How to Separate Colors for Screen Printing in Photoshop

Without question, screen printing is the most popular technique for designing clothing but, screen printers can only print one color at a time, in contrast to other techniques like direct-to-garment printing and sublimation printing.

Therefore, screen printers must be able to separate each color within the artwork in order to print them separately in order to print artwork that contains more than one color.

You might come across this if you are a designer, and Photoshop is very helpful in assisting us with separate colors. 

My name is Aly, I am Adobe Photoshop certified and will be showing you how you can separate colors for screen printing in Adobe Photoshop. 

Key Takeaways

  • CMYK is the color mode that you should work with when you do screen printing.
  • Separate screen plates are used by print specialists for the subsequent color combination. For the final print of the image, each color is printed separately on top of the other. It is possible to blend an almost unlimited number of colors using CMYK screen plates.

How to Separate Colors in Photoshop

Follow the steps below to get your file ready for printing!

Step 1: Have your image open in Photoshop by going to the overhead menu File > Open. Then go up to Image > Mode and make sure you switch to CMYK Color. This step is very important.

To start choosing your first color, go to Select > Color Range. There will be a dialog window with a slider and the Eyedropper Tool will appear. You can choose more or less of a given color hue with the Fuzziness Slider.

When you have the desired quantity of color pulled or separated, choose the invert box and hit OK. 

Step 2: Click the small icon with the rectangle and circle in the middle that is located at the bottom of the Channels panel, and your color will be saved as a new channel.

Step 3: To switch from an Alpha Channel to a Spot Color Channel, double-click your new channel. You can alter the channel’s color to the sampled color of your choice using the color box at the bottom of the pop-up window. All colors’ opacity should be changed to 5%.

Step 4: Next, repeat the above steps to pull each color into its own spot channel. 

Step 5: When all the colors have been separated, Photoshop is ready for printing. Select separations in the pop-up print dialog box rather than allowing the printer or Photoshop to control colors.

To print halftones, I advise using a RIP (raster image processor). Your halftones might be anywhere between 35 and 65 LPI. Halftones are an additional consideration; a print with a 35 LPI can have a very different appearance than one with a 55 LPI.

Bonus Tips

  • As there are a few different types of color separation, It’s important to know what each type is used for. There are distinct use cases for each of the four color separation techniques. Following are examples of when each color separation technique is used by printers:
  • Photorealistic images typically use the CMYK color process.
  • Spot color is used for high-quality process prints.
  • Simulated process color is primarily used for photo stylized images that are darker.
  • Index color is implemented primarily on textiles. Index color requires more hues than simulated or processed color.

Final Thoughts

In printing, color separation is crucial, especially for prints on fabrics. For designers, understanding and using color separation is crucial. It might initially appear a little challenging, but as with anything else, practice makes perfect.

Screen printers are aware that considerable work needs to be done if they want to produce a print of the picture they are working on that is of a good caliber. Color separation is a crucial part of the image production process.

Any questions about separating colors for screen printing in Photoshop? Leave a comment and let me know.

About Aly Walters
As a graphic designer who uses the entire Adobe Suite on a daily basis, Photoshop is my inspiration, especially since I'm Adobe certified and use it most often for my graphics and web-designed images.

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  • Sambath

    is there any fast way or plugin to seperate multi-color image to each spot or each Pantone.
    Example, one image fills with Cyan, Blue, Red, Purple and Green. So I want to convert those into spot color separately.


    • June

      Hi there,

      There are a couple of color separation presets/plugins that you can try. For example, Pantone Color Manager, Separation Studio, or Simulated Process Color Separation Photoshop Action.