At the heart of printing is the need for quality color separations. Without high quality color separations, various color print combinations (colorways) would be extremely limited. Conventional textile printing requires one screen to be made for each color in a given design. This process is called screen engraving and the number of colors used in a design represents the number of screens required for printing. Textile designers need to take into account all technical specifications for a particular printing process including number of screens and repeat sizes. The repeat sizes are controlled by the actual dimensions of the screens used by a specific print plant. Designers create patterns according to production specifications including number of colors and size of repeat which are eventually sent to the engraver for color separation and creation of screens.
When new designs arrive at TKG they are reviewed paying careful attention to the print plants instructions as well as the instructions provided by the print customer. The type of machine, fabric, dye system, end use and many other specifics need to be considered in order to produce aesthetically pleasing print results. Often the customers supply digital files from newly created patterns that include the individual colors.
So why can the screens not simply be engraved from these provided separations? If screens were engraved from these files, they would not be a true representation of the design due to the fact that during the laser engraving and wet printing processes, there is a varying degree of color spread or bleed. Small stipple or drybrush can bleed together creating a displeasing “blobby” effect. Small light areas floating within larger dark areas can close together hiding the light shape. Colors may need to fall on or trap to each other to allow the print plant to easily fit a design running at 50-70 meters per minute.
The engraving color separation artist must refine and smooth shapes, open up fine details and create separations that may not accurately resemble the original design until after it prints. They must also insure any design elements they do refine will be engravable on the print plants chosen screen mesh. The artist must guarantee the pattern repeats correctly and seamlessly. Any stray imperfections must be removed. Shapes may need to be moved to make the design easier to print or to remove streaks in the pattern. Tones produced for rotary screens may need to be “tweaked” or re-created to produce the smoothest possible effect. This work often requires the engraving color separation artist to completely re-draw the design.
With the increase of digitally printed fabric and wallpapers, you would probably think there would be less demand for color separations, however this is not the case. Color separations are on the increase and as a result we are currently expanding our design studio.
Digital printing has rapidly increased over the last couple of years. The vast majority of digital print companies that are flourishing are those that fully color separate designs prior to digital printing. In many cases they produce more separations than are initially visible in order to produce effects and textures needed to replicate traditional techniques.
An eight color design would normally be separated in eight colors and engraved onto eight rotary screens to be wet printed. The same design may be separated differently if digitally printed. In some cases two or three separations may be created to print one color, perhaps a platform color or some detail and maybe some textures, tones or some other effect so the design comes to life and doesn’t look flat and lifeless. An eight color screen design may be a twelve color digital design.
The costs to produce this work would normally be discussed before starting the separations. Every effort is made to get separations right first time however, this type of work is often a matter of interpretation.