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Looking Back at the Early Years of Screen Printing: A Color Separation Showdown

Comparing 4-color process printing experimental techniques at SPAI Tech Symps ’91.




I HAD MY FIRST SET OF four-color process separations done in the mid 1970s by a company claiming to know how to separate for screen printing. I paid $500 for the separations. When I printed the design, I decided to make some color corrections. My background included working with magazines and checking that the colors were correct. I sent the separations back and had them reworked, and that cost me an additional $600. I never did that again.

In today’s world, screen-printing graphic designers mostly use Photoshop, although others rely on Corel for their design needs. With that program, they are potentially able to do four-color process separations and if the design does not print correctly, they can redo the separations. The cost of doing this is minimal. Many adjustments are necessary to achieve desirable results since Photoshop is not screen-print friendly. The program’s developers made adjustments many years ago that changed the ink values from opaque to transparent.

Prior to Photoshop being popular — it came out in 1990 — there was quite a bit of experimentation done.

Tech Symps 1991 was an educational event held in San Diego and covered a variety of presentations including the one I put together. The presentation was of various techniques for separating a full-color design.

I contacted my friend Mike Davis to come up with a design that included flesh tones and lots of additional colors. Once done, I had 3˝ x 3˝ chromes (similar to slides) made so everyone involved had exactly the same original artwork to use. The participants — now industry legends — were:

  • Fred Clarke, Serichrome Seps, Dallas
  • Bill Wainner, Dallas
  • Andy Anderson, Anderson Studio, Nashville, TN
  • Mike Davis, Art Mechanix, Denver
  • Randal Bernhardt, Fort Morgan, CO
  • SGAI – Fairfax, Va. (I think Tim McSweeney was involved at that time)

I asked everyone involved to do the separations in a particular way that was familiar to them. Mike Davis did hand separations.

  • Mike Davis and Randal Bernhardt were responsible for computer separations
  • SPAI scanned separations
  • Serichrome Seps provided two sets of separations and scanner.
  • Bill Wainner and Fred Clarke of Serichrome Seps scanned separations
  • Andy Anderson designed two sets of airbrushed separations

To have control over the results and to make sure they were the best possible, I asked Andy Anderson to do the printing. He is well-known in the printing industry as a master of four-color process printing and has won dozens of awards over the years.

Here are the results in a pictorial journey through the years. Keep in mind that this was 1991 and a lot of what we know today was not available at that time. The results were quite different, but a lot was learned and that was the important thing. Fred Clarke went on to be the premier color separator in the country. His techniques for separating were considered the best for many years.

color separation challenge from 1991

At the SPAI ‘91 Tech Symposium, industry veterans shared their expertise by showing their skills with hand and computer separations using the same design.



Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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