I’d been wanting to do a print using a CMYK colour scheme for a while – maybe influenced by Scott Duffey’s Tuneyards poster, maybe not – and I had the perfect Pop Art style design to do it, but never got round to printing it.
When The Print Social announced that the theme of their next exhibition was Visions of the Future, I thought that this was my chance to really push my boundaries and have a lot of fun with the design. After throwing some ideas around and doing a bit of image research, I finally settled on the idea of millions, if not billions, of years in the future when the sun explodes creating a supernova. Many of you would have guessed that it wasn’t going to be a cheery submission anyway.
I went on the NASA website and started looking at what kind of textures and colours came from The Hubble Space Telescope when it was looking at supernovae, and really fell in love with the image from this feature.
I mashed up similar textures of clouds, water, fire and starry skies with bright colours to create something similar, then I set to work on the colour separations. This is the only bit I didn’t research, I wanted to figure out what kind of effect I could get using my own methods.
If I was going to be printing using a 4 colour process, the logical first step would be to use Photoshop to select Cyans, Magentas, Yellows and Blacks. This pulled a few details through, but nowhere near all the colours. Using colour theory, I then went through the following process:
Selected ‘Red’ and created 2 layers; one Magenta and one Yellow
Selected ‘Green’ and created 2 layers; one Yellow and one Cyan
Selected ‘Blue’ and created 2 layers; one Cyan and one Magenta
Once the 3 layers of the different colours were combined, the real textures started to come through.
Looking at the colour layers using the Multiply blend made the whole thing come together, even if I didn’t know how the colours would react to each other in the physical world. I also found that more of the textures came through when converting the original image from CMYK rather than RGB.
As the Black layer was going to be covering a lot of the textures that had come through from the colours, I thought it would also be good to create some negative space type and ended up settling on SCIENCE AND VISIONS, a song title from CHVRCHES.
The next step was to create halftones so the 3 colours could be printed in a way to create the reds, greens and blues. I did this by using the Hue/Saturation tool and making each colour Greyscale, before going through the usual process of converting it to a Bitmap and Halftone. I also put registration marks in the corners and the colours on the borders so I knew which layers were which, and make sure the acetates were the right way up/round.
After asking Scott for some advice about which order to print the colours (explained later) he mentioned something about Moiré Patterns which I hadn’t heard of. He said that you could change the angle of the halftone dots to make them blend better and not produce optical illusions, with this in mind I thought it would be a nice idea to change from halftone circles to halftone lines and produce something a little bit different.
I played around with the order of the layers in Photoshop to get an even coverage of colours. Even though Scott and the rest of the internet suggested I went YCMK (light to dark) the Magenta layer took up a lot of the page and I didn’t want that just to cover the other layers so I went MCYK. Badass, I know!
After picking up the System3 Acrylic process colours from Cass Art, I mixed them with a bit more medium than usual so it would go through the small halftone designs on the exposed screen, and should hopefully make the colours layer a bit better as well.
Magenta went down fine (apart from a misprint on the acetate) and when the Cyan went on top it made a beautiful dark blue in some of the areas where it layered over. Nice to know I had nothing to worry about! Similar story with the Yellow, which created some really nice reds and oranges depending on the halftones. Although I realised that the Black layer was going to take up a whole load more paint, so nipped back to Cass Art to pick up another tube. Black layer went down no problem, but I decided to keep one just CMY as an Artist’s Proof so I could have a proper look at it when I got home. It’s not often that I produce something by hand that is so close to the digital mock-up and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. Come and check it out at the exhibition launch!
NB – When the acetates were finalised I still had a couple of days before I could get into the screen printing studio, so I decided to take a look at how it ‘should’ be done. There is, of course, a Photoshop command to do this quickly and easily! I looked through some old photos and found a picture I took of a muscle car with a custom paint job in America. After tweaking the colours to emphasise the Cyans, Magentas and Yellows, I experimented with this image.
Convert to CMYK, then: Filter > Pixelate > Colour Halftone.
Max Radius of the halftone pattern in pixels (too small and it won’t print properly, too big and you won’t be able to tell what the image is. I think I went for 4 pixels)
Screen Angles (see previous comments about Moiré patterns) I left as default.
Then to save the image, I deleted the channels I didn’t want. Ctrl Z and do the same for each layer.
To save time and money, I printed the 4x A4 images onto an A2 acetate and burnt that onto my screen. Without any real forethought, I didn’t include registration marks so did each of the layers by eye. I was also up against the clock as I only had 45mins left of my studio booking!
This time, I thought I should follow Scott’s advice and printed YCMK. Registering the Cyan over the relatively pale Yellow was a pain, but was really impressed with the range of tones just by layering these 2 colours together. After I put the Magenta layer down, I almost didn’t need a Key plate as the mixing of the CMY filled in most of the colours and shadows, so again, I kept one for comparison.
It turned out better than I was expecting and I’m looking forward to doing this on a bigger scale to fit in more details. I think as a graphic designer rather than an illustrator, this 4 colour process really appeals to my style, and that’s the joy of The Print Social. We’re all visual creatives from different backgrounds with a shared love of printing techniques.