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Using Spot Colors in Adobe Illustrator

By Laura Franco

The Adobe Illustrator software manual may not give the industry specific instructions a screen-printer needs to prepare a graphics file for spot color creation, separation and output, but the great news is the program has everything you need to get the job done easily and accurately.

Are you changing all of your colors to black just to output files? You’re wasting valuable time. Read on to learn how friendly spot colors are to a screen-printer and how to increase your job turnaround rate while reducing costly downtime.

Not every color is a spot color. Consider this color:

It may look like a spot color but it is actually made up of a mixture of cyan (72.55%) and magenta (38.04%), making it a process color for four-color process printing. As it is now, you can’t output this process blue color as one spot color to a single sheet of film. Upon output, two films (cyan and magenta), will print and they will also be made of halftones requiring process inks and not a specific solid color.

This blue is a true spot color which was custom named “Blue Spot Color.”

When a color is a spot color, the swatch in the Swatches palette will have a unique appearance. Work with spot colors when you are not creating a four-color process job.

The symbol below represents a spot color when working in Adobe Illustrator. CorelDraw uses a similar symbol to represent spot colors.

You can easily convert process colors to screen-print friendly spot colors. Double-click any process color swatch in the Swatches palette. It will open the Swatch Options window.

Simply change the Color Type from Process to Spot Color. You can rename your swatch, too.

The color mode (CMYK, RGB, LAB) does not matter, making spot colors so user friendly. Once converted they are ready to use. You can also import a swatch library of spot colors such as a PANTONE solid coated. See the Adobe User Manual or Adobe Help Menu for additional info.

Spot colors print clean and sharp, and only create halftones when tinted, shaded, faded or used as a gradient (blend). Other than that, all spot colors, regardless of their actual color on screen, will output as solid black to your film when at 100% tint.

To output spot separations, choose Print. Go to the Output option. From the Output pop-down menu select Separations (default is Composite). Note the spot colors in your file.

Be sure to make your own registration marks because Illustrator’s registration marks are not big or bold enough for screen-printers. From the Illustrator art file, custom create registration marks and color them with the swatch palette color registration (looks like a registration mark). Elements automatically and universally print on every spot color film output.

-- Laura Franco is vice president of sales and marketing for Freehand Graphics, developer of AccuRip, All Black Cartridges and Spot Process software. She has 20 years experience in graphic arts and screen printing.