Trust the (4 Color) Process

We’ve had a few good process prints come through the shop lately. These prints get a little more technical, but seriously ratchet up the cool factor.


I (Ben) sat down with Tony for an old fashion interview about The Process.

B: Hey Tony, what’s a brief rundown of a CMYK print?

T: Basically you take a photo and separate it into the four base colors. Cyan(C), Magenta(M), Yellow (Y) and Black (K). Each these colors are made into a dot pattern called a halftone. When these four layers print on top of each other, they combine to reveal a stunning full-color print.

Here’s some CMYK trivia — A lot of people wonder why the “K” stands for Black. Some think its because “B” is already used in RGB ( Red/Green/Blue is the process used for how colors work on back-lit screens and monitors).  But the “K” actually stands for “Key”. In old-timey print-speak, the “key plate” (or in our instance, the key screen) is the layer of artwork that all other layers align to.  More often than not, that layer uses black ink.

B: Which button in Photoshop makes all this happen?

T: Unfortunately, that button doesn’t exist. I have a few technical tricks that I’ve learned from years of trial/error printing and lots of hours on forums and youtube.  I do keep some numbers on hand as far as preferred halftone angles for each layer, and halftone frequency depending on how fine of screen mesh is being used, but I still end up learning something new every time I dig into a new process print.

B: Have you found any tricks that make screen registration easier?

T:   Each additional screen you add to a print adds complexity and takes more time. Its easy to get lost in a sea of dots when trying to line up 4 different layers, so its best to make sure there are plenty of clean registration marks you can align to. Just like registering any screenprint job, it only gets easier the more you do it and the more you get to know the quirks of your press.

B: As far as print order of colors goes, what’s best?

T: Black always goes last, but the order of the other three depend on a handful of factors – what kind of screen you’re using, how fine of detail you want, and the overall look you’re going for.  Generally speaking, printing yellow on top of cyan and magenta ends up producing a more greenish image, so we generally like to do a test print in the YMCK order first, and maybe try YCMK to see the difference before moving forward.

B: Can you only Process print on white shirts?

T: You’re going to get the best image if you print on white. CMYK Process inks have a lot of transparency in them so that they will work with each other and they’re designed to have a white background to achieve that. It is possible to print on other colors of shirts, but we would need to add a white underbase to print on top of.  That takes it to a 5 color print, which would add a bit to the overall cost.

B: How many shirts does someone have to order to get to the point that a process print is cost effective?

T: It depends on your definition of “cost effective,” but usually around 100 shirts is where it starts making sense to go through this process. At that point, your’e looking at around $12 per shirt, plus an art fee to get your image separated and ready for print.

B: Should we continue to trust The Process? Or should we abandon hope for the Sixers?

T:  You know I don’t watch baseball, Ben.

Here are some photos of the print:


Yellow + Magenta

Yellow + Magenta + Cyan

Yellow + Magenta + Cyan + Black

Have your own idea for a process print? Send Tony an email and see if he can make it happen.

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