Everything You Need To Know About CMYK Color Separation

Everything You Need To Know About CMYK Color Separation
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  • Post published:Aug 11, 2022
  • Reading time:6 mins read

If you’re a veteran in the screen printing game, you’re well aware of what CMYK is and how color separation works. 

The art of separating each part of an image into different colors to then get screen printed onto a garment is as cool as it gets. 

This article will explain the process and why CMYK is the go-to format when it comes to color separation for screen printing garments.

  1. What is CMYK?
  2. What is color separation?
  3. Each color needs its own individual screen
  4. How to make a CMYK color separation in Photoshop
  5. How to make a spot color separation in Photoshop
  6.  CMYK color separation makes it possible to print any image on t-shirts

What is CMYK?

In screen printing, we separate colors into Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, known as CMYK. This is the standard for screen printing.

These colors were chosen because they’re the primary colors of pigments that can be mixed to create any other color on a palette.

The CMYK printing process uses a combination of dots of these four colors to achieve a full range of hues on paper; when you look at a printed piece you will notice some areas using only one ink (the black), others using two or three inks (cyan + magenta creating blue) and some using all four (yellow + magenta + cyan).

What is Color Separation?

If you are starting a new T-Shirt business and are trying to figure out what kind of artwork you need in order to get a quality print job, this article will cover the basics.

A quick refresher:

Color separation is a process that takes an image and separates it into different channels so that each individual channel can be printed as its own piece of artwork. Each channel is usually on a different layer within your file, but not always (more on that later).

When printing, CMYK refers to the four inks used when printing full color graphics; cyan, magenta, yellow and black. These ink colors combine for rich-looking images with deep blacks and vibrant reds—the reason CMYK is often used for logos or other images where color accuracy is important. 

RGB refers to the three primary colors used by computer monitors: red, green, blue —the reason RGB is often used for web graphics because they tend not need as much detail in comparison with those printed using CMYK.

Each Color Needs Its Own Individual Screen

By now, you’ve probably figured out that color separation is a pretty important part of the screen printing process. But what exactly does it mean?

In short, color separation refers to the process of breaking down an image into its component colors. This may sound complicated but if you think about it, this is really just another way of saying that each color needs its own individual screen. 

For example: If I wanted to print a shirt with a picture of my dog Lucy on it and use four different colored inks (red, green and yellow), I would have to create four separate screens—one for each ink color—and make sure they were aligned properly when printing them onto my white T-shirt substrate (the item being printed).

How to Make a CMYK Color Separation in Photoshop

If you’ve ever printed something from Photoshop, chances are it was done in CMYK color mode. 

In the digital world, we don’t have to worry about different types of fabrics or even consider ink costs. But we still have to think about how each color will affect an image when it’s printed using cyan, magenta and yellow inks instead of RGB colors.

How to Make a Spot Color Separation in Photoshop

The spot color tool in Photoshop is used to create a separate channel for printing a single ink on your garment. This allows you to use multiple colors in the same print job, if needed. Using this tool, you can add any color that is not CMYK or RGB.

To start, open up your image in Photoshop and convert it from RGB mode to CMYK mode with Edit > Convert To > CMYK Color Mode (CMD+Shift+Y). 

Next, choose the Spot Color Tool from under the tools menu (CMD/CTRL + Shift + P). Your cursor will change into a crosshair that looks like an eyedropper when clicked or dragged across an area of your image. 

You can then click one point on your image where you would like to add a spot color. This will create another layer above all others but below any layers with masks or effects applied within them so that they don’t get covered up by what’s underneath them later on down the line when exporting images out of Photoshop as PDFs or other formats like JPGs, etc. 

CMYK color separation makes it possible to print any image on your T-Shirts

CMYK color separation allows you to print any image on your t-shirts. 

These are four different inks used in the printing process so they can produce millions of colors without mixing other colors together.

The most popular use of this technique is adding color to black textiles (primarily T-Shirts), however it can also be used for other mediums such as posters or flyers etc.

In Conclusion

The best way to learn about color separation is by doing it! Like anything, learning the art of screen printing takes time. 

Color separation is very important when it comes to screen printing and we hope this article made understanding how it works easier. 

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below! 

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