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How to Identify Color Separation Prints

Posted Monday, January 09 by Brian

What is a Color Separation Print?

Anything printed where each color in the resulting print is printed from a separate printing plate for each color in the print. This includes virtually everything being printed today and 99+% of everything printed in the last 100 years.

Most color separations are printed in 4 colors, magenta, cyan, yellow and black. Essential the 3 primary colors plus black. The inks are applied to the paper as "tiny dots of color". Because the dots are very small, the eye perceives them together and blends them. So that blue and yellow dots printed right next to each other are perceived as green. In this way all of the colors are created by your perception. The following link shows each of the 4 colors as printed on a separate sheet and then on the same sheet. Color Separation Most of us with color printers can see the different colors in the ink cartridges that we buy for our printers. Even the computer screen you are looking at creates its images with little dots of color. Each dot is called a pixel, short for picture element.

How to Identify a Color Separation Print Under Magnification

The next 2 photos show what this type of print looks like through a magnifying glass. Color Separation.jpg
The dots that make up your screen make it a little more difficult to see the dots in the first photo. You will see them as either lines of color or small circles of color. If you don't see them at first, look at a different part of the image. You can also lean back a little or try blinking slowly. I have magnified it even more in the next photo, in case you are still having trouble.
Color Separation Close Up.jpg
The first photo is close to what you might see with a household magnifier (about 3-5x magnification), and the second is closer to what you would see with a jeweler's loupe (10x magnification).

Not all prints will have identical looking dots. Some will look more like lines and dashes, and others will have less uniform dots that are caused by the grain in a piece of limestone (chromolithograph). Chromolithographs will be covered in a separate article in the future.

If you are an antique dealer or wish to collect prints, you should invest in a quality jeweler's loupe to assist in identifying the types of prints, including etchings and engravings, which we will also cover as time permits.

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