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How to Create Your Own Color Separations in Adobe Illustrator

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After you create vector artwork for t-shirt printing, there is one more major step the printer has to perform before printing. This additional step is something that everyone has heard of, but very few have tried. It is called color separations. It's crucial that you learn how to color separate before your artwork is compromised. Let's learn how!

The Final Image Previews

Below are images from the final color separated PDF we will be working towards. 

Step 1

The graphics used in this tutorial are from freely available dingbat fonts. One is called SkullZ and the other is 2nd Amendment. The first thing we're going to do is begin with a three color vectored design in Adobe Illustrator.

Step 2

If you are used to designing in RGB or CMYK, it is best to convert all of your colors to the spot PMS colors that the printer will use. Make sure all of the instances of a single color are selected when converting to a PMS color.

Step 3

When using the color white in your artwork, it is best practice to create a new color swatch for a Spot White. You can create a new swatch by clicking on the small button next to the Trash Icon in the Swatch Palette.

Step 4

Make sure you name the new color something relevant to the ink color so it is easy to identify when looking at the final separations. It is also very important to change the color type from a process color to a spot color. The color mode does not matter.

Step 5

Now that all your colors have been converted to spot PMS colors, it is time to print the separations. Go to File > Print to access the Print menu. Change the printer to Adobe PDF and set the media size to custom.

Step 6

Add an additional 100 pixels to the width and height of the media size to allow room for the printer marks.

Step 7

Next, choose the Marks and Bleed option from the left side menu. Check the box for All Printer's Marks so the separations can be labeled and registered.

Step 8

Now select Output from the left side menu and change the output mode to separations. Make sure in the Document Ink Options that the printer icons are only located next to the three spot colors we need printed.

Step 9

Select Print and you will be prompted to save the new color separated PDF file.

Final Image

The magic is over! Each page within the PDF is an individual spot color that is labeled and registered for print. You can line the artwork up and make sure all the pieces of the puzzle are there. Now you can save yourself some anguish and the printer some time on your next t-shirt project.

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