Bringing a Spot Color from Photoshop to QuarkXPress

Version: 5
Operating systems: Macintosh, Windows

In the old days before the introduction of Photoshop 5, one of the fastest ways to start a heated discussion was to ask a group of designers how to print a spot color out of a Photoshop file. If you already knew the answer, it was fun to watch the others squirm, as they incorrectly argued that it was easy even though they couldn’t quite explain how they’d go about it. Or, perhaps you’ve listened as one of the more experienced veterans described some arcane method involving tricks with channels and possibly an expensive plug-in that may or may not have always worked. The reality is that in those days, creating a usable spot color in Photoshop was hard work, and the methods were unreliable at best. But all that’s changed with Photoshop 5, and in this article we’re going to show you how easy it is to set up a Photoshop file that generates the usual CMYK plates along with a spot color plate when output through QuarkXPress.

Why Spot Used to Mean Stop

For all its fabulous capabilities, Photoshop 4 (and older versions) has a real weakness when it comes to custom colors. Of course you can always use a Pantone color for a duotone, but the custom color in a duotone affects the entire image. And you can choose a Pantone color (or other custom color) and use it to color something, but the custom color won’t print on a separate plate. Instead, Photoshop 4 converts the custom color to its nearest CMYK equivalent, which means a color shift and no separate spot plate. But Photoshop 5 makes it easy to separate a true spot color plate, and here’s an example of how it works.

Assume that you’re working with a CMYK Photoshop file that you’re planning to use in a brochure. Your client has a logo that was created in Adobe Illustrator and the logo has to print in your client’s favorite color, which just happens to be Pantone 246. This custom color is a hot-looking reddish-purple, and the nearest CMYK equivalent is much darker and duller in comparison. None of this is a problem, since the client loves the color so much that he’s willing to spend the money to have it printed on a separate plate. However, when he sees the photo you’re using, he decides that he wants the black arrow and the black trim around the sign, as shown in Figure A, to also print in Pantone 246.

Figure A: The selection outlines show the black areas that the client wants colored with Pantone 246. This is the perfect situation for creating a spot color plate in Photoshop 5.

You could spend a lot of time duplicating the arrow and the black trim in Illustrator and then coloring them with Pantone 246, after which you’d have to bring them into QuarkXPress and try to position them in the precise spot over the photo of the sign. But now you don’t have to bother with any of that. You’ll just create a spot color plate right there in your Photoshop file.

The Arrow Marks the Spot

To begin the process, choose File > Preferences > General and select the Short PANTONE Names check box in the Options section of the Preferences dialog box. This ensures that any Pantone colors you choose in Photoshop will have the same name as the Pantone colors you create in Illustrator or QuarkXPress. This is important, because you want your Photoshop spot color to print on the same plate with the spot colors created in QuarkXPress and Illustrator. Next, use your favorite method to select the black areas of the arrow and the trim around the outside of the sign. For our example, we used the Magic Wand tool to make a good selection.

The next step is to completely delete all the black in the selected areas and replace it with white. To do this, press the D key or click the Default Foreground And Background Colors button in the Toolbox to bring up the default colors of black and white for the foreground and background, respectively. Then press the X key to make white the Foreground Color. Now press [option][delete] ([Alt][Delete] in Windows) to fill the selection with white.

If you can’t see the Channels palette, choose Window > Show Channels. With your selection still active, choose New Spot Channel from the Channels palette pulldown menu, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B: The new spot plate will actually be a new channel, known as a spot channel.

In the resulting New Spot Channel dialog box, click on the Color swatch to access the Color Picker and then click the Custom button to access spot or custom colors. In the Custom Colors dialog box, choose PANTONE Coated from the Book pulldown menu and then press the numbers 2, 4, and 6 to select your custom color, which is PANTONE 246 CV, as you can see in Figure C. (There’s no text box to enter the numbers into; just pressing the keys on the keyboard in quick succession causes the color list to scroll to the appropriate color.)

Figure C: Photoshop lets you choose from several custom color libraries, including PANTONE Coated. Scroll through the colors or just enter the PMS number you want.

As always, don’t trust your monitor when choosing a color. Select your custom color from a swatch book, or choose a Pantone color you’re already familiar with.

When you have the color you want, click OK to return to the New Spot Channel dialog box, which should now look like the one shown in Figure D. (Note: The Solidity setting is unimportant for the project we’re working on, so you can leave it wherever it’s set. This setting controls only the opacity of the spot color on your screen, which could be good for showing a varnish spot color where you’d want to be able to see through it; but the spot color will print at 100-percent density regardless of this Solidity setting.)

Figure D: Because you set the preferences for using the short Pantone names, Photoshop automatically fills in the name for the spot channel with the same name QuarkXPress or Illustrator uses for that color.

Click OK, and your road sign should look like the one shown in Figure E, with the bright new spot color replacing the black for the arrow and the trim.

Figure E: The client is sure to love this garishly colored sign, and you’ll be happy too because changing the black to a spot color is so easy in Photoshop 5.

If you look at the Channels palette, you’ll see your new channel, properly named as shown in Figure F.

Figure F: The new color shows up in the Channels palette, and whenever you want to work on the spot color elements, you’ll access the channel right here.

Wanna Trap That Spot?

At this point, if you’re the type of designer who thinks about trapping, you may be tempted to use Photoshop’s Trap command. It’s easy to use, and here’s how you do it. Choose Image > Trap and enter a value of 2 pixels in the Trap dialog box. Click OK, and Photoshop traps your spot color by spreading it 2 pixels. The value of 2 pixels is just a suggestion, and points out the possible problem with using the Trap command. Unless you’re a trapping expert, and unless you know for sure how much trap to apply (if any), you’re running the risk of ruining your job. Before you attempt any trapping, be sure to talk with your print shop and the technicians at your service bureau. They’ll know whether you should try it and how much trapping you should apply. It’s very likely that they’ll recommend you let them set any necessary traps.

Save My Spot

Now it’s time to save the file. Usually, when you think of saving a Photoshop file to be used in QuarkXPress, you think in terms of a TIFF or a plain Photoshop EPS file, but not this time. In order for QuarkXPress to have all the information it needs to output the correct color plates, you need to save the file as a Photoshop DCS 2.0 file.

The original DCS format was developed by Quark in the late 1980s, and was often referred to as EPS–Five Files. Those were the days when QuarkXPress was the only popular page layout application that could process color plates. And in those days, when you saved a CMYK Photoshop DCS file, Photoshop generated five files, with one file each for the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black plates; and one other file that was usually a 72 dpi color preview file. It was the preview file that was actually placed into QuarkXPress, and then as the time came to output each plate, QuarkXPress sent data from the correct one of the five files to the imagesetter as needed for each of the four color plates.

These days, even though you have a number of choices when saving in the DCS 2.0 format, you really only need to create one file. To do so, choose File > Save As and select Photoshop DCS 2.0 from the Format pulldown menu, as shown in Figure G.

Figure G: Photoshop DCS 2.0 is the file format that saves the spot channel information in a way that QuarkXPress can use.

Choose a folder to save the file to, name the file, and click Save. In the DCS 2.0 Format dialog box, use settings similar to those shown in Figure H.

Figure H: There are many choices for how to save a DCS 2.0 file, including saving as multiple files; but the settings shown here will work okay for use in QuarkXPress.

Unless your service bureau or print shop advises you otherwise, don’t select the Include Halftone Screen or Include Transfer Function check boxes. Click OK and the file is ready to use.

QuarkXPress Hits the Spot

To use the file in QuarkXPress, place the DCS 2.0 file into a picture box just as you would with a typical TIFF or EPS file. Check the Colors palette to be sure the new spot color appears in the list. And if you’ve already been using the same spot color in your QuarkXPress file, be sure that there’s still just the one color in the Colors palette. If you’ve made a mistake naming the color, you might have the same color print to two separate plates, so be careful. Print test separations to your laser printer to be sure all five plates are printing okay, and you’re done.

Spot Checking

You don’t have to follow the steps we just showed you. If you’d like, you can start with a CMYK file and choose New Spot Channel from the Channels palette pulldown menu. Then, after choosing your color, you can start painting with it or applying it any way you want with the new spot channel active. You can also lighten or darken the spot color tint. To adjust tint, click on the spot color channel in the Channels palette and then choose Image > Adjust > Levels. With the Info palette visible (Window > Show Info), slide the Output Levels black triangle to the right to lighten the tint. Even though you’re lightening the tint, it may not look that way in your image, so place the pointer over the spot color part of your image and check the Info palette to see the actual tint value. If you’ve already lightened the tint, you can darken it again by moving the Input Levels black triangle to the right. Remember that spot channel colors overprint other colors in an image; and if you don’t want the color to overprint, you’ll have to delete areas below the color area to create a knockout effect.


Less than two years ago, this process would have taken a lot longer and would have been a far more complicated project. But now that you know the easy way to create a spot color in Photoshop 5, it won’t be long until you use this method in a real job.

Copyright © 2000, Element K Content LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Element K Content LLC is prohibited. Element K is a service mark of Element K LLC.


Posted on: July 5, 2000

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.