Color Separating Grayscale Images

featured color separating grayscale images

Color separating grayscale images can elude some but I find it to be one of the coolest looking things you can do on a tee shirt.

grayscale color separations

Grayscale color separations printed by Spreeprint in Berlin, Germany


I remember when I first started creating color separations and saw my first really cool “black and white” print. I thought, “Man, that looks awesome!”

The dots were perfect and the transitions were actually better than some I’ve seen on posters. The only problem was, I didn’t know how to do it…but I wanted to!

I took that shirt and studied it, watched how it was being printed. After a lot of practice and insight, I eventually broke down how the seps were done.

Even to this day though, color separating grayscale images and printing them still gets me excited.

Quick Tips For Color Separating Grayscale Images

There are a million ways to skin a cat but only a few that I know of that help create good grayscale color separations.

Take advantage of the tee color and the fact that plastisol (and even water based and discharge) grays are perfectly suited for this kind of print.

Of course, there is a lot more that goes into color separating than digesting some tips. You should at least be semi-familiar with the process for the following to make any sense.

Use 3 grays

I normally employ a dark gray, a medium gray for the mid-tones and a light gray.

The dark gray helps everything fall off onto the tee very nicely. The medium gray usually makes up the bulk of the ink. But, this depends on the image. The light gray is for the lightest areas that many would try to print white in.

I print a highlight white sparingly and only where I really need the image to pop. DO NOT use the highlight white to lighten up areas. Your lightest gray should do that for you.

grayscale tiger

Grayscale tiger created using 3 grays for Anatol ISS Long Beach showing

Separating like this will give you a ton of options to make changes on press. This is what I call Power on Press.

Print the image dark to light

Since the shirt absorbs ink when it’s printed, we can get away with using the dark gray as a base for the medium gray above it.

The same is true for the medium gray being able to act as a bed for the light gray to sit on top of. Just don’t get carried away with your coverage here.

Use your base effectively

Using your base effectively on any image makes the difference between a decent print and a bad ass print. This is doubly true for a grayscale print.

Avoid basing the dark gray ink and only take it to 100% underneath parts of the image that are pure white. Again, always keep in mind how opaque the grays are. We don’t need such a strong base underneath them.

Keep your coverage below 100%

This may scare some of you but keep your ink coverage below 100%. Always keep gain in mind as well.

Remember, we’re printing with grays here and they’re very opaque. We don’t need anything over 100% after we’ve factored in the gain.

That means that in the seps file, your maximum coverage would be around 85-90% of ink. This will also help you keep the print soft.

I hope these tips perhaps confirm what some of you may have been thinking already about color separating grayscale images. If you want more insight, check out this video tutorial on how I sep grayscale images.

Got some tips of your own? Dont’ be afraid to share them in the comments section below! We’re all learning every day, regardless of how long we’ve been doing this.

Comments 2

    1. Post

      Thanks, Geoff!

      I tend to stay within two different PMS ranges when printing grays. For the majority of the stuff I do, I use 432/433 for my dark gray, a 430 for my medium and depending on how light the light gray needs to be, I use 427/428 (sometimes adding a little white if necessary). I normally stay within this range of grays when doing standard grayscale stuff, like this Anatol tee.

      For the sort of dingy, yellow type of grays, I tend to call out 420-426 using the same dark/medium/light separation technique.

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