Simulated Process Color Separations Tutorial

with 2 Comments

Simulated process color separations seems to be one of those mysterious things people in the tee shirt business are scared of trying, but there’s no reason to be.

Of course, that’s not to say that there isn’t a learning curve. Fortunately, what I’ve found to be the case most often is that most people experienced in printing tee shirts have the knowledge needed to be able to do the seps. It’s simply a matter of learning how Photoshop translates some of the information you’re already aware of along with learning how to apply certain techniques in pulling color.

In this one, we’re going to take a look at simulated process separations using a couple different techniques for pulling color, like the tried and true select color range and the somewhat elusive HSB method. I’ll show you some simple ways to soften up your edges and achieve subtle gradations as well.

I’m going to explain my thought process on why I’m doing what I’m doing while taking you from start to finish of pretty much the entire process. I figured it would be best that way so everyone’s different ways of learning can be addressed. So, without further ado, let’s watch a video!

Simulated Process Color Separations Tutorial

TUTORIAL: Simulated Process Color Separations in Photoshop

Watch this video on YouTube.

Take Your Time

This is a learning process and these techniques will be able to help you get a jump start but take your time during the learning stages. Learn what the different tools in Photoshop can do in order to help you get smooth gradations and see how you can start to combine them in order to get to your final desired separation.

For those of you who know how some of the tools work in Photoshop, take your time while creating your separations. Remember that throughout the entire screen-printing process, the time spent in the computer is the most forgiving and least expensive. Soft soft soft…I cannot express that enough. The softer your edges, the better.

Simulated Process Color Separations Quick Reference Guide

1. Start by saving a working file and keep your original intact.
2. Check your resolution. 200dpi at final print size is fine.
3. Make sure to have your info palette open while separating to check ink coverage.
4. Make your tee channel and set it to 100% opacity.
5. Set your base channel opacity to emulate what your particular base is going to do once printed.
6. Try grabbing your base using an existing channel, then pull back the edges with a levels adjustment.
7. Remember, the base does not need to be 100% throughout.
8. Transfer your selected colors from your original image to your channels using the # value.
9. Soften up your edges between colors using a brightness contrast image adjustment.
10. Get rid of gradations under 5%-7% to avoid moiré.
11. Use a levels adjustment to get rid of lower value percentages.
12. Keep your coverage light. Remember, it’s easier to hit the screen twice; adjust your angle, slow your squeegee speed, etc., than it is to pull back an already heavy print.

Shortcut Keys Used in This Tutorial

1. Cmd+backspace to fill background color.
2. Opt+backspace to fill foreground color.
3. Shift+backspace to open fill dialog box.
4. Cmd+click on thumbnail in palette to get selection.
5. Cmd+D to deselect.
6. Cmd+Shift+I to invert a selection.
7. Cmd+Option+Shift+E to create a stamp.

Download the File Complete With My Seps

simulated-process-insert2Download the file complete with all of the layers and channels you’ve seen me create in this tutorial. Practice these same techniques and compare your results to what I’ve created here and of course, try to make yours better than mine! That’s how we get better at what we do, right?

Click here or click the image to the left to get your copy of the file. Feel free to print as many shirts as you’d like from the seps.


Ben Lindsey
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Creative Director- Rising Sun Graphics

Ben Lindsey is a 15-year veteran of the apparel and licensing industry. He continues to educate, consult and produce high-end color separations for clients around the globe.

Ben Lindsey
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2 Responses

  1. Fresh Screen Prints
    | Reply

    This is great! I’ve recently stumbled upon HSB or HWB and love seeing new inside material, that is both, reassuring and enlightening.

    • Ben Lindsey
      Ben Lindsey
      | Reply

      I’m glad you liked it! Color separations and simulated process can be daunting but they don’t need to be. Using these methods, I feel most people with a slight understanding of Photoshop can separate 75% of the images they may get into the shop on any given day.

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