Can I separate the colors quickly? I needs to look like it looks here with three different pics for screen printing. Is there any way to do this quickly or do I have to do it manually?

  • yes, color separations. during exporting for PDF. i don't remember the exact process so i can't post a properly detailed answer.
    – BrianC
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 17:31
  • looks like just two colors, or are are you actually printing a white ink? (I know, not related to the question) :)
    – Rsiel
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 17:46
  • 1
    @Blake is asking about screen printing so I would assume it's white and green on a blue surface. Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 17:48

4 Answers 4


Expanding appearance or merging objects or outlining strokes and even separating colors to their own layers is completely unnecessary for the purposes of separations for screen printing. (Although, stacking art with different layers is good practice.)

Assuming the screenprinting method will not be CMYK (a.k.a four color process), if you color each art element in the document with spot colors only, your design will essentially be “color separated”.

If your document is opened in CMYK color mode, you will be able to see your separations in the separation preview window.

Just so the white part of the design does not get lost against a white background, I gave the white spot color a light blue tint

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You should be able to just save as PDF. Select a Preset like PDF/X-4 so it does not covert your color with a color profile.

If you have Acrobat Professional, you can open up the pdf and check the plates. Under Advanced / Print Production / Output Preview you see a new pallet.

Choose the profile for U.S. Sheetfed or U.S. Web (don't think it matters.)

You see a check box next each of your colors.

Check them all off, if you see any objects with just CMYK checked you'll have to go back and fix them. You should only have objects on your three spot plates.


What I do...

  • Select all
  • Object > Expand Appearance (if available)
  • Object > Expand
  • Pathfinder > Merge (this combines areas of the same appearance and eliminates unseen objects.)

Then save as PDFx-1a so it separates properly.

I'm not a screen printer though :) There are others here with far more experience in screen printing than I have.

If you aren't doing the screen printing yourself, it's best to let the actual screen printer handle the separations.


Adobe's process

Adobe still (as far as I know) asks us to print to separations. Here's their instructions.

Print color separations

  1. Choose File > Print.

  2. Select a printer and PPD file. To print to a file instead of a printer, select Adobe PostScript® File or Adobe PDF.

  3. Select Output on the left side of the Print dialog box.

  4. For Mode, select either Separations (Host-Based) or In‑RIP Separations.

  5. Specify an emulsion, image exposure, and printer resolution for the separations.

  6. Set options for the color plates you want to separate:

    1. To disable printing of a color plate, click the printer icon next to the color in the Document Ink Options list. Click again to restore printing for the color.

    2. To convert all spot colors to process colors, so that they are printed as part of the process-color plates rather than on a separate plate, select Convert All Spot Colors To Process.

    3. To convert an individual spot color to process colors, click the spot color icon next to the color in the Document Ink Options list. A four-color process icon appears. Click again to revert the color back to a spot color.

    4. To overprint all black ink, select Overprint Black.

    5. To change the screen frequency, screen angle, and shape of halftone dots for a plate, double-click the ink name. Alternatively, click the existing setting in the Document Ink Options list, and make the desired changes. Note however, that the default angles and frequencies are determined by the selected PPD file. Check with your print shop for the preferred frequency and angle before creating your own halftone screens.
      If your art contains more than one spot color, particularly interactions between two or more spot colors, assign different screen angles to each spot color.

  7. Set additional options in the Print dialog box.

  8. In particular, you can specify how to position, scale, and crop the artwork; set up printer’s marks and a bleed; and choose flattening settings for transparent artwork.

  9. Click Print.

My process

For absolute clarity, I follow a different process (that may just be a waste of time ;).

  1. Convert all objects to paths without strokes (Object > Path > Outline Stroke).
  2. Merge and knock out shapes as necessary with Pathfinder functions (eg, where you're using the ground color over the art to indicate a knockout).
  3. Separate all inks onto their own layers.
  4. Deliver your file!

Sidenote: The outer paths under "altitude" don't line up correctly.


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