Color Separation: The Definitive Guide – AMS Manufacturing & Printing

Color Separation: The Definitive Guide

Making tees can be such a fun way to make a family reunion, bachelorette party or corporate retreat memorable and exciting. Custom tees or apparel can be a great way for your family or team to remember the event with a personalized touch that they can keep and take home with them after the event is over. Keeping the memory of you and the experiences alive far longer than balloons or decorations ever could. 

However making custom tees and apparel isn’t always the joyride and exciting experience that it should be. 

Sometimes ( most times, let's be honest ) you are stuck in a constant state of worry until the delivery man rings your doorbell with the parcel and you can finally lay eyes on your tees… 

But wait, only to find out that there was an error in the artwork and it doesn’t look as you envisioned! 

When first getting in contact with a local screen print shop and setting up custom apparel you are asked a number of different questions about your designs and artwork. First and foremost, are the designs vectorized already

For those of you who haven’t read, we posted an article earlier this summer that is the definitive guide you will need to vectorization and vectorizing your artwork for screen printing. Check that out here: Definitive Guide to Vectorization.

As promised in this post we will be going over in detail what exactly color separation is, why it’s important, why you need it for screen printing and lastly how to go about color separating your artwork for screen printing. 

What is Color Separating?

As the name suggests, color separating your artwork consists of separating each of the individual colors in the design out into their separate file. Nowadays typically done with software, before, color separating would be done by hand by experienced graphics artists and designers hand separating each of the colors and elements in the design. 

Once you have grabbed the selected colors in a design as mentioned you then need to group the elements that are that color in ( if using the adobe suite to do your separating )  the corresponding channel. 

Grouping each of the elements associated with that color into a channel in Photoshop or Illustrator allows you to quickly and easily switch between each channel to see the rendered output of each of the colors and how they blend together to create your design. 

Why is Color Separating Important? 

When your screen printer or apparel decorator first asked or told you your art needed to be vectorized and color separated you may have been inclined to think you were being sold something you don’t need. However this thought while common could not be further from the truth. 

Some people and shops out there would like you to believe that screen printing is an art and one that takes tremendous skill that can only be attained through decades of experience mastering the craft. 

While we will leave that for a separate article and day, color separating fortunately or unfortunately is a standard and staple in screen printing. 

In fact it honestly is a necessity. 

Vectorizing, depending on how the artwork was originally designed can be done without. You may not get the absolute crispest, best print from it but it is surely still possible. 

Screen printing without having the design and artwork color separated however? That just isn’t possible. 

To explain why you need to have your artwork color separated I first need to give a brief explanation of how screen printing works. 

When screen printing you are pushing the ink through the small holes the grid of mesh makes up with, depending on the design the mesh may be blocked not allowing ink to go through. The areas where ink goes through the mesh is your design and where the ink will be deposited on the garment. 

Screen Printing Mesh 110 Mesh Screen- Screen Printing110 Mesh Screen with Design

Due to this each screen is meant to lay down only the elements of the design associated with that color, then when you run the job and print all of the colors of the design with each of the corresponding screens you have your completed design. 


Kind of like how you were playing with the colors in the channels in Photoshop and Illustrator if you’re familiar. 

As you can now start to see each screen has to have only the elements for that color burned into it. To do that you then need to color separate the design. 

How to color separate your design

Color separating your design doesn’t need to be hard or require tremendous amounts of skill. Nowadays traditional color separating is handled by computer software within programs, websites and more.

For a small monthly fee there are SASS options available online that promise to bring you hand separated quality color separations in a fraction of the time traditionally necessary. 

With these options you can have your color separations in hand going from a PNG within 10 minutes. 

While not the gold standard these options work extremely well for standard non complex images without a lot of gradients or detail. 

For those of you looking to get into more high end options for doing your color separations yourself there is another great option out there that we love to recommend. T-Seps. T-Seps is a plugin designed for Photoshop new and old. Scott Fresener has designed T-Seps to be one of the most compatible software options out there for color separating your artwork. If you are looking for a plugin to work with your older versions of photoshop, on MacOS Catalina or MacOS BigSur, then T-Seps is the way for you. 

Another great software option that takes the form of a SASS is Separo io  Separo is a hassle-free, online production tool for screen printing that makes your life easier by automating the most common tasks required for printing an artwork.

Featuring a simple web tool that requires no setup and does all the heavy-lifting on their servers. Other separation tools require users to purchase and install large software packages that require an expensive computer or Photoshop to work.

Separo detects the best ink colors for printing an image, along with PMS matching.  Separo takes a unique approach to handling dot gain, not merely applying compensation as an after-thought like some others out there. All Separo separations contain an underbase for printing on dark garments and Separo allows you to customize the dot gain curve, underbase choke, color trapping and other settings for a truly customizable color separation. 

If all of this is sounding a bit complicated and technical for you there are of course the other options out there of how this process got started. With real graphic artists and designers. 

Taking your artwork to a graphic artist or design team like the one we have in house here at AMS Manufacturing & Printing is sure to ensure your artwork turns out exactly as intended with no surprises when opening your package outside your front door. Going with an experienced design team like ours can make or break your project and be the defining characteristic. Best to not leave something so crucial up to chance. 

If you are looking to get your artwork prepared for screen printing we have a team of skilled on site graphic designers to handle whatever artwork preparation may be necessary for your design to get it ready to print on a tee or other custom garment. Contact us today to find out how we can help you prepare the best artwork for screen printing. If you are also interested in screen printing, embroidery or promotional products we at AMS Manufacturing & Printing would love to chat

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