How T-shirt Art Is Separated for Screen Printing.

Write By: Scott McDougal Published In: Technology Created Date: 2014-08-08 Hits: 1759

A rundown on how art gets separated into individual colors to be printed on tees.

    So how does art get onto a t-shirt anyway?  Magic of course!  Computer magic.   Aside from the latest generation of Direct To Garment (DTG) digital printing, which uses a inkjet technology, art must make it's way onto stretched mesh screens and then printed using  good ole fashioned squeegees , with good ole fashioned inks.
     Most traditionally screen printed jobs have art that's considered spot color.  Spot colors are are colors that for the most part have solid edges and solid fills.  This t shirt created for PersnickeTEES, is a spot color job.  See how the print colors are solid fills and hard edges.  Look around you the next time you are out and about.   Spot colors make up the largest majority of custom printed tees out there.   
     In order for spot color art to make it onto the t-shirt, we need to separate each color and output them to a film positive.  Take that positive and apply it to a screen with a photo sensitive emulsion, which is washed out with water, creating empty capilaries that we can pass ink through, onto the shirt.  Easy huh?
     The point here however is to find out just how we seperate those colors.     When I first started, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.  We did this manually.   Within Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator, t shirt designs would be duplicated as many times as there were colors and then the recolored to be black and white versions of the original.  Each color, needing it's own black and white version, the black representing the color that would be printed, and the white being everything else.  Creating a film positive for the color.
     As time went by, art departments began to use Photoshop to separate colors within the channels palette.  Essentially doing the same thing, choosing a color and creating a black version of it.  
     Were there's a need, there's an opportunity.  Within the vector world of Corel Draw, vector spot color separation macros appeared.  Most notably, VectorSeps and Simple Seps.  Both run from within Corel Draw and have color separating automation.  So much time is saved over doing the job manually, that the products pay for themselves.  Worth metioning too is that the automation removes human error from the process.   
     A large majority of my screen printing jobs are ultimately seperated in Photoshop.  Having worked with thousands of sets of screen printing separations, I've never felt a seamless and efficient as I do working within the channels palette.  The latitude for creating and manipulating bases is such a powerful tool there.  Let's stick to the automation of spot colors though, much, much more can be said about the power of separating complex jobs from within photoshop and much more WILL be said :)
     I want to take a quick look at a set of scripts from Rising Sun Graphics.  These scripts run from within the actions palette and make spot color t-shirt seperations quick and easy.  The Mac version has an intuitive interface, but the Windows version does not as of yet.  Although, the scripts are still there and function in a very effective way, saving time and money.  Take a look at Ben Lindsey's great contribution to spot color seps, Spot Shot.

     What does the future hold for automated t-shirt separations?  Time will tell.  For now though, this screen printer highly recommends adding a few automated tools to your workflow.  If you would like to suggest or add any programs that you find worthy of mentioning, please do so.



T-Shirt Design & T-Shirt Printing in Nashville, Hendersonville, Gallatin, Franklin, Brentwood,, Smyrna, Murfreesboro, Portland, White House, Mount Juliet, Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville and shipping to anywhere in world.


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