Color Separations in Illustrator for Screen Printing T-Shirts

It is our goal to try and improve the tee shirt screen printing industry for our customers, t-shirt designers, and other t-shirt printing companies just like us. As we have mentioned before in a previous post, screen printing t-shirts with jpeg’s as artwork is far from ideal. It is possible, but dealing with single spot colors is much easier and more effective when trying to print high-quality designs. Because each screen in screen printing represents a single color in the design, we have to take the artwork and separate each color. Once the colors are separated, they can be outputted to film, which is then used to burn the screens. That is further than we will go with this illustration, but it is definitely something we will cover later.

When we do receive artwork that is jpeg’s incorporated in it, our first step is to vectorize the image if at all possible. Converting the image from jpeg to vector makes separating the colors much easier. Here is an example of some artwork that was sent to us for a t-shirt printing job that had jpegs in it for us to convert.

Jpeg to Vector Image

The rack and the pool ball are both jpeg’s that we are going to have to redraw from scratch inside Adobe Illustrator. That step in this process can be a whole long tutorial by itself. But not by us right now, here is the image after it is vectored.

Vectored Jpeg Image

Now comes the color separation part. This isn’t one of those in-depth tutorials on how to actually do each portion of the separations (sorry if that is what you’re looking for), but more of an illustration to show you what those separations look like when done correctly. In this instance, there are four different colors to separate with them being white ink, yellow, cool gray 9, and red 485. Here is the final picture of those four colors separated in Adobe Illustrator.

Color Separated Artwork

Most of that image is self-explanatory with each color separation labeled with the location of the print on the t-shirt and the actual color. What you may not recognize is the x’s at the top and bottom of each separation. Those are our registration marks to help the printer know exactly how to line up each screen to make the colors touch each other.

Close Up of Color Separations

One other thing that we would like to point out is that each color is printed directly on top of the fabric. What we mean by that is the ink of one color is not printed on top of another color ink. This next image is a close-up of the pool ball with the cool gray 9 color and you can see where the other colors that touch the pool ball are represented as blank on the image.

Color Separated Art

We hope this helps you understand part of the process. We are definitely working on more tutorials/illustrations like these to make the screen printing process more easily understood. We want to do your next custom printed t shirts.

1 Comment

One Response to “Color Separations in Illustrator for Screen Printing T-Shirts”

  1. custon t shirts Says:

    I would say that this one hits the homerun I can’t express the importance of good image seperation and having good artwork to start with helps but spending the money on good software will help when we receive jpegs of poor quality.