Speedy Sep

How to Tell Your Graphic Designer What You Want

Ordering a color separation for screen printing isn’t brain surgery, and it is pretty easy to do as long as you understand the process and the options. You just need inside information from a top-quality graphic design house like SpeedySep!

The purpose of this article is to make sure you can order color separations with the confidence that you will get the result you want – regardless of your level of experience. Even if you are a veteran screen printer from the old school, a quick review wouldn’t hurt.

Color Separation Basics

When you print a t-shirt or other apparel item, you must print one color at a time and layer the colors in the correct order to get the desired result. When you do a separation, you are setting up the color and print area for each layer.

To separate the color layers, professionals typically use software such as Adobe Photoshop and/or Adobe Illustrator. A digital image imported into Adobe is typically set up for the colors that are compatible with the device it was created on – not the colors you would actually print on a shirt.

There are three categories of color separation methods. We will walk through the unique characteristics and ideal situations to use each one, and wrap up the discussion with an overview of half-tones and other custom techniques to give you the design you want.


4-Color Process or CMYK Separations

CMYK – Cyan Magenta Yellow Black – is also called the four-color process. It is the most straightforward of the color separation methods but it has its limitations.

We rarely receive orders for 4-color separation because it has such limited uses. 4-Color/CMYK is great if:

  • You will print on light-colored fabrics because it does not cover well on dark apparel
  • You plan to use a limited number of paint colors
  • You have a low-complexity design with no shading or other complex blending needed

Simulated and spot color separations work better for most apparel print jobs. It is cheaper and easier to get good coverage and saturation with these techniques, and they allow flexibility for subtle shading and contrasts in your finished product.

Spot Color Separations

Spot color is the most common for t-shirt printing, and refers to an area – or set of areas – that need a solid color fill. Although it usually requires more screens than other techniques, it works great for logos and other designs that:

  • Must be cost-efficient
  • Are low-complexity and can be printed with stock ink colors without modification
  • Use 1-4 colors; if you need more, you should probably use the simulation method
  • May use opaque or semi-opaque inks
  • Appear to be more cartoonish than realistic
  • Have fill areas are that are easy to pinpoint
  • Can be printed in wide-open areas of the stencil
  • Will be printed on light or dark fabrics
  • Need a high level of consistency during the printing process

Spot color can be combined with half-tones and other custom techniques to give the appearance of:

  • Contour or simple gradients in small areas
  • Complex gradients and other challenging effects
  • 3-D effects
  • Transparency

Simulated Color Separations

Simulation combines two or more different methods to achieve print-ready color separations for complex designs. The basic colors and solid-fill areas typically use the CMYK process and spot color separation, while shading and other full-color effects are created using “dot”, “spot”,  or “index” processing of layers using varying percentages of ink to achieve half-tones, grayscale, and duotones.

The downside is that you will use more screens than you would for a four-color or spot separation alone. The upside is that you will use a very small, standard color palette of semitransparent, standard ink colors.

To see the color separation of the Google logo in Adobe Illustrator, Check out this tutorial we posted

Guide For Color Separation Order in 2021


Half-tones can increase the “richness” of your printed apparel if you have an experienced designer preparing the design for you. Gradients can be created using layers of dots or squares.

Each layer – no matter the color – will appear lighter or darker depending on the density of the dots or squares (how close together they are). By intertwining layers of various colors or various shades of one color, the colors will appear to blend into a perfect gradient.

When dots or squares are arranged in a pattern and superimposed, they give a full-color effect, even though you only used a small number of ink colors. Special printing methods like wet-on-wet may be used to further “blend” the colors.


This method takes a full-color image and converts it into a one-color design using the half-tone method of layering. Basically, a black-and-white image that can use any color.


Create amazing crispness and originality by using two ink colors. The colors are layered in half-tones to form a blended color.

The Most Important Decision About Color Separations

Spot color separation is the economical approach, while the stunning results of simulated color separation tend to be more expensive. For all color separations – but especially for simulations – the quality of your finished product is only as good as the experience of the person creating the design and color sep.

To get it right the first time, you must choose the best graphic design company that specializes in artwork for screen printing. Here are the things you should look for before you order:


If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here, call us at 954-707-7155, or email us at team@speedysep.com.

Thank you for your time!

Dan from the SpeedySep Team


Would you like some vectorization, too? We have it all.

Hey, have you tried Speedy Sep ?

Speedy Sep helps screen printers and apparel brands with unique t-shirt designs; provide print-ready color separations; and convert your artwork to vector format … all in record time.

Try if free for 7 days and automate your print shop.
Never miss another
Create unique t-shirt designs, get your color separations and convert your artwork to vector format.
"Before outsourcing my art department I had no idea how much money I could save. Now, it all goes in my pocket."
Tommy Perrino

Start your business journey with SpeedySep

We help with custom t-shirt design, color separations, and converting your artwork to vector format.

  • twitter
  • facebook
  • instagram
  • printerset
  • linkedin
  • youtube

Copyright © 2023 by speedysep.com