For some screen printers, using Illustrator to separate colors can be overwhelming at times. Luckily, the main roadblock people run into is over-thinking the process. In this video, Luke Ryerkerk shows a simple way to separate a design using some key tools in Illustrator.
WHAT IS SPOT COLOR PRINTING?
Spot color printing, as shown in this video, can be defined as “what you see is what you print.” Where there is red ink, the screen will be red. Where there is blue ink, the screen will be blue. It’s the most common type of screen printing used with most daily printed designs.
Other forms of printing are spot process and four color process printing. These methods use multiple colors, typically in high detail, to make the appearance of a vast amount of colors being printed. Spot color printing is what most screen printers will deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Want to learn how to separate spot colors in Adobe Illustrator? Here are five steps to do it.
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STEP 1: SET UP YOUR WORKSPACE
First, Luke opens the Illustrator file to make sure the workspace is set up correctly. Luke likes to use the premade Printing and Proofing workspace in Illustrator. This includes all the tools he needs to do separations. Then, Luke makes sure the artboard matches the size of the film he’s printing. This helps make sure he is designing and separating only the size of the film he’ll be printing on. The final step is to make sure rulers are turned on. Press “Ctrl/Command” and “R” to make sure this is the case. Rulers are useful during the separations and design of screen printed artwork.
When Luke opens the file, he takes a look at the type/fonts used. If you’re opening a file with fonts you don’t have on your program, you will be prompted by Adobe® Illustrator to find and install them or replace those elements with existing fonts.
Pro Tip: If you are going to be sending artwork to someone for separation or printing, make sure to convert all text into outlines. This will make this step not needed and ensure that your artwork is printed as it was intended.
In this segment, Luke sets up his workspace.
STEP 2: CONVERT TO SPOT COLORS
Once the program is set up, it’s time to convert everything into spot colors. This is an important step because spot colors are what most RIPs use to determine what needs to be printed out on each film. You do not have to use the exact color that will be printed as a spot color. A color that’s close will do.
First, select an element with the color you’d like to convert. Then, click “Select” in the top menu. Scroll down to “Similar” and click “Fill Color”. This will select everything that is the same color and will allow you to change all elements at one time to the Spot Color you’ll be using. This tool is a huge time saver.
Once everything is selected, click the “New Swatch” button on the “Swatches” tab. Name it whatever you’d like and change the color type to “Spot Color”. You’ll now see a swatch square with that color and a white dog ear with a black dot in it. This new swatch is now a spot color that will show up in your separations preview and when you go to print.
Repeat this process for all colors and get ready to set up registration marks.
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In this segment, Luke converts to spot colors.
STEP 3: ADD REGISTRATION MARKS
There are all kinds of registration marks you can use. Some are even built into Adobe® Illustrator. Luke likes to use his own and recommends printers do the same. The pre-built registration marks in Illustrator are meant more for designs with finer detail and can sometimes be tough to see. Here is a couple of downloadable Registration Mark Templates in .Ai and PDF formats:
Registration Marks Template - 13x19 Film - Illustrator File
Registration Marks Template - 13x19 Film - PDF File
Once created, center the registration marks with the artwork. Luke uses one registration mark on the top and one on the bottom for smaller prints like left chest, sleeve, and tag prints. For larger, standard-sized prints, Luke uses three across the top and three across the bottom. This gives more points to reference for larger designs and helps when registering for a job.
When centering the artwork, make sure the artwork is grouped. Select the part to be printed and press “Ctrl + G” to group the artwork. This will make sure nothing is left out or falls out of place in the design.
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In this segment, Luke adds registration marks.
STEP 4: FINAL CHECK
Before printing films for the job, do a little quality control. Click on the “Separation Preview” tab and turn off all CMYK colors. You should now only see the spot colors you have in your design, plus the registration marks. If any part of your design is missing, it is not set to a spot color. This is a great way to catch mistakes before you take the next step. You can also click through the separations one color at a time to confirm what will be printed on each film.
In this segment, Luke performs a final check.
STEP 5: PRINT YOUR FILMS
Once all spot colors are in place, it’s time to print films. As long as the artwork is set up correctly, printing the films is the easiest part. The separation process may seem daunting the first time, but sticking to it for a couple of jobs will help make this second nature and extremely easy.
In this segment, Luke prints out films.
There are all kinds of tips, tricks, and cool ideas out there to help screen printers separate artwork in the way that works best for them. Look into some of those ideas, as everyone has a different take on separations. Use this guide as a base to start from and find your style as you learn more about the process.