Aug 1, 2018
We were grateful to be asked to create a collector’s edition Mile of Music t-shirt design a few weeks back. I believe this is the first time Mile of Music outsourced their design work, which makes sense because Mile of Music is run by Willems Marketing creative agency. Mile of Music has had some nice t-shirt designs in recent years so we knew we had our work cut out. We also knew we were up to the challenge. But designing for designers, isn’t the easiest task, never mind designing for a design agency. There might have been a little intimidation there, but it’s also exhilarating to design for a client that’s serious about the details and their work.
Here’s a little overview of our process of designing the collector’s edition Mile 6 t-shirt.
Step one is determining the design style of the collector’s edition Mile of Music t-shirt. This process includes great client communication to start things right. We had some initial reference designs which we turned into a style board. This helps navigate our energy and point us in the right direction before we unleash the design knives and slice shred the pixels into pieces. In an abstract way the style board helps us clarify the path and see through to potential final destination(s).
We went into this project with full creative control and we blasted out of the gates with a bunch of fun ideas. Our first draft of t-shirt sketches intentionally tried to stray from the obvious to create more original ideas and visual strategies. We provided an array of pencil sketches that all came up short.
Our initial sketches weren’t as well received as we expected. It turns out the imagery they allow is pretty tight in comparison to most band & music festival clients. We quickly realized our creativity was wound much tighter than anticipated, but that’s the way some projects go and we didn’t let it hold us back. After some additional client conversations, we went back to the sketchbook and steered back in a different direction. We had narrowed in on many details with the first round of sketches and knew a second round would find a clear direction. After a little back and forth the Mile of Music t-shirt design sketch was chosen and we had a direction to get started.
This design requires a complete digital illustration because it incorporates completely original, custom typography for the “Mile of Music” text. Our Mile of Music t-shirt design represented a fun but equally challenging and time-consuming design. Taking a complicated design from sketch to completed t-shirt design takes a good amount of design skill, technical expertise and attention to detail. Thankfully, this isn’t our first pony ride!
We start the digital illustration by creating the basic shapes and making a series of guides that will become the template for the lettering. The design composition revolves around the interior & exterior, double diamonds. To create multiple shapes with identical parallel line work, we begin with one perfectly symmetrical diamond and begin making a series of offset paths. The text was custom-created to work within those shapes. We also had to take consideration that the final design was going to be screen printed on women’s shirt styles so the size would be somewhat limited.
Complicated custom lettering or typography takes some design muscle and planning. We had to balance the lettering within the composition & the appropriate spacing around each letter. At this point, it’s important to breakdown the lettering part of this project and start thinking about line dimensions of each part of each letter including: the stem, core, crossbars the ascender & descenders. We begin making the lettering by creating simple parts of each letter that can be reused. Once we have the basic shape of each letter in their exact resting place, we use the template to first create a clipping mask and then trim the letters to the appropriate template shape.
The vertical stem of each letter in each word should be identical width, but determining the spacing (ie kerning) between the lettering also takes careful consideration. With 4 letters in “MILE” you would think we could space the 4 letters equally and place the gap perfectly centered between the “I” & the “L” and then center the “S” in “MUSIC”. In the world of custom typography, but that’s wishful thinking. We balance the letters for a visual center where the spacing between the letters in “MILE” is tighter between the “L” & the “E” because the width of the “I” is substantially smaller than the other letters. We make similar adjustments to the word “MILE”. “Of” is entirely cursive so we found a font that we felt could be the base of the word and then we modified it to make it our own.
The Fancy Effects take a little more time and an obscene attention to detail. We create a single serif, apply that to each letter and then customize each serif as needed by a combination of sheering it and manual adjusting points when the sheer comes back looking a little lopsided. The inlines and patterns are also created with a series of offset paths and clipping masks. Each custom lettering project takes some trial and error to determine the right inline spacing. Of course we have to keep in mind the production needs of our screen prep department. Thankfully, our team has pretty excellent skills and experience.
We add some details to the leaves and some highlights to the drumsticks and our black and white design is nearly completed. Before we move to ink colors and shirt colors, we send the design back to the client for a final approval. Our goal is to knock their socks off so they don’t have any adjustments to make because making any adjustments at this point, could require a substantial amount of re-work. Thankfully, the Mile of Music staff agreed that we nailed it.
Adding color helps bring the final design to life and bring out the appropriate style. We reference the initial style board in moving to the color mockups. The subdued colors schemes in our style board used some distress textures to help tone down the design colors and some vintage quality. After a little back and forth, we ultimately end up scrapping the brown background that we love for a 6-color blend with halftone integration and a purple background. With the client opting to swap out the brownish background for purple, we’re forced to utilize the purple for the drumsticks, but we make the most of it.
After a little digging and compromise, we find the right combination of shirt styles & colors that are in stock and will be a beautiful backdrop for this design. The final textures are added after the shirt and ink colors are finalized because these textures weigh down the file and need to be clipped to specific areas of the design. With the Mile of Music t-shirt design completed, we finalize the back print with the artist lineup and our custom brand tags to brand each final print.
We knew from the get-go that this design would be a 6-color water-based screen print, so we’ve set up the file for that print method early into the design process. This makes separations a little easier considering the colors are each labeled on their own individual layer. Our pre-press specialist takes the art files to make the appropriate art separations in Photoshop. The art separations are done using channels to take the art apart and turn each color to 100% black so that we can print transparencies and burn each screen from those files. Any ink color tests are performed to ensure the final print will match the mockup and ink color adjustments are made as necessary. Screens are prepped for our water-based inks and we should be set to put these tees on press.
If we did everything right to this point, the printing process shouldn’t be too complicated. With a test print approved the print staff can do their thing and bring the digital design to life. The fronts are printed first because the Mile of Music t-shirt text is most complicated. Back are printed second and then the individual shirt size brand tags to finish off the project. We’re happy with how these turned out and look forward to the next project that allows us to flex our design muscle.