How to Use Photoshop to Make CMYK Separations for Screen Printing


Among the many reasons Adobe Photoshop has become the standard for professional printing is that it allows full control over how images can be printed. In other words, if you are just printing to your inkjet printer, you would not need the extra controls. However, if you plan to print for a magazine, a newspaper or, in this case a screen for printing on fabric, Photoshop give you the tools to make it work. It takes a little more effort than home printing, but it is not that difficult.

Things You'll Need

  • Printer's information
  • Open the digital photo you intend to print to screens. By default, a color image will be in RGB or red-green-blue color mode, not CMYK or cyan-magenta-yellow-black mode. This is OK. Do not change it yet.

  • Make your normal adjustments for the photo using "Levels" or "Curves" or whatever tool you usually do while the image remains in RGB mode. These colors work best on your computer monitor and they will translate to CMYK smoothly later.

  • Resize your image for printing. Go to the "Image" menu and select "Image Size." In the lower portion of the dialog box labeled "Document Size," select your "Resolution." This should be no less than 300 pixels per inch for a good, sharp image. The higher you go with this number, the better the print and the sharper the details. Higher resolutions will make printing take longer, however. Set the "Width" and "Height" measurements according to what you will need to print upon.

  • Go to the "Image" menu again and select "Mode." Once your resizing and color corrections have been made, you now can convert the image to CMYK for professional printing. In the "Mode" submenu, choose "CMYK Color." Save your new image.

  • Select the "File" menu again and choose "Print." In older versions of Photoshop, prior to CS3, choose "Print With Preview." In the popup dialog box, down at the left, click the checkbox next to "Show More Options." Then select "Output." In the next popup, select "Screen." This brings you a further popup where you can choose to allow the printer to select the screen or input the specific lines-per-inch numbers you need. Click the "Print" button if you are sending the image to the printer. If not, save the image and transfer it to your professional printer.

Tips & Warnings

  • For true separations of CMYK color, go to the "Save As" item on the "File" menu. When the dialog pops up, select either "Photoshop DCS 1" or "Photoshop DCS 2" next to the "Format:" option. This will split the image file into separate files for each color, making it easier for the printer to recognize which color "plate" to use for each screen.
  • Do not print screened separations without getting the information from your specific printer. For example, if you plan to use your image on a run of T-shirts, you probably will not print these at home. Instead, you will take them to a print shop or silk screener. Each of these varies in what equipment they have and the specifics of how they print. You need to know specific numbers to input in the "Screen" popup dialog box in order for the professional printer to make use of your image.

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