Photoshop tutorial: Turn digital artworks into screenprints

Chris Keegan explains how to strip a layered digital illustration into the bare essentials needed for a two-colour screenprint

In Photoshop, its very easy to lay down almost unlimited gradients, effects and layers. With screenprinting, however, the number of coloured layers you use dramatically increases the time it takes to complete the piece, so a two-colour print can be a great starting point. 

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This tutorial will show you that it’s not too hard or painful to rework a multi-layered digital illustration into a two-colour screenprint. Venturing into screenprinting has been very rewarding for Chris in more ways than he anticipated. For example, the simple process of converting a complicated digital illustration into a handmade print has enabled him to look at his own creative process in ways he didn’t really do before. 

The process of converting digital to print can be quite a challenge, but achievable. Here Chris will show you how he translated a Photoshop illustration with multiple colour textures and gradients into a simple two-colour screenprint. 

Even if you have a complicated digital illustration style, it’s still possible to do without it loosing its essence. This is how Chris converted his Floral Mask illustration into a two?colour image, ready and compatible for screenprinting. 

Time to complete

2-3 hours


Photoshop CS or later; screenprinting ink


As it stands, it’s possible to reproduce this digital artwork as a screenprint, but it would be difficult and time-consuming, not to mention expensive. The original artwork has multiple layers, and colours with subtle effects creating soft gradients. It’s clear some compromises will need to be made.

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The light yellow lines sit on top of a very rich dark purple. This is easily achieved digitally to create great contrasting effect, but with screenprinting ink it’s very difficult to get transparent yellow to stand out on top of a rich purple tone. It tends to sink into the dark background.

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When thinking about how your artwork will appear, it helps to think of each layer as a silhouette. The colour a layer will be is very important, but the shaped outlines each silhouette creates are crucial once you start printing. 

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With this two-colour print, I want to use the two colours almost as fore- and middle-ground elements, so the silhouettes should follow this purpose.


To begin simplifying the artwork, I took away any layer blending modes such as Multiply, Screen or Darken. With the orange and yellow layers, I had added a textured image with an Overlay blending mode to create a gradient effect that makes the colour become richer and darker in colour. Once removed, the illustration is cleaner and perhaps even a bit more appealing.

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As you can see this image now works really well as a four-colour illustration. I just didn’t think that the four colours were necessary to justify the extra cost, so I pushed myself to reduce the colours down to two.

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First, I needed to decide which two colours best depicted the image, and what ones could be discarded without losing the essence of the illustration. Here I chose to throw away the light yellow, blue and the dark blue in the bottom left. I also decided to take out the dotted elements to make the image simpler.

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Refining an image to a screenprint is, however, more than just removing gradients and textures. Sometimes you need to remove entire elements to simplify the composition. This image show the elements that I removed.

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Having to seemingly throw out most of the core elements of an image can be a bit heartbreaking at first, but once you’ve done it a few times it can be quite liberating.


A simpler composition can mean rethinking your colours – often aiming for direct contrast. I chose the orange and dark purple from the original artwork for their boldness. The green and yellow from the base of this image don’t stand out as much. Also, the strong silhouetted shapes of the two layers really depict a subtle bushy landscape without needing to use the colours of nature like floral greens.

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With screenprinting you hand print the colours one by one, so it helps to see your layering as a sequence. For example, a three-colour print has a beginning, a middle and a ‘top’ final end colour. The middle colour interacts with the top and bottom layer, and so has a different function to the others. It’s important to think about the space in between the layers, as well as the way the colours mix, touch and overlap. With Floral Mask, the two colours contrast and interact with each other, but don’t clash or overlap.

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The first layer I printed was orange. The layer you start with is the most important. If it falls flat or doesn’t work, it can compromise the next colour layer you print. The first layer frames the others, and sets up and supports the rest of the print’s composition. It’s a platform for your next colour and so on, depending on how many colours you are printing.

Screenprinting is an imperfect process, so really go through your artwork, cleaning it up and making sure everything is crisp and in its place.


When you have finally paired your image down to two colours. You will need to convert them into black and white images to be able to print them out as ‘transparencies’ at your local printer’s. 

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Hit Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + U to desaturate your image, then Cmd/Ctrl + L to apply a Levels adjustment. Pull the Input Levels slider right until your image is Black. Check every part of your image to make sure that it’s black and white, with no grey. If you see any they will need to be removed.


If you have any areas that are still grey, use the Dodge and Burn tools (O) to burn down any areas that should be clear black or lighten up any grey tones that need to be white.

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Chris Keegan is an illustrator living and working in London. Since graduating from Camberwell College of Art he has worked for a wide range of newspapers and magazines, including the FT, Time, The Observer, The Guardian, Time Out and GQ. He has created images and designs for many creative agencies such as Souk, Mother and Momentum Design. 

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Adding to his range of talents, he has recently diversified into limited edition screenprinting. Chris’s print style plays with transparent and opaque inks, forming striking montaged imagery.