Design Dunce.
May 20, 2009 4:54 AM   Subscribe

Adobe Filter: Please help me with my graphic design woes.

So, I'm starting my own little bootleg t-shirt company, and I'm interested in two types of operations:

1. Cutting an image from its background, then reducing the colors of the image to a reduced grayscale to make it more affordable to print (pretty basic, I know).

2. Taking an image (say, of a person), reducing it to grayscale, then reducing it to a number of composite single-color dots -- when viewed from afar, these dots constitute the original image. I've seen the effect done before on clothes, but I can't find a good image to use as an example (sorry!).

Which Adobe program should I get (and get familiar with) so that I can complete these tasks? Better yet, could I use a cheaper program (for Macs)?
posted by the NATURAL to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You need Photoshop and Illustrator. What you describe in #2 is called "halftone."
posted by MegoSteve at 5:07 AM on May 20, 2009

Oh, and you could probably get away with Photoshop by itself.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:08 AM on May 20, 2009

Photoshop Elements will do everything you need to edit the initial image.

Rasterbater will convert an image to halftone dots. The standalone application is for Windows, but the online version works just fine for Macs.
posted by The Deej at 5:23 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Neither of the things you describe requires Illustrator, which is for line art. Photoshop is the right answer. As for cheaper alternatives: Top 5 Photoshop Alternatives.
posted by rokusan at 6:29 AM on May 20, 2009

If you're looking to create "grey" with black halftone dots, that'll work well in screenprinting. Multiple color processes in halftone, usually referred to as CMYK, are when you use the dots to create new colors (think of how newspapers are printed). I, personally, don't think the CMYK process looks all that hot on shirts. I think they mention it doesn't translate very well to silkscreening in this excellent book.

Anyway, it is possible, and here's an good tutorial on how to convert your image to CMYK halftone in Photoshop. Make sure you're a total nazi about registering the screens, by the way.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:42 AM on May 20, 2009

Best answer: You don't say, but my comments are based on the assumption you're talking about screen printing. Ignore if you're buying a DTG machine (a mistake -- don't do that).

I think you will regret going cheap with Elements. you may not need InDesign today, but it seems the best bang for the buck is the Adobe Design Suite, which has Illustrator, Photoshop & InDesign. You don't need CS4 -- it's buggy, and doesn't have any must-have new features. I'd see if you can turn up a CS3 box at a discount somewhere.

One good reason to own InDesign if you plan on doing a lot of halftone printing is that the print dialog is vastly superior to Photoshop's, since it's a page layout & printing program -- all the settings for screen frequency and angles are easier to get to, and you can build templates that remember these settings, once you find a set that works for you.

Also, invest in a Photoshop book. There's 2 good options -- Adobe's Classroom in a Book series, or the Real World series. I like the Real World books because although they're not feature-complete, they focus on production art, rather than "Ohhh, pretty filter! More lens flare!"

You need to read up on basic color theory -- CMYK, RGB, Greyscale, and how they relate. Also, calibrate your monitor & read up on color profiles, & how Photoshop interacts with your system in this respect. You'll save yourself a lot of heartache down the line, if you take some time to get this knowledge under your belt, now. There's good stuff on the web.

The last thing you want to be doing it making bad seps work on the press. Trust me -- I've been printing 4-c process on T-shirts since 1984. There was nothing but bad seps in the 1980s -- no one in the color separation business understood T-shirts -- I had to train my service bureau through painstaking trial and error.

Immediate production tips -- know and understand the words "dot gain," "tonal compression" and "moire." they are the cunning and baffling enemies of screen printing halftones on T-shirts. Dot gain can range upwards of 35% and tonal compression, unless you have a really good screen exposure unit and an automatic press, is going to be at least 10% on either end of the scale. Moire is the bad thing that happens when you burn your halftone on the wrong screen mesh.

Also, I'm occasionally available for questions/comments. Good luck! (you're going to need it.)
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:50 AM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think they mention it doesn't translate very well to silkscreening in this excellent book.

It doesn't translate well to screen printing for the casual beginner, no, but it's a false assumption in general. There are a lot of people doing fine 4-color work on T-shirts, though it takes much learning & trial & error. T-shirt printing is a low-entry-barrier business, so there's lots of beginners out there without the resources, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. It just means it shouldn't be taken on with cheap equipment, limited knowledge and a poor attitude.

That book looks to me like it embraces half-assing everything, and doing it all on the cheap. (I'd sooner burn a screen in the sun than with incandescent bulbs, for instance) There's a zillion people out there willing to print your shirts poorly. It's pretty hard to compete in that market. There are relatively few printers who are interested in printing your shirt well -- this is where the money an customer loyalty lies in the business.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:59 AM on May 20, 2009

Achieving quality images with multiple halftones requires proper registration and a reasonable understanding of how and why halftoning works.

Achieving quality images with one halftone screen (say, on top of a hand-cut colour plate) requires some patience with trial and error.

OP, you can also experiment with Photoshop's Posterize filter to reduce a continuous-tone image to a specified number of flat colours, which can then be separated into printing plates.
posted by a halcyon day at 8:10 AM on May 20, 2009

Cutting a section of your image from the background is accomplished by "masks" and selections. There are hundreds of tutorials online that cover this subject and a good book about it is this one by Katrin Eismann. You can also buy plugins to ease this task or use an online tool like Vector Magic. Although they're great timesavers, none of the plugins work 100% perfectly, so it will help you immensely if you learn masking and selecting the old fashioned way (as demonstrated above in the tutorial link & book).

Photoshop isn't the only program that you can use to accomplish these tasks, but it is the best. Some folks use Paint Shop Pro, Gimp, or Pixelmator, but may end up dissatisfied and buying Photoshop anyway. If you qualify, you can save a lot of money via an Academic Discount.

Good luck!
posted by LuckySeven~ at 8:53 AM on May 20, 2009

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