another white layer behind it and merged the two together. These layers were then desaturated and squeezed using the curves menu so that I could clearly isolate the guitar’s outline (Figure 2).


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