How to Separate Colors in Illustrator

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Whether your artwork uses process colors, spot colors or both, you want to make sure it will separate correctly when it's printed. Adobe Illustrator CS5 lets you preview separations on your monitor, in a PDF document or on a printed page. These previews can help you confirm that your text and graphics are set up in keeping with your design choices or the guidelines established for your project. Once you've examined your separations, you can make informed decisions about giving your file a pre-production tune-up, or placing it in a page-layout document for final output.

Preview Separations

  • Make sure your Adobe Illustrator document is set up in CMYK mode by checking the Document Color Mode submenu of the File menu. If it isn't, set the Document Color Mode submenu of the File menu to CMYK Color.

  • Open the Separations Preview panel by choosing Separations Preview from the Window menu, then click on the Overprint Preview checkbox.

  • Click on the eyeball icon in front of each channel name in the Separations Preview panel to turn off visibility for all separations, then turn on visibility one CMYK channel or spot color at a time.

  • Preview what will print in each spot color or on each CMYK plate to make sure your artwork is set up correctly. If you don't see what you expect on each plate, turn off the Overprint Preview and edit your file, then preview it again.

PDF Separations

  • Make sure your Adobe Illustrator document is set up in CMYK mode by checking the Document Color Mode submenu of the File menu. If it isn't, set the Document Color Mode submenu of the File menu to CMYK Color.

  • Select Print from the File menu. When the Print dialog box comes up on your screen, set the Printer drop-down menu at the top to Adobe PDF.

  • Select the Marks and Bleed tab at the left side of the Print dialog box. Click on the Page Information and Trim Marks check boxes to activate these options. This will enable you to identify which plate you're viewing when you examine your PDF file.

  • Select the Graphics tab at the left side of the Print dialog box. If your artwork contains large numbers of complex objects, uncheck Automatic and drag the Flatness slider to the Speed setting rather than the Quality end of slider continuum. If you want your preview to be as faithful as possible to your artwork as it exists in your file, set the Flatness slider to favor Quality rather than Speed.

  • Select the Advanced tab at the left side of the Print dialog box. Set the Overprints drop-down menu to Preserve and the Preset to High Resolution. This will make sure your separations preview accurately reflects inks that are set to overprint other inks.

  • Click on the Print button at the bottom of the Print dialog box to create your PDF file. Review the document in the application you use to access PDF documents. Go back to your Illustrator document and make any changes your artwork requires.

Print Separations

  • Make sure your Adobe Illustrator document is set up in CMYK mode by checking the Document Color Mode submenu of the File menu. If it isn't, set the Document Color Mode submenu of the File menu to CMYK Color.

  • Select Print from the File menu. When the Print dialog box comes up on your screen, set the Printer drop-down menu at the top to the name of your output device and the PPD drop-down menu below it to the correct profile for your printer.

  • Select the Marks and Bleed tab at the left side of the Print dialog box. Click on the Page Information and Trim Marks check boxes to activate these options. This will enable you to identify which plate you're viewing when you look at your printed output.

  • Select the Graphics tab at the left side of the Print dialog box. If your artwork contains large numbers of complex objects, uncheck Automatic and drag the Flatness slider to the Speed setting rather than the Quality end of slider continuum. If you want your preview to be as faithful as possible to your artwork as it exists in your file, set the Flatness slider to favor Quality rather than Speed.

  • Select the Advanced tab at the left side of the Print dialog box. Set the Overprints drop-down menu to Preserve and the Preset to High Resolution. This will make sure your separations preview accurately reflects inks that are set to overprint other inks.

  • Click on the Print button at the bottom of the Print dialog box to send your data to the printer. Examine your separations for accuracy. Go back to your Illustrator document and make any changes your artwork requires.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can use a PDF separations file as a way of creating a new Adobe Illustrator document that contains only the material in one spot color from a graphic that originally contained multiple spot colors. Open one page of your separated PDF file in Illustrator to gain access to single-color art. You also can use this technique to gain access to all the elements of process color artwork that will be printed in one of the four printing primaries -- cyan, magenta, yellow or black.
  • Switching a document from RGB to CMYK color mode may change the way colors separate. Check your swatches after you change modes and verify that your color formulae haven't shifted.

References

  • Adobe Systems: Using Adobe Illustrator CS5
  • "The Adobe Illustrator CS5 Wow! Book"; Sharon Steuer; 2010
  • "Adobe Creative Suite 5 Design Premium All-in-One for Dummies"; Jennifer Smith et al.; 2010.
  • "Illustrator CS5 for Windows and Macintosh Visual QuickStart Guide"; Elaine Weinmann et al.; 2011
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