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Meet Process Color

Updated on April 16, 2016

Monoprint

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What is Process Color?

So, before we go anywhere else, I have to explain what process color is. Usually, process color is in 4 stages, making it a 4 color process. This process uses the same basic colors as a color printer. When an artist uses process color they use yellow, magenta, cyan and black, in that order. These colors are the CMYK colors, just in a different order (cyan, magenta, yellow, black).


How Does Process Color Work?

Whether printing, cross hatching, drawing, painting or anything, yellow always comes first. Yellow is put down (or left, depending on the process) wherever the piece is going to have yellow, red, orange, green or black (if black isn't going to be used at the end. Often times artists will only use yellow, magenta and cyan layering all 3 to create black instead of relying on the black ink). Pause. You may be wondering about why you need yellow to make red. The answer is this: magenta is not red. To get a firetruck sort of red, there needs to be 100 percent yellow and 100 percent magenta to make a bright, perfect red. That said, let's talk more about magenta.

So, once the yellow is finished the artist can move on to magenta wherever there is red, orange, purple or black. Another question you may have could be about how to make orange when yellow and magenta are already put together to make red. To make orange, artists use full yellow and less magenta in percentages determined based on how dark or red the orange needs to be. The magenta is layered on top of the yellow that is already there. I will talk more about the variety of medias and how they work later on.

After the yellow and magenta are layered on, the last or second to last step is the cyan, which is like a blue for those who are unfamiliar with the term. Cyan goes down on places that are blue, purple, green and black.

After all 3 colors are on, black is the final option. Many pieces don't need the black because the other colors layer enough to make the black. Many times, black can end up overwhelming a piece. On the other hand, some pieces need that pop of black to define shapes and create contrast. The best practice with the black is to use it as sparingly as possible.


Here's an Example

This is a monoprint made with process color. Below is a breakdown of how it was made
This is a monoprint made with process color. Below is a breakdown of how it was made | Source

A Peek Behind the Curtain

The 3 levels show the yellow layer, that was then covered by the magenta layer and finished with the cyan.
The 3 levels show the yellow layer, that was then covered by the magenta layer and finished with the cyan. | Source

Ways to Use Process Color

Process color can be used in a huge number of ways. I have used it with monoprinting and cross hatching. I want to try to use it in a painting someday. Below, I'm going to explain the two ways that I have used the process color so that you can try it too!

Monoprinting

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How to Monoprint with Process Colors

Monoprinting is a print that is made one time. Other forms of printing allow multiple prints to be made because they are made on some sort of block that is inked. With monorpinting, ink is spread onto a surface and wiped away to create a design. Then, paper is pressed onto the surface to transfer the ink.

When I made my 6 monoprints I used a piece of plexiglass. I had my design and I drew it with a sharpie on the back of my plexiglass. Then, I rolled the ink onto the other side and used q-tips, cardboard pieces, my fingers, paper towel or anything I could find to wipe the ink away where it needed to be gone.

I started with the yellow ink. Having a plan for color is very important when monoprinting in process color. That is because if you don't wipe away color in the right places or you don't wipe off enough or maybe you wipe too much the piece could get ruined, or at least end up slightly differently than you may have expected.

When doing this process you have to wipe the color away anywhere it is not needed and it needs to be left wherever it is needed. With yellow, if a place in your design is yellow, orange, green, red or black, yellow needs to stay. If there is blue, purple, pink, or white almost all of the yellow should be wiped away. I say almost because the yellow is going to be a really important factor for shading and showing definition and form.

So, once you print the yellow onto the paper, you have to clean the rest of the ink off of the plexiglass plate so you can then roll on the magenta so you can wipe the magenta design and print it on top of the yellow and so forth with the cyan as well. Also, when you print it onto the paper, be sure to do your best to line everything up, at least if you mean to have it all aligned. Some artists do cool things with things not aligning.

Monoprinting is really fun and beautiful because the amount of control that the artist can have. When the color is wiped away, it doesn't have to be completely wiped off. With the right amount of finesse, you can get all of the different percentages from 0-100 percent. That makes the color possibilities endless.

While the color possibilities are endless, neutrals are tough to make. Browns and grays are very hard and can be impossible for some artists. It takes practice to get the neutrals just the way you like. The key is using all 3 colors strategically. A light brown would need something like a 30 percent yellow, 20 percent magenta and 10 percent cyan. This would hopefully leave you with a lighter, redder sort of brown.

Percentages with monoprinting is easily achieved because each layer of ink is wiped and controlled separate from the other colors. It is only put on top of the other colors after all of the ink is wiped away to the artist's content. Printing the ink onto the paper with the other layers of ink is the most nerve racking part, because you have to just hope and pray that the colors mix the way you hoped and that you wiped everything off the way you needed to.

I'll shut up and show you what I made now.

Call Girl

This is one of my favorite monoprints that I have made because I like the play on words and how the t-shirt and bricks turned out. Making the word "Call" was hard because I had to carefully wipe away all of the little spaces around the letters
This is one of my favorite monoprints that I have made because I like the play on words and how the t-shirt and bricks turned out. Making the word "Call" was hard because I had to carefully wipe away all of the little spaces around the letters | Source

Brush Your Teeth

This was the first process monoprint I made. I thought that the blue would be darker to shape the toothbrush, but I really needed some magenta to help bring contrast into that area.
This was the first process monoprint I made. I thought that the blue would be darker to shape the toothbrush, but I really needed some magenta to help bring contrast into that area. | Source

Hello Horsey

The color gradient in the background was really hard to make. It didn't actually turn out quite how I wanted, but I still love all of the colors.
The color gradient in the background was really hard to make. It didn't actually turn out quite how I wanted, but I still love all of the colors. | Source

The Woman Series

The Woman: Introduction- My favorite part of all three of these is the plaid backgrounds. I love how the colors blend together.
The Woman: Introduction- My favorite part of all three of these is the plaid backgrounds. I love how the colors blend together. | Source
The Woman: Smoking- I like that this piece shows this sophisticated woman as a little edgier than you thought she might be from the introduction.
The Woman: Smoking- I like that this piece shows this sophisticated woman as a little edgier than you thought she might be from the introduction. | Source
The woman: Bathing- I wish I would not have wiped all of the colors out of the tub, because it could have used a little more shading.
The woman: Bathing- I wish I would not have wiped all of the colors out of the tub, because it could have used a little more shading. | Source

What About You?

Have you done this sort of monoprinting before?

See results

Cross Hatching with Process Color

Something that may be a little less common is cross hatching with process colors. Usually, the most common form of cross hatching is with just black. Other than that, it is also used with inks or paints that are premixed to match the local colors of whatever is being drawn.

Using process color with cross hatching is a totally new experience for me. When all of the cross hatching comes together it makes more of an illusion of color where the colors meet.

This technique works the same as with other techniques in the fact that yellow comes first, then magenta and cyan. However, the cross hatching lends itself to a little more flexibility than the monotprinting. With the printing that I described above, once the ink went down on paper, that was it for that color. There was no going back to add or take away the color. However, with the cross hatching, you can go back in and add color. You still can't take color away, though.

I really liked being able to go back in and add colors when I needed to when I was making my cross hatched process color piece. While going in the YMC order is preferred, you can go back over the magenta and cyan with yellow or over the cyan with magenta, etc. However, if and when this is done, it needs to be done wisely, in moderation. If you missed an entire area of yellow and you have already put down the magenta and cyan, I wouldn't recommend trying to go back over it.

The highlight and downfall of cross hatching is the time investment. Cross hatching an entire drawing takes time. It is beautiful and fun to do, but can get frustrating if you are an impatient, slash and burn sort of artist, like I am. While I do tend to love slashing and burning (tearing through a piece quickly, using fast bold strokes with lots of energy) I find a lot of peace in the cross hatching process. Another bonus to the slow cross hatching process is because you go line by line you have a lot of time to notice if something is missing or out of order, which is nice because it can rule out errors that you may encounter with something like monoprinting.

Cross hatching is also interesting because you can use so many different sorts of lines. Plus, the way each artist cross hatches is so unique. I have seen artists who are very mechanical and can get their lines evenly, perfectly spaced and still so close together I can't even imagine. Other artists let the lines wobble or blot giving some personality and charming imperfection.

Cross hatching with process color is especially time consuming because you have to make the drawing at least 3 different times, but the results are beautiful. The other nice thing about cross hatching in process color is the control that you have as an artists. You define your own palette. By your choice of yellow, magenta/red and cyan/blue you have a lot of control over your final outcome.

There are a lot of options for media when it comes to cross hatching. There is always pen and ink. That could be a dip pen with inkwells of colored inks or watercolor bombs (liquid watercolor, there is a great way to make your own out of the cheaper solid watercolor cakes, but I can describe that in another hub if anyone is interested). It could also just be colored gel or ballpoint pens. I actually used the magical prismacolor markers. They were so smooth and had rich and beautiful color. I put them onto finger paint paper which is shiny and very sleek. I really liked that the markers had a thicker mark than a pen would and I liked that you could really see the other colors mixing underneath. When I made mine, I used 4 colors, the regular yellow, magenta, cyan, but I also added another darker blue because I had the ability and I felt that the piece needed something darker, but definitely not black.

Shiny Glass Bottles

This is the final piece. I actually used 4 colors, canary yellow, process red, true blue and ultramarine.
This is the final piece. I actually used 4 colors, canary yellow, process red, true blue and ultramarine. | Source

Always Practice!

This was my first attempt at the process color cross hatching. I made a really fast sketch of my glasses and tested out my colors before making my final piece
This was my first attempt at the process color cross hatching. I made a really fast sketch of my glasses and tested out my colors before making my final piece | Source

The Process in Action

Yellow layer
Yellow layer | Source
Yellow+Process Red (Magenta)
Yellow+Process Red (Magenta) | Source
Yellow+Process Red+True Blue
Yellow+Process Red+True Blue | Source
Yellow+Process Red+True Blue+Ultramarine
Yellow+Process Red+True Blue+Ultramarine | Source

Practice Makes Perfect

This was done with a dip pen and winsor and newton inks. I had fun playing with different kinds of lines
This was done with a dip pen and winsor and newton inks. I had fun playing with different kinds of lines | Source
This was a practice done with a dip pen and watercolor bombs
This was a practice done with a dip pen and watercolor bombs | Source
This one is also the dip pen and watercolor, however, I had fun trying a landscape instead of just a few isolated objects.
This one is also the dip pen and watercolor, however, I had fun trying a landscape instead of just a few isolated objects. | Source
This is the dip pen and watercolor on a very textured paper. I was experimenting a lot with gradients.
This is the dip pen and watercolor on a very textured paper. I was experimenting a lot with gradients. | Source

What About You?

Have you done cross hatching before?

See results

That's All Folks!

See, process color isn't so hard, right? Okay, so it can be a difficult concept to grasp, but I really do love it. I have worked hard to develop my eye for color and this process only helps me even more. I love colors and using process color is a great way to have tons of control over the colors.

Process colors can be used in so many ways, and I would love to hear some of the ways that you may have encountered process colors!

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