15 Awful Mistakes Made by Designers in the Music & Apparel Industry – 2 of 3

This is part two of the 3-part mistakes series. The first one, in case you missed it, covered issues such as undercharging, typography, unprofessionalism, over promising, and the lack of understanding of apparel production. It was well received and a lot of people posted their comments. It was a pleasure reading all of them.

I’ve picked the brains of 9 great designers:

Rob Dobi Dan Mumford Derek Deal
Jimiyo Geoff May Justin Ryan
Laurie Shipley AJ Dimarucot Jimmy Heartcore

So without further ado, here are 5 more mistakes made by designers in the music and apparel industry.


Some designers have developed a style that is instantly recognizable such as Shepard Fairey, Rob Dobi, Derek Hess, Hydro74, and Angryblue. They’re highly coveted and sought out for that style. A lot of designers today simply try to mimic the style of others, and oftentimes, it is the client asking them to do this! Like I said in an older article, I get asked to “Make it look like Affliction” all the time.

Don’t completely cave in to what clients ask for, you have to leave a little room for your own aesthetic. If a client wants a certain type of imagery, make it your own rather than doing the obvious. A big mistake is failing to establish your own style, your ultimate goal as a designer should be to have someone see a shirt and instantly know it is yours. – Rob Dobi

Be Yourself

Rob also goes on to talk about biting trends:

No more silly shirts with huge text, food, cartoony animals with sunglasses, and anything else that looks like a third grader doodled them in their notebook. This style will look dated and completely immature in a few years. There is a reason why tees didn’t look like this in the punk / indie community a few years ago, mainly because it is a passing trend among fifteen year old girls who will flee the scene just as quick as they came. Glamour Kills has this market down to a science, every other brand that imitates it just ends up looking like they are riding GK’s coat tails. – Rob Dobi

If a designer can develop their own style, or spin on another style, this will greatly benefit them in the long run. Also, if a designer is TOO versatile, they will often be overlooked because nothing they do stands out from the crowd. Being a jack of all trades but a master of none only gets you so far.

I think some designers are so eager to break into the industry, that they end up just re-hashing tired concepts or ripping off other people’s styles. Most of my favorite designers infuse a lot of their own personalities and interests into their work, which in turn separates them from a flock of would be designers. I don’t think there’s any reason why you can’t be an ‘artist’ as well as a hired gun. Just be honest with yourself, maintain your own personal aesthetics and if you’re luckily you’ll start getting more work that vibes with your personality. – Derek Deal

Slater Rip

In addition to just following trends, there are people who call themselves designers who outright steal or rip off other people’s hard work. You are seeing this more and more today. There are countless threads on Emptees about various instances and websites completely devoted to pointing out design thieves.

But what constitutes ripping? I know I have a few designers I admire whose techniques I study and try to implement into my own work. Is that ok? Everyone knows that every creative piece of work done today is a copy of something else in the past.

I think sometimes designers use inspiration for a piece (which is totally cool), but then unintentionally use too much from it, thus resulting in a rip. – Chris Sandlin

Westside Mordor ManticoresAs a result of the constant ripping that is pointed out on Emptees, a little “club” called the Manticores was formed. The Manticores (short for West Side Mordor Manticores) were formed to help police and publicly shame individuals who steal or rip off other artists. Sometimes the acts are completely embarrassing to the individual who decided to steal someone’s design, and this drastic measure of public humiliation might deter thieves from ripping in the future. I called myself a “member” of the Manticores, but I personally try to keep my opinions professional and mature. If I get ripped, I try to go about it in a professional manner. In fact, I wrote an article about what to do if you get ripped. I haven’t been following the Manticores much lately, but from what I heard, they no longer exist.

This is a great thread by Edgil who is an amazing illustrator. He admits to ripping off another artist in his early career and how he didn’t think it was so wrong until it happened to him. It’s a good honest story. He’s since become one of my favs on Emptees.

What about using stock artwork? As you know, Go Media sells vector packs and other stock on the Arsenal. We promote them to other designers and encourage them to use the artwork in their designs. Using stock is completely legal when used within the terms of use, but isn’t that being unoriginal?

Not necessarily. You can be original and use stock to save time on your project. Think of new ways to utilize it. We would much rather see someone buy our stock and use them in a way we haven’t seen before or add them to an illustration that WAS original. I’m sure other designers who create stock artwork feel the same.

7. Not Following Directions

No Skulls Idiot

You’ve always heard that communication is key. Young designers and even experienced ones lose jobs because they don’t follow directions or listen to what the client really wants.

It is better to err on the side of communicating too much than not enough. During business affairs, make sure to communicate often, ask many questions, and make sure you get a clear idea of what the client desires. There is no shame to say that you aren’t certain of the direction the art is to go, if you validate the seemingly negative statement by letting them know that you want to ensure they are getting the product they desire and will be totally satisfied. – Jimiyo

Here’s a common situation to avoid: You get a new t-shirt design job for a band you’re really excited about. You jump in and start drawing and before you know it, you’re 4 hours in and really tightening up your linework and colors. You post your first set of proofs and the client writes back and is upset. What the heck happened? It was one of your best designs yet!

“I told you in the beginning I didn’t want skulls or anything related to the human form. I said less than 3 colors on a shirt color THAT IS NOT BLACK.” – angry client

Woops. You just failed. You look back at the project description (or email in some cases) and see it was all explained already in plain English. The client is not happy and thinks you’re an idiot. This is a sure fire way to lose clients. Not to mention you wasted 4 hours of your own time that you’re probably not getting paid for.

Make sure you read directions and listen to your client. If you’re not sure then ask!

8. Not utilizing the medium to its fullest

When designing for print or apparel, designers often forget or ignore the medium that allows them such creativity in the first place. Mr. Mumford had a strong opinion about this as well. In this case about doing CD Packaging:

I like to try and think carefully about what’s placed next to what and how you can use the on-body design of the CD sitting in the tray to good effect or tell a narrative throughout the booklet. I generally do all layout for the CDs and vinyl I work on, and because of that I always try and make as complete a package as I can. – Dan Mumford

Print design is more about just pretty graphics

And Go Media’s own Chris Comella has a passion for packaging. He’s a really hands-on designer and is often seen printing and folding his own packaging mockups out of plain paper. He adds:

Now that people are downloading all their music, its forcing designers to add value to the tangible CDs they work on. Alot of artists are cutting down their CD runs and embellishing their actual packaging…making it more of a ‘collectors item.’ This approach opens the floodgates in terms of production techniques and finishes that transform run of the mill packaging into more personal experiences. Alternative packaging and specialty productions really nail down the idea that the good is in the detail. – Chris Comella

I like the way Chris appreciates the physical medium of the project. Not just the graphics or what can be done in Photoshop or Illustrator. I am actually going to get him to write a complete article on packaging and how it makes you a better designer. Look for that soon.

As far as apparel goes, the past 5 years have seen major improvements. It’s no longer just the front and center chest graphics. With printers like Design by Humans and Amb3r able to print just about ANYTHING, pushing the envelope of what can be printed on a t-shirt is as important as ever. Just for an example, Oliver’s Concentric Downpour tee utilized both the front and back in a unique way. And AJ Dimarucot (aka Collision Theory) is someone I see that enjoys experimenting with apparel medium.

9. Lack of respect for fellow designers

Maylene and the Sons of Disaster by Oliver BarrettMost designers that email me are usually very nice and respectful. But some out there can be little brats that need a spanking.

These brats are seen trolling message boards, calling people faggots and telling people that their designs suck and they’re rips of another designer’s style. These are the same people that commit the ripping/stealing mistake. They do not care about other designers or their property. They are out to get attention. In fact, I shouldn’t even say they are designers.

Laurie Shipley told me she takes offense when other designers try to make her divulge client contact information:

I’ve noticed recently that a lot of designers just starting out are asking some more experienced designers to offer up their contacts like it ain’t no thang! This is absolutely a huge FAIL in art community etiquette, it’s mind blowing. You gain knowledge and insight by working within the industry. Building up a contact list doesn’t always come easy, and to have someone expect you to just hand it out is disrespectful. – Laurie Shipley

Karma.  Enough said.

Another example is after we spend a few days writing a tutorial, we have a few people who like to spoil the show and rip into it. We appreciate constructive criticism but we laugh when we get comments like this on Dave’s Gigposter Design tutorial.

Yah, that was like, “Take trite design convention #1, add Trite Design Conventions #2 and #3, and blamo.” Also, you didn’t put The Fall Of Troy first because you like them more. You put em first, because the design problem here would have been to put the Deftones first (they certainly would have been the headliner). So instead of solving a design problem, you used a bad example of how to work-around your issue. It’s obvious that if a promoter came to you with this project, that it would be rejected. He’s more worried about the tickets the Deftones pull in, not Fall of Troy. As a design tutorial — C+ As a design problem solved? — F- – Some insecure designer

Showing respect for your fellow designers can benefit you in the long run a few ways.

  • They refer clients to you if they’re overworked
  • They link to your site from theirs
  • They offer their own tips and advice

10. Delivering Files before Getting Paid

This seems like a no-brainer but it happens. It happens to us from time to time and it costs us a lot of money. There is nothing worse that spending 10-20 hours on a design and then sending out the print ready files before you get paid. The client is NOT going to pay you once they have received the final files, unless you’ve already established a working relationship with them and know they will pay later.

If you’ve given the client artwork without getting paid, you might be out of luck. If the client doesn’t want to pay you, and they have your artwork it might not be worth it to you to pursue legal action… It’s an expensive lesson to learn. – Jimmy Heartcore

I did this once and learned the hard way. They didn’t pay me fully because they claimed that they didn’t use the art. Nowadays, I only send final art after getting fully paid. – AJ Dimarucot

Get Paid First

To sum up, be original, pay attention and follow directions, experiment with printed materials, show respect to fellow designers, and never release your files before getting paid (unless you have worked out a deal you both agree to).

The next 5 mistakes are coming up shortly. Subscribe via email to get notified about new posts.

Zine Features You May Have Missed

It’s late at night and I saw we hadn’t posted today. So I wanted to point out a couple things on our site that you may not be familiar with. I don’t really mention them much, but take a look down our sidebar for a minute.

  • Top commentors of the past 30 days. As of this posting Geoff May, ChequeredManiac, and Tiffany have the most comments on this site. Edit: Don’t forget Grant at 4th place!
  • User Link Feed that allows all our readers to post links to their own articles.
  • We have a Twitter box for those of you that Twitter.
  • And also a new Muxtape box to broadcast some of our designer’s favorite music. We’ll be adding new playlists for Adam, Liz, and probably a few others here.

If you can think of anything else cool you’d like to see in our sidebar, let us know.

How to Draw Your Own Vector Wings

Ok, I lied. We’re not entering the Food Service industry. But a tutorial on how to make some chicken wings would be pretty cool, none the less. This tutorial is all about how to make those really cool hyper detailed wings that all those bro-dawg brands are rocking.

First things first, we’re gonna need to find a reference photo of a feather. After some searching on the information superhighway, I found one that I liked. The reason I chose it is because it had good curvature and a good amount of disheveled strands. Check it out below.

So I placed it into a new Illustrator file (by going to File > Place). Once in there, like a lot of the other tutorials on here that require tracing from a photo reference – I’ll be turning down the opacity of the image and locking it’s sub-layer.

So we’re gonna start tracing the feather out. We don’t need the plume on it, just the feathery part. I put enough crazy ridges and stray strands to keep it as a good base. I didn’t go too hyper on the first one because we’ll be duplicating the base shape and adding further detail to prevent the feathers from being so repetitive. We can’t have a boring wing, you know?

So I duplicated the feather base once and dragged it off to the side. I made a couple of my own tapered brushes for the detail. If you’re unfamiliar with making tapered brushes, we have more than a couple tutorials that touch on how to achieve this effect. It’s a whole tutorial in itself, so like last time, I’m omitting it from this one too. I added a ton of detailed strands all around both base shapes. I expanded the appearance on the brush strokes, deleted the invisible stroke marks (by making a transparent box, using the magic wand to select all the invisible lines, and hit the delete key) then added the shape of the details and the corresponding base feather together with the pathfinder. And we’ve got two feathers.

Now I start building the wing. The curvature comes into play here, because it’s what is going to give our wing a legit look. I duplicated each feather, and switched off each style to keep it different, while decreasing the size little by little. I know I reached a good stopping point when the detail in the wing begins to get lossy with the naked eye.

premium content rss

Now we need to add the secondary part of the wing. I duplicated the wing we have so far and added it with the pathfinder. I turned down the opacity (locking it’s sub-layer is up to you, but not necessary) and got to work with the additional part. I added the detail strands much like I did in the feather. I also added some more smaller feathers to give it some more character and kill off a little of the negative space.

Now I repeated the expanding of the brush strokes, deleted stray transparent lines, and merged the wing all together with the pathfinder tool. We have a wing! Now let’s duplicate it and mirror it like it’s shown below.

So let’s align this bad boy properly, and group it together.

You’re now equipped with a pretty nice set of wings to put behind your logo or graphic. I used a skull here from the Arsenal, well, because I can… and there you have it.

Now I’m gonna go look up some Hot Wing recipes and throw down in the kitchen. Adios!


The feather used as the photo reference was aquired by using Google’s image search, from the website Owl Prowl. Just giving them credit where it’s due.

Vector Freebie & Micro Tutorial: Seamless Swirls

Hey it’s a Monday morning freebie! This one took a little extra time to make, so I really hope you enjoy it. It is (mostly) seamless, so you can drop it into your swatches panel and fill any shape with it.

free vector preview

I say mostly because it went through a series of transformations – one of which was an export to photoshop (for some wacom-esque highlighting) followed by a hi-res auto trace in Illustrator. So, some edges are slightly off, but the overall seamless effect is there. Go ahead and download it, but stick around for some behind the scene paparazzi shots of how it was made.


I’ll admit it – I had never made a seamless pattern before. I knew I wanted it to be swirly, so I pen-tooled some reference photos for ingredients as I brainstormed just how this was going to work.
free vector ingredients

By the time these ingredients were ready I had a plan for a workable but really laborious process to make a seamless pattern. In the screenshots below you’ll find an explanation of how it was done, but really, if you know of a better way please share in the comments!

EDITED: Track6 knows a much more accurate and quick way to accomplish these steps and was nice enough to share it with everybody in the comments. The idea is the same, but the process better. Thanks!

free vector seamless pattern step 1

free vector pattern step 2

free vector pattern step 3

free vector pattern step 5

As you can see from the last screenshot, the pattern was still quite a mess at this stage. Filling out the middle took a little while of puzzle piecing everything together. By the end of the workday last Friday I had spent a little too much time on this thing, and still wasn’t happy. So over the weekend curves were smoothed and highlights added, and finally it was starting to look right. An anxious face showed up in the curves so I made a little preview image just for fun.

free vector fun preview
So that’s the story of this freebie! I hope if you embark on making your own custom seamless pattern you’ll share some shortcuts with me in the comments.

Jeff’s Weekly Review July 21-29

Judging by the welcoming response to last week’s review, I’ll go ahead and continue with this one. You suggested that I keep posting the reviews because it reminds you that you’re either a) slacking off and need to get to work or b) “oh, i’m not as much of a slacker as I thought!” Here’s what I got accomplished this week.

  • Worked on a simple wordpress theme with Adam Law for a redesign of Red Ferret
  • Did some sketches for a few illustrations for Complex Magazine. Oliver and I start final concepts this week.
  • My Trivium Design from last week along with some from Dave and Oliver all got approved. See below for those.
  • Assigned a job for Chris Comella. Write an article about the why packaging design is awesome.
  • Worked on a tee for New Kids on the Block. I might need to do some more this week.
  • Successfully participated in my second “Jam Night” – I played drums with a couple other musicians on Tuesday nights. It’s fun to get out and play with people I’ve never met that are 30 years my senior.
  • Started working on Phase 3 of the Arsenal. The customization of the “My Account” section.
  • Cleaned one of the toilets at Go Media for my chore. We use Chorebuster around here to keep things tidy.
  • Published part 1 of the 15 mistakes article that you have probably already read. I spent time promoting the article as well. Can’t wait for part 2.

Trivium design by Oliver Barrett

Trivium Design by Jeff Finley

Trivium shirt design by Dave Tevenal

Trivium shirt design by Oliver Barrett

Concentric Downpour wins Shirt of the Month

Design by Humans Shirt of the Month June
It’s been a few weeks now, but I’m extremely happy to say that my first DBH Submission, Concentric Downpour, has won shirt of the month for June on Design by Humans! A big thanks to everyone that voted, left a comment, or bought one. It’s already sold out in medium and large! I’m really stoked about the win and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the next Go Media submission is just as successful. That way, we can continue to afford to buy more jalapeno chips, twizzlers, ice cream bars, and other snacks.


15 Awful Mistakes Made by Designers in the Music & Apparel Industry – 1 of 3

Fail Kid

Designers in the music and apparel industry are some of the most talented designers around. I’m willing to bet there isn’t a sector of graphic design that allows more creativity and more artistic freedom. Despite the amazing talent and style, the “scene” suffers from a few fatal flaws that need to be remedied. If you’re a designer and your client base consists mostly of bands and clothing companies (myself included) then you need to read this.

I’ve interviewed nine of the premier designers in the music and apparel industry. Each designer had lots to say about the subject and spoke from their own experiences as well as what they observe in the design community. I’ve compiled a list of 15 mistakes and summarized the key points for each. I decided to split this into 3 posts because there is just so much information to take in. Parts 2 and 3 will be available soon.

Designers who offered their opinions to this article.

Rob Dobi Dan Mumford Derek Deal
Jimiyo Geoff May Justin Ryan
Laurie Shipley AJ Dimarucot Jimmy Heartcore

1. Not Charging Enough

This topic rears its ugly head on internet message boards all the time. Experienced designers are upset when they’re trying to earn a living doing what they love while “kids in their mom’s basement” are doing it for free and taking their clients. Anyone can find a copy of Photoshop and start imitating the trends and offer their work to their favorite bands for free. Derek Deal put it nicely:

People get into this industry because of their connection to the music, and tend to do a lot of favors to be affiliated with the bands that inspire them. – Derek Deal

Many of the artists I interviewed charged next to nothing starting out. It’s how they built their portfolio. But they were smart enough to raise their rates as demand increased.

At first, I believe it’s okay to charge a little lower than expected just to get your feet wet, but when you become a little more established, don’t fear raising your prices. Then again, don’t gouge them either. – Chris Sandlin

Design is not just a throwaway commodity

I know some very talented designers that complain they can’t pay their bills or quit working a second job. I later find out they’re charging $50-100 for a t-shirt design that takes them 12 hours to complete. They’re sad and depressed and are struggling. Being a designer does not mean you aren’t allowed to make a good living.

You want to be the “go to guy” for labels and merchandise companies so you think charging next to nothing for your work is the way to become that guy. You couldn’t be further from the truth. – Geoff May

It confuses clients when designers do not understand pricing and fail to charge what they’re worth. It furthers the perception that design is just a “throwaway commodity.” Clients will think that every designer should be charging that low.

It devalues your work. When you give your work a price, it sends a message to the client about how much value they’re getting.

Large companies/labels and bands know this. If you quote them at 10% of what they were expecting, they may think the quality won’t be good and go with someone else. If you don’t buy this, just look at those freelance sites where people post jobs and artists/coders all over the world bid on the project. More often than not, the middle of the road or high price gets picked over the low end price. – Justin Ryan

Phantom Planet designSome blame can be put on the client. for bullying designers into lowering their prices. They threaten them by giving the job to someone else. They will also try to lure you in with promises of “exposure” which I will cover in Part 2.

Designers need to be firm in their pricing and not be afraid to lose jobs because of price. I know I fall victim to this from time to time. I know a particular client might not have money, but I’ll really want the job. Sometimes I’ll get the job and I will create something I’m proud of. But at the end of the day my bills aren’t paid.

I used to believe that to be able to get projects I should lower my prices. That hurts you a lot because you become valuable to a client only because you have the lowest price. With confidence and a better folio, I’ve set a minimum price for design work and let go of clients who can’t go bare minimum. This weeds out the ‘price-sensitive’ client. The good clients come back to me and say “we’d rather pay you your price because you do quality work.” – AJ Dimarucot

That said, it’s becoming harder and harder for a designer to support himself (let alone a family). When tee companies are charging over $100 for a t-shirt it’s only fair for designers to start charging what they’re worth. How do you know what to charge? Well, Bill already wrote a handy guide for designers about pricing. I suggest you give that a read.

There is always an exception to the rule. Doing work for free or cheap for something you strongly believe or for a good cause is acceptable. I do it all the time. Working for charity or a music festival that I feel passionate about is OK with me. Sometimes it allows you to do something more bold or daring because a client’s wallet isn’t associated with it. It allows me to spend time experimenting – something clients often do not have a budget for.

2. Ignoring Typography

Adam Law, Go Media’s own typography purist, put it best:

Typography is not something to be slapped onto a design at the end of the design process. The typography is just as important as the imagery, if not more, and should receive equal consideration from the beginning of the process. The goal of any good design is to communicate a message, and I find it disheartening when well executed imagery is ruined by a lack luster typographic treatment that seems completely disparate from the communicated idea. – Adam Law

Type is not an afterthought

You’ll be surprised at how much this happens. Artists often consider type to be an afterthought to a design. My fellow animation students in college suffered from the same problem. You’ve probably seen this – a brilliantly executed drawing or animation combined with awful type (maybe with an emboss or amateurish glow or drop shadow).

Browsing through Emptees, I see this comment A LOT: “Love the drawing, hate the type.” And also “Great design, but the type looks like an afterthought.”

Examples of “afterthought” typography

I’m no world class typographer, but I know how to place a bit of type or make something look cohesive, and I really hate when I open up a booklet that has great cover artwork, to find some horribly placed quickly done last minute layout, a lot of the time i think its really thought of as unimportant, and a last minute addition. – Dan Mumford

Watch your edges! Putting type too close to edges happens to be something Bill talks about in his discussion on spacing in his 7 Rules to Becoming a Master Designer Series.

Dan Mumford adds:

Don’t put type too close to the edge, it makes work look really amateurish. Of course, I’ve had work printed where I left a good 1cm from the bleed and the pressing plant cropped it so badly that the type only just made it, so keep that in mind with large bodies of text. – Dan Mumford

3. Unprofessional Behavior

Lack of maturity in the design community is a big problem today. I think it’s mostly because the Internet makes it easy for a 15 year old to compete with real pros like Ray Frenden. I think Ray is one of the most professional and mature designers I’ve ever come across. I wish I could have included his expertise in this article, but he wasn’t able to get back to me in time.

Maturity goes a long way.

But anyway, what constitutes unprofessional behavior?

  • How you write in emails (caps lock, spelling, grammar, etc)
  • How you speak on the phone (nervous, mumbling, etc)
  • How you act in online forums (trolling, name-calling, etc.)
  • How you treat other designers (patronizing, being disrespectful)
  • Bad-mouthing clients in public forums

Regardless of if you are the artist or client, projecting professionalism during the first few communications with each other is important. “Yeah yo, I’d be down to throw down fo ya. Wat you need?” is unacceptable. – Jimiyo

From my experience with places like Emptees and other design forums, there are certain individuals that stand out. There are those who give thoughtful insights and treat others with respect and there are those who act like children, have poor grammar, and call names. The rest kind of blend in and go unnoticed.

One of the sad realities in this business is that sometimes you are going to make something for a client, and absolutely fall in love with it, only for them to straight up not like it. Don’t let it make you bitter towards them. Most clients can sense this and will not stand for it. It’s kind of like being a chef. Not everyone is going to like your signature dish. – Justin Ryan

4. Over Promising

If you can't do it just say so.

A common mistake made by designers is over promising. I have done it before. In fact, we ended up losing a lot of money on a project because we over promised and couldn’t deliver on time. We took a major cut in our income because of it and we are still recovering months later.

But we’ve all been there. A new record label contacts you and needs three designs by the end of the day. Out of fear of losing the job, a designer will likely tell the label they will do it no problem (and probably without getting a deposit first, a double fail).

Geoff May has been in this situation before. He tells us that it’s a bad situation to be in for two reasons:

1. There’s no way you’re doing your best work. Period. If you’re cranking out a design in an hour you’re either the most prolific designer/artist in history or you’re not doing your best work. Sure, sparks of creativity hit us all from time to time and we’re able to make something amazing in a short amount of time. The odds of lightning striking three times on the same project are very slim. And by “slim” I mean “impossible”.

2. You are setting yourself up for failure and creating bad blood between you and the client. What happens when the deadline approaches and you’ve only just started the second tee? The record label is going to be curious as to why you told them it was no problem and now that the deadline has hit, here you are with not even half the job done. You think they’re calling you for their next project? Guess again. – Geoff May

Creating a false sense of security for the client is a no-no. Just be direct and straight forward. If it’s not possible, tell them! They will respect you for your honesty. To be honest, I would try to LOWER the client’s expectations. In fact, that’s a proven tactic to tricking your clients into happiness.

Words to live by: Under promise and over deliver. ALWAYS. – Geoff May

5. Not understanding apparel production

Vietnam Werewolf teeDesigners doing band merch or designing for upstart clothing companies SHOULD have a modest understanding of how apparel production works. When I designed my first shirt in 2004, nobody told me how it was to be done. In fact, the clothing company that hired me didn’t know either. All he knew was he wanted some “sick” t-shirts to sell.

Just from experience, I learned what was expected of me. I worked with a variety of apparel printers and they all want files different ways.

Jimmy Breen (aka Jimmy Heartcore) prints all his own shirts and also prints a lot of merch for Fueled by Ramen records. He has this to say:

Over the past several years of running my own print operation, I’ve encountered loads of artwork from designers that is horribly not ready for print. Sure, in most cases I can correct any issues – as a printer should be able to do. However, sometimes there’s just too much to fix.

If you’re giving artwork to your client that is for apparel production, and the artwork sucks – your client will end up getting charged more money from the printer for separations, corrections, etc. Do yourself and your client a favor. Learn the basics of apparel printing!

Each color in your design is going to have a separate screen for printing. This means that you want to keep the number of colors in your design as low as possible.

If you’re using Illustrator to design in, make sure all of your colors are uniform. Make sure the yellows are the same yellow. The black is black. Use the Pantone Solid Coated color book from your swatches library to select your colors. This makes printing directly from your file much easier.

If you’re using Photoshop to design, take care to put each color on it’s own layer while you’re designing. It keeps the printer from having to separate colors later on, and ensures that little details aren’t lost. Sometimes when separating out colors from a flattened image, Photoshop won’t register really small marks in a file and they end up getting left out. Label all of your layers by color.

Though there is a ton of information online, youtube is a great place to search for screen printing information. 95% of the people in the apparel industry use this method for transferring your design to a garment. Do some research!

I admit, I’ve designed shirts that people say are impossible to print. Stuff that goes over seams and uses too many colors. I am a firm believer that the designer doesn’t NEED to be the color separator as well. But people will disagree with me. Color separators get paid to do a job, and I will let them do what they do best.

I don’t want to do a shoddy job separating colors when the printer employs someone who can do this every day. I always find it annoying when some clients are able to print a flawless shirt using just a flattened JPG and other clients are confused and tell me their printer doesn’t know how to separate colors. Find a new printer!

Ignorance is only your fault

But being ignorant to apparel production is a mistake. If I can recommend a printer to my client that I work well with, it is not an issue. We work as a team. But if I am misinformed and have no resources to help a client get their shirt printed, then I am probably not going to get that client to come back to me.

To sum things up, young designers need to stop complaining about getting taken advantage of by clients and be firm in their prices. They need to quit acting like babies and be professional. You don’t have to be the cheapest and you don’t have to be an asshole to be successful. You just need to be good and reliable. And work on your typography and how it can be integrated more into the piece rather than stuck on at the end.

Feel free to discuss in the comments. I’m interested in hearing what you have to say.

10 more mistakes coming soon… A lot more controversial issues coming up in the next installment. Just give me awhile to get it edited and looking good.

Continue Reading Part 2

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Become a Master Designer: Rule Five: Add depth to your designs.

Part Five of Seven Easy Principles to Becoming a Master Designer.

Catch up on the first four rules here

First, let me apologize for the long hiatus I took from this particular series of articles. It’s been really busy around here. I have to squeeze these articles into my spare time (and I don’t have much of that.) So, without further ado, let’s chat about depth.

Depth, ok, we’re not talking about pop-up books or holograms here. We’re talking about simulating depth (or dimension) in your 2D illustrations and designs. The first four principles in this series dealt mostly with what I would consider to be usability basics. Depth is the first design principle that I think gets into the “cool factor” – basically, what makes something look bad-ass. Adding depth to your art will help it bust off the page, or conversely, pull the viewer in.

There are a great number of techniques for adding some dimensionality to your designs. I’ll cover my favorites starting with the most obvious ones and then work my way to the more sophisticated ones.

Overlapping objects

Ok. This is just plain obvious. You probably learned this in kindergarten. If you made a nice crayon drawing of a bus and a house, and the bus overlaps the house, then it’s obviously in front of the house. But if the house overlaps the bus, then the house is in front. Duh.

So, why even discuss this? Well… just to remind you – you can overlap your design elements. It’s easy to get into a habit of just spacing out all of your design elements. If you put a nice thick margin of space between all your photos and all of your design elements, you’ll certainly have a clean design, but it may look a little flat. Sometimes I will even add in design elements just so I have something to put other elements on top of.

Let’s look at an example of how a simple overlap can add some depth to a design.

Here is a gig poster that Dave Tevenal and I are working on. Dave did the initial pencil sketch of the guy, then I added the water splashes around his feet, the koi on the wall behind him and inked it.

You’ll notice that in the lower right corner I have the venue’s logo (the Grog Shop) over top of a black bar. Now, I really didn’t even need a black bar there. All the copy in the bar could have been black and the logo could have just sat on the drawing. But I wanted to draw some attention to the copy on the bottom of the poster.

Here is the same poster without the black bar along the bottom.

Now compare it against one with the bar in place.

By adding this bar with the venue’s information and then over-lapping it with the logo, the depth I’ve created is as follows: Club Logo, then bar with info, then poster artwork. It also helps set up priority. The venue logo is the most important, then the club info, and finally the specific show artwork and details.

The illustration also has a great number of overlapping objects. The guy overlaps the koi (fish), the water splashes overlap the guy’s feet, etc.

Object Size – variability

I like to use variety in the size of the object in my design. This is particularly effective when you have several similar object that are only varied by their size. A good analogy for this is varying the distance you are from a person while shooting photography. It’s typical to shoot a picture of your friends from about 3-5 feet away. You’ll either capture most of their entire body or at least from the waist up. This is a fine picture, but if you shoot 30 pictures like this – they start to get boring. And since MOST pictures are shot like this – I consider them fairly common. Now, if you want to spice things up – shoot a super close-up. Maybe you only capture half of your friend’s face. Then maybe shoot some pictures with your friends way off in the distance. Or, best of all, a combination of all three. Have someone in the foreground, have someone in the middle ground and then have someone off in the distance. This will maximize the sense of depth in the picture. Or if you’re shooting nature pictures, I would suggest trying to capture as much depth as possible. For instance, maybe you can capture some leaves from a tree that is near you in the foreground, a beautiful lake in the middle ground and a snow capped mountain in the distance. Together they form a variety of depth in the image – because the relative size of the objects in the image varies. The leaves are relatively big -because they are close to the camera, the mountains are relatively small because they are in the distance.

Let’s take a look at some examples of how the size of the objects can create depth. This first example is very simple, just a bunch of circles. This example shows how varying something as simple as size can create depth.

Each is slightly smaller than the previous. See how their change in size creates a sense of depth. Which circle looks closest to you?

This next example is a bit more complex. This is a T-shirt Jeff Finley did for Paint the Stars. There are a number of depth inducing techniques being used here, but let’s focus on the object size variability.

In this example the skulls in the design each get slightly smaller as they get higher up on the shirt. Also, the rope-like tentacle that winds through the eye sockets gets smaller and smaller. Those combined with the previous technique (overlapping objects) creates a real nice sense of depth in this design.

Line thickness (weight)

Closely related to Object Size Variation is Line Thickness (weight) Variation. This is a particularly great technique for drawing, but whether it is the thickness of the lines you’re drawing or the thickness of the strokes you’re putting on your designs; weight matters.
The rule on line weight works just like object size. The thicker the weight of the lines, the closer it feels to you. The thinner the line weight, the further it is from you.

Let’s look at a great example of this in a drawing.

This is an inked comic book page by Art Adams (one of my all time favorite comic book artists). This is an excellent example of how weight of your lines helps create depth. If you look at the gladiator in the foreground and compare how thick the lines are that make up the shape of his body with the weight of the lines that make up the buildings way off in the distance – you’ll obviously see the dramatic difference. Thin lines in the distance, thick lines close-up.

Depth of field

Depth of field is the portion of a scene that appears sharp in an image. Depth of field is actually something that happens naturally in our own human eye, not just a camera lens. If you hold your hand up and focus on it, then, without losing focus on your hand – try to see the other things in your peripheral vision. Are the things behind your hand in focus? No. We have the perception that everything we see is always in focus. But in fact, what’s happening is the human eye is constantly adjusting the focus of your eye to exactly what you’re looking at. The truth is that only the objects at that correct depth are in focus – everything else is a blur.

We see examples of depth of field in photographs and our brain knows how to interpret the information. Item out of focus are at a different depth than objects in focus.

Here is a macro photo of a spider that one of our staff members (Dave Romsey) took.

In addition to just being one bomb-ass photo of a spider, you’ll notice that only the spider’s body is in perfect focus. But everything that is in front or behind the spider, like the leaf in the lower right corner is way out of focus. Even the legs of the spider shift from in focus (near the body) to out of focus as they extend forward or backward away from the body.

Japanese animation or “japanimation” has been taking advantage of this little trick for years. They will apply a blur to objects in the distance or foreground. I think it adds a really nice touch! Here is a single frame of animation that shows this technique in use.


Colors can even help represent depth. This is mostly the case with great distances. The atmosphere is made up of trillions of little particles of vapor, dust and translucent molecules. And while the “air” seems 100% clear over short distances – it is not. It’s actually a milky film that becomes more opaque the greater the distance. So, when selecting colors for an exterior scene – objects in the foreground should have strong vibrant colors. Objects way off in the distance should have less saturated colors.

In this photo I found online of the Blue Mountains National Park you can see how the milky haze of the atmosphere affects colors. On the left, in the foreground, the color of the rock and hikers seems clear, at full saturation. Just to the right you can see how the forest in the distance has its colors washed out by a haze.

Effects – drop shadows

Ah, the most classic of all design effects – the drop shadow! Both Photoshop and Illustrator can quickly add a drop shadow to your design. They may be cliché at this point, but I still use them, and I still love them. I think most people don’t “see” them as an added effect. When used properly, they blend right in with the design while adding a nice touch of depth. Here are two examples of a design I did, one with drop shadows and one without.

Now, this is an example of subtle drop shadows. The design on the top does not have them, the one on the bottom does. First, just look at the title on the top of the ad. See how the drop shadow makes the text pop just a little bit more off the background. Now look at the fighter’s head where it slightly overlaps the title. Each case uses just a subtle drop shadow to assist the depth. You can also see it under most of the text and under his fist.


Perspective is defined as a technique of depicting volumes and spatial relationships on a flat surface. Ok, that really didn’t do us any good at all did it? Let me try and explain perspective in laymen’s terms. Basically, as lines head into the distance, they converge on a vanishing point. A classic example of this is the image of a road that heads straight off to the horizon. The lines on the road converge to a single point. Maybe an image will help.

Here is that classic image of that road. You’ll notice that as the lines of the road head off into the distance, they converge on a single point.

You’ll notice that all the lines: the horizon lines, the rows of grass, the flowers, even the shades on the road converge to that same vanishing point.

The road in this scenario is essentially flat – so its lines converge to a single vanishing point. But object with multiple sides will converge on two vanishing points, not one. Let’s take a look at another example.

Here is a little box with a window. You can see how it’s two sides each have their own vanishing point.

Now, perspective is not something that can be summed up in a few paragraphs. So, I won’t get into any more detail on it in this tutorial. But suffice to say that it’s important enough that you should do some research and teach yourself about perspective!

Check out the rest of the posts in this series:

Become a Master Designer: Part 1
Become a Master Designer: Part 2
Become a Master Designer: Part 3
Become a Master Designer: Part 4

Vector Freebie: Night Lights

Be honest – is this what you would see if you took off your coke-bottle glasses on a late night drive home? These out of focus night light vectors can add a sleepy, dreamy feeling to a design. This freebie includes four vector versions of ethereal nighttime lights. Sure, you could snap a pic like this with your shiny new SLR, but these are vector! I hope you enjoy them.

go media freebie vector night lights


PS. These are in Adobe Illustrator CS format because older AI formats display odd white lines around path edges when using blending modes. If you use an older version of Illustrator and really want this, let me know!

Be sure to catch upcoming freebies by Subscribing!

How to create realistic T-Shirt Mockups

An Arsenal First!

Go Media Font Vandal Graffiti
If you’ve hopped over to the Go Media Arsenal lately you might have noticed quite a few recent updates.

Animated Arrows Motion Pack BoxIn the last two weeks we’ve released a new motion pack and two new fonts. I’m pretty excited that the new graffiti font Go Vandal comes with an exclusive vector pack to jack up the final results (yes Steve, we’re listening to your suggestions!). So for the first time in an Arsenal product, you get a true type font and also a vector pack containing each vector letter, symbol, and extra graffiti flourishes. All this adds up to a really custom graffiti lettering package. I can’t wait to see what our readers come up with over in the User Showcase!

Actually for a good example of Go Vandal in action, check out the box to the new motion pack – Animated Arrows. If pictures are worth a thousand words, then animation is…? Well just download some samples and mess around trying to recreate some MTV splash screens.

Moving beyond Freelancing: 4 Insights to Growing your Design Firm

Go Media's early work

I received a series of questions from a freelance designer concerning how to grow from being a one-person freelance designer into a “real” design firm. I thought I should share my answers to her questions with you. Here is the exchange we had – starting with her first e-mail.

Mary’s e-mail:

Hi Bill,

I’m a graphic designer from Venezuela. I really love your portfolio and all that Go Media has accomplished. I’m also an avid reader of your blog, that’s how I found out you guys are soon going to move to a new building.

The question I want to ask you is simple: How did you do it? I know there are no secret formulas or anything like it. I just want a guidance or an advice as to how to be able to transform from a free lance designer working in my living room into a company with facilities, payroll, project managers and all of that…

I know it’s not an easy question to answer, and I also know you must have a lot of work to do… but I would really appreciate the good advice.

Best regards,


My response:

Hey Mary,

It’s funny that you ask this question today. I am actually posting a blog at 3pm titled “Accountants, Lawyers and Doctors oh my!” that talks a lot about the business side of being a designer.

But really, growth is all about making money. If you can figure out how to MAKE MONEY, then the rest becomes simple(r).

Let’s say for instance that you have developed a list of high-paying customers that have work piled up for you. And the money is just pouring into your accounts… but you can’t keep up with the demand… what are you going to do??? Obviously, you’re going to hire another designer to come help you. That’s obvious. And if you can keep that work flowing in, you’ll hire a second designer, then a third. Eventually you’ll need a project manager to help keep everything organized… …then a bigger office.

So, the REAL question is…

HOW do you get a lot of high paying design jobs?

Well… that’s tough to answer. It’s a lot of different things. I’m not going to be able to spell out a perfect step-by-step guide, but I can give you some of the basic insights I had that made huge changes in my business.

  1. First and foremost you have to charge enough money. I spent YEARS charging little or nothing. It’s hard to grow when you’re not charging enough money. But raising your rates is a double-edge sword. You can also LOSE business if you charge too much too fast. So, you have to be a good and fast designer. I suggest that you increase your rates ONLY when you feel “slammed” with work. That’s how I did it. I would inch my rates up every time I would be super-busy. It wasn’t until I was charging fairly high rates that I could finally afford to hire a staff.
  2. You need to work on expanding your client base. Gosh, where do I begin on how to do this? My first real break-thru was by volunteering on high-profile jobs. I was doing concert posters for free that I tagged with my company information. This is how I got a lot of my early customers.
  3. Once you GET a customer – you need to hold onto them. This means you need to give them exceptional service so they love you and tell all their friends about you. Referrals are a huge part of what made Go Media grow. We gave GREAT value for what we charged and our customers told all their friends about us.
  4. Get a partner. One big boost was finding my first partner Chris Wilson. A business has lots of little jobs to be done. Having a partner to split the responsibility makes you both more efficient. But pick your partner carefully. A business start-up situation with a partner is like a marriage. Actually, it’s much tougher than a marriage. You’ll be spending 10-15 hrs a day together, you’ll be broke, taking financial risks and everything hangs in the balance. You need to find someone you like, trust, works hard, etc. And after a fight, there is NO MAKE-UP SEX. So, it’s tough. I feel like I got real lucky with Chris. He was willing to take the risks, be broke and work just as hard as me each day (or even harder.)

I hope this helps some. Good luck with your business. Keep an eye on the blog and I will continue to try to pass along my recipe for success. Mostly it’s lots of hard work and patience. I started this company in 1997. So, we’re going on 10 years. And I really only started to grow in years 8, 9 and 10. It was mostly a 1-man firm for the first 5 years and then a 2-man firm for the next 3 years. Now it’s a 14-man firm. Crazy!


Bill Beachy

History of Go Media

Her response to my e-mail:

Hello Bill,

Thank you for answering my question and for being so open about your success in such a humble way. I can see that being a nice guy like yourself is also the key to a successful business. I think everything you said sums up into three things:

  1. Being able to make sacrifices. What I mean is working your butt off for little pay instead of working for another company and earn a regular salary in order to make your company grow.
  2. Good promotion. As you did before, tagging your designs with your company info and what Jeff is currently doing promoting on the web.
  3. Being a nice person and treating your clients how you want to be treated when you are in need of a service.

Of course you can post my question as an entry to the blog. It is a valid question that I’m sure a lot of people need an answer to. My last thought is: Did you know from the beginning this is what you wanted to accomplish? Did you know from the beginning what you wanted Go Media to become?

I never thought you would answer so quickly. Thank you very much for all your advice. I’ll stay put to read your blog entry.



My response to her:


I try to answer questions like yours because I never had a mentor. I always wished I had someone I could ask questions to… but I had to learn everything the “hard” way. I just failed until I figured it out.
You are right about personality. Business is all about relationships. I feel like my customers are my friends and I hope they think of me in the same way. It’s important to have a genuine interest in your clients and THEIR success. If they succeed, you will also succeed.

Yes, I did have this company in my mind long before I got started. In this regard I have been blessed. I don’t know of anyone that has had such a clear vision of their future as I have. I think I was 14 years old when I first envisioned a design firm in a downtown warehouse office. And I’ll have it before I turn 35. Now, in my original vision we were all drawing comic books – so, it’s taken a few twists and turns over the years. But having a solid idea of your GOAL before you start working at it is key. Many successful people practice “visualization”. Spend some time to close your eyes, let your mind rest, then imagine in great details the goal for your company. How big is it? What does your office look like? What color are the walls? What’s the mood in the office? The more details the better. Even draw a sketch of it. Post it on the wall and remind yourself each day as you work on it.

At Go Media we have the entire staff work up a list of goals each year. Everyone has to write them down. This include a minimum of 5 personal goals and 5 professional goals. We review them at the end of the year, see what we’ve accomplished and work up new goals, or re-state our unaccomplished goals. The company does this too. What are Go Media’s goals for each year? I think writing things down is also helpful. I actually have a little scrap of paper in my wallet. On it I’ve written: “I will be engaged to the woman of my dreams by the age of 36. Go Media will gross 3 Million in sales by the end of 2010. I will run a full marathon before I turn 35. I will camp in the Redwood forest for 1 week.” That’s it. I finished the marathon this past month. I’m working on the other three. I had a previous sheet that I finished… so, this is my new one. I’ll probably keep this one in my wallet until we do it. We still have a LOOONG way to go on that financial goal!

Again, sincerely,

Bill Beachy.

Vector Packs

Mary’s Response:


I can see finding the girl of your dreams is going to be easy being the nice guy that you are (sorry for that). You have given me the best piece of advice of my life (aside from my mother). Right now I’m working on my online portfolio as a way to start promoting my work. I too started the wrong way, doing it all backwards, doing stuff I could not afford. So reading about making money FIRST really puts it all in perspective. I guess I was trying to achieve too much with too little. I hope you accomplish all your dreams by the time you are 36. I’m only 29 so I think I still have a long way to go.

Take care,

My response to her:


Funny that you say that – Finding a girl has always been my HARDEST challenge. :)
Yes about the money issue… “growth” is easy once you’re making the money. That’s the real challenge… figuring out HOW to make the money. This form of growth is called “organic growth.” Because, like a plant growing, you take in a little sunlight, take in a little water and you grow a new leaf. One leaf at a time you grow slowly. But you need the water and sun (income) to grow that next leaf.

The other form of growth is known as “inorganic growth.” This is where you take out loans to jump ahead to where you WANT your business to be. You could theoretically take out a huge loan and hire a bunch of people and build an office. But I consider this a very risky move. If you’re just getting started then you have LOTS of lessons to learn and you will surely make loads of mistakes as you grow. It’s better to make those mistakes while you’re small, while there is less at risk. So, inorganic growth would be like growing the tree to full size before you see if you can even survive as a sapling. You could end up with a full size tree inside of a parking garage. You’d be like: “Crap! We don’t get any sunlight in here! And the water has oil in it! This tree is going to die.” But if you had grown organically… you would have realized early on that you need to move your business (tree) OUTSIDE of the parking garage and onto the lawn – where there is sun light and water.

So, in my opinion… avoid all loans. They cost you lots of money and give you a false sense of growth. Force yourself to only spend what you earn. Here are your ingredients for getting your business started: 20% elbow grease, 30% elbow grease, 50% elbow grease. Instructions: combine.
Good Luck.


How to make an animated GIF with 8-Bit Characters: Part 2: Animation

8-bit Blog Part 2 GIF

In the last post, I showed you how to make 8-bit characters in Adobe Illustrator. In this post, we will animate those characters in Adobe Photoshop using the Animation Window.


To Begin, open up a new document in Photoshop and make the dimensions the size you want your final animated gif to be. This will be used for on screen viewing, so set the resolution at 72 pixels per inch.

Next, transfer your vector images into Photoshop. The easiest way to do this is to use the copy command in Illustrator and paste them into Photoshop as a smart object. You may need to resize them when you move them to Photoshop, but just remember to keep the “pixels” of the different objects the same size.

photoshop document settings


Now that you have all of your images in Photoshop, it’s time to animate! Open up the ANIMATION window which is located under the WINDOW menu. The animation window will serve as your timeline for your animation.

There are a couple of nice features here that should be noted.

  • Each box in this window serves as an individual frame of your animated gif.
  • On the bottom of each of these boxes is a drop down menu that allows you to control the duration of that particular frame.
  • Below the frames in the toolbar, are the add and the delete frame icons. They function in the same manner as the add and delete layer buttons on the layers palette.
  • There is also another helpful button, the TWEEN ANIMATION FRAMES button, that allows you to enter frames automatically as tweens for your animation so you don’t have to animate every individual frame. Instead you can just make two frames, one where the animation should start and one where it ends. Then, you select the last frame in the animation and you press the button that looks like little boxes going in a diagonal direction. This brings up a pop-up menu that allows you to enter as many frames as you would like to control the duration of the animation.
  • On the window there are also the typical video controls that will allow you to play through your animated gif.

animation window


For this tutorial, we will do a short animation of our characters fighting. To begin, make sure that all your characters are on different layers. The way the animation works is by turning on and off different layers in each frame to controll animation. So, begin with your character on one side of the screen. Then, add another frame in the animation window, and make sure it is selected, and move the character across the screen. If you click back and forth between the frames in the animation window, the character should jump from one part of the screen to the other.

moving your character

This is where that handy tween animation button comes into play. Select the frame with the character where you want him to end up, and press the tween button. In the pop-up box that appears, make sure that it says “tween with previous frame” in the drop down box. Then enter the number of frames that you want to insert in between your animation and press ok. Now you should see a lot more frames in your animation window. Press the play button to see the results.

tween dialogue box


So great, you made a little guy move across the screen, now what?! Well, how about some good old violence? This may take some more pixel pushing in Illustrator, but what you need is to create the impression of a sword swinging motion.

The best way to do this is to have your character have two different poses. In one pose, have him stand with his sword up and in the other he should be standing with the sword in a downward slashing motion. When the two are animated together, it appears if your warrior is swinging his sword. Use the same technique to animate as you previously did, turning on and off layers in the different frames. Then all you have to do is move him towards the other character and swing away.

sword swinging animation


Finally, to save the animation out as a GIF, go to the FILE menu and click on the SAVE FOR WEB & DEVICES option. In the window that comes up, make sure gif is selected, and then click save and you are done. Choose a color preset like 128 colors or 32 colors depending on many you have. Remember, fewer colors mean smaller file sizes.

save for web as a GIF


Now go crazy with it, and add some effects and some projectiles and soon it will be mass hysteria! Then, you can show it off to your friends by putting your gif’s on your web page or use them as a AIM icon. Here is the final one I created…GOOD LUCK!

8-bit battle

If you want to, post your results in the User Showcase and show off your amazing animating skills.

Vector Freebie: Floral Wallpaper

How to make an animated GIF with 8-Bit Characters: Part 1: Design

creating a retro video game animated GIF from scratch

Have you ever wanted to make a kick ass animation of 8-BIT characters tearing each other to shreds? Well now you can. In this tutorial, I will take you through the process of creating vectorized 8-bit characters for use in an animated GIF. I’ve also included the vector source files of the characters and objects so you can create your own animation. So start jamming to The Advantage and get started!

1. Set up your document in Illustrator

To begin, open Illustrator and create a new document. It doesn’t really matter what size, so the default 8.5 x 11 dimensions will be just fine (Since these are vectors, they can be resized later to suit your needs).

2. Turn on the Grid

Next, you want to make sure you turn on the grid in your document. You can do this by going to the VIEW menu and selecting the SHOW GRID option (or by pressing CTRL + “ for the shortcut). This grid will serve as a guide for all the pixels you will use to make your characters, backgrounds, items, etc. Also, I find it helpful to turn on the snap to grid option as well. This makes it easier to move the pixels around the grid, without having to spend time lining them up by hand. You can find this option in the VIEW menu under SNAP TO GRID (or by pressing SHIFT + CTRL + “ ).

creating a nintendo character

3. Use Squares to create your Character

Now your document is set up, you are ready to make some vector 8-bit characters. First, use the square tool to make a square the exact same size as the squares of the grid. Since you have the SNAP TO GRID option on, this should be fairly easy. This square will serve as a single “pixel” that you will copy to make all of the objects in your 8-bit environment.

creating a cool game character

4. Get Creative!

Next, you’ll have to decide how you want your characters to look. You can either sketch them out and scan them into your computer or just wing it. If you are going to sketch them out, make sure that you turn the opacity down on your sketch so you can still see the grid in Illustrator. For this tutorial, I am just going to wing it using characters from the Final Fantasy series as a guide.

At this point, you need a quick way to move the pixels around to create your character. I find it works best to work with one color at a time, and then go back and add detail later. The fastest way to do this is to select the pixel you want to use, and hold ALT while pressing the arrows in the direction that you want the pixel to go. This will copy your single “pixel” and move the copy in whatever direction you choose.

Start with using Squares on the Grid

5. Color your character

When you have your outline finished, it is time to fill in your character. I use the same technique as before, but I have found you also need to use the mouse to hand place pixels at times. When choosing colors, keep in mind that you need to use a limited palate like a real 8-bit game, if you are going for authenticity. If it helps, you can also keep a single pixel of each color next to your characters that you can copy or use for other elements in the 8-but world you are creating. Also, don’t forget to create a weapon for your character.

creating an 8-bit Nintendo character

6. Create more characters

After I finished my first character, I made some other characters of a similar style so that he has someone to fight.

more 8-bit characters

7. Create Your environment

Now, you need to create an environment for your characters to fight in. This can be a bit tricky, but just remember that most retro games had a block or unit of background that was usually repeated across the screen. In this background, I have created a couple of different trees and used darker shades of greens and browns to add depth. Then, I repeated them across the background using the HORIZONTAL DISTRIBUTE CENTER tool to keep them looking uniform. In the fore ground, I created a dirt road that the characters can be placed on. Also, when blocking out large areas of color in the background, it is much easier to create larger sections of color using the square tool.

create a cool retro gaming background

8. Create Some Objects

You may also want to create other elements that the characters can interact with in the environment. For this free vector sample pack, I have made a few different things that you can add into your animation like mushrooms and torches. And now you should be ready to bring your characters to life, through the power of an animated gif!

post links to your character designs

I’m curious to see what our readers come up with. I want to see some awesome 8-bit characters, monsters, bosses, objects, etc. I’ll even post my favorites in another post!

create an awesome 8-bit animated gif


Free 8-Bit vector elements



In Part 2, I will take you through the process of animating your 8-bit characters using Photoshop CS3’s animation panel.

57 Inspirational Sites from 7 Remarkable Apparel Designers

I gathered 7 of the top t-shirt designers today and asked each of them for a handful of sites they couldn’t live without; sites they surf for inspiration, design resources, advice, community, etc. I was surprised at what I found. A few sites that I didn’t expect and some I’ve never heard of. And of course, there were a few sites that made it into almost every list.

Most of these artists hang out on the t-shirt site www.emptees.com and the shirts they’ve designed can be seen plastered all over the walls at retail stores like Hot Topic or winning tee of the month over at Design by Humans. So if you’re looking for the definitive list of what real pros are looking at for inspiration and resources, this is it.

Richard Minino (aka Horsebites):



Richard has been one of my favorite artists over the past 1-2 years. His illustrative style is a big influence in my work if you couldn’t tell. He’s done work for countless bands and he’s also the guy responsible for the distinctive branding behind The Fest – the best punk music weekend of the year. He also plays in the bands New Mexican Disaster Squad and Gatorface. Here are five sites he drools over (in his own words):

  • zenvironments.com
    Zack Johnsen is a bad ass. His style puts me to shame everytime I see it but it inspires the hell out of me. His work keeps getting better too. That’s what I love about him. He doesn’t stay complacent. He just keeps getting better. His use of watercolor mixed with pencil and ink is a perfect blend of mediums. I also love how evertyhing has an edge to it and is in your face.
  • poundart.com
    What can I say? Garbage Pail Kids were one of the best things to happen to me as a kid. I was obsessed with these wonderful illustrations. I mean how else can you go against the mainstream toy sensation Cabbage Patch Kids by making stickers mocking them with puke, guts, boogers, butts and everything else nasty for kids to laugh and stick them on everything? Amazing times.
  • edroth.com
    The late Ed Roth is a super hero to me. I really freaked the first time when I saw his work. I was super young and craving anything low brow and weird. Although I didn’t know it at the time but he completely changed my life because with out him the illustration on a t-shirt wouldn’t be the same. He made it what it is. That’s what made me so interested in GPK in the first place! I love going to his site and checking out the decals and images. His documentary that just came out is amazing!! A true legend.
  • jimphillips.comNow here is the guy who took all the things I loved as a kid and made them extremely bad ass. I remember sitting with all my friends and checking out everyones skate graphics and I would look at it way longer then they would and I would want to preserve it somehow instead of messing it up. I was way more of a drawer instead of a skater. Although his site is set up real bad and it doesn’t have too much stuff, the little stuff he has makes my brain hurt and scream for more!
  • emptees.comThe only reason I put this as number one is because I can’t stop going to it. Ever since I joined (thanx to you and a few others) It’s been interupting my work schedule. I love this site. I’ve met amazing people and have a first eye on which the newest designs are coming out by my best friends. It also opened my eyes to sharing more and knowing that people got your back when people rip you off. Super amazing site and a great creative release.

Dan Mumford


Dan Mumford

Dan Mumford is an amazing illustrator that popped up on my radar this past year. His use of color is astounding and the detail in his linework is just mind boggling. I’ve used some of his artwork as my desktop wallpaper for a while. The guy is a true pro.

  • itsnicethat.com
    Great daily blogs from a core group of posters and guest posters every week, always something nice and interesting to look at, and always unearthing new talent.
  • manystuff.org
    Again, another great site with interesting daily posts.
  • theserif.net
    And another, as you can see..i like my daily post websites!
  • digitalartsonline.co.uk
    As ive gotten more into working digitally ive found digital arts quite a useful portal for tutorials etc. Good place to find some little tricks.
  • iwatchstuff.com
    I should probably explain this one, but being an avid movie fan i check this site everyday to see the latest trailers and posters, i have a great interest in movie posters etc and narrative, not really a design website though!

Advice from Dan: First and foremost, don’t take too much from other artists work, its all very well being inspired by someone, but there’s a fine line between inspiration and outright copying. Secondly i get a lot of people asking me how to get their work out there and get recognition, well unfortunately there is no easy answer here, you simply have to get it out there in anyway you can and get involved in anything you can.

There are always opportunities out there for young illustrators and designers, competitions, exhibitions, even just making fliers for various happenings in your local area, you just have to take these opportunities. Just because you did a degree for three years doesn’t mean you will automatically do well when you leave, its all about knowing people and having the contacts, like any industry, so if you are in university then take that opportunity to get out there and make contacts before you leave, its a tough industry and you need all the head start you can get!

Derek Deal


Derek Deal

Derek Deal is another talented illustrator who has appeared on my radar after he destroys the competition over at emptees.com. Winning Shirt of the Day countless times and also snagging a shirt of the month with his homage to Garbage Pail Kids tee.

  • gigposters.com
    I’ve been a poster collector since I eyed my first Kozik at 17. Some of the best artists in the music industry post here.
  • emptees.com
    The majority of my work revolves around apparel, so I usually frequent this site a few times a day.
  • flickr.com
    Now that I’ve built up the network, its become an incredible resource. Receiving periodic updates from not only my favorite designers and illustrators, but also photographers and retro image archivers has created an invaluable collection of inspirational imagery.
  • behance.net
  • logopond.com
    On the rare occasion that I do some branding, this is the place I go to see what’s working
  • beautifuldecay.com
    It came to my attention recently that its actually a publication…Ive been resourcing the apparel in their store for months…no idea.
  • iwantyourskull.com
  • computerarts.co.uk
    Every now and then I scan Computer Arts mag for tuts, to either brush up on my skills or try something new. When I had a subscription I learned more about Photoshop there than I did in school.
  • johnkstuff.blogspot.com
    The blog of John K, creator of Ren and Stimpy, I just started reading, but so far I’ve enjoyed reading about his inspirations and thoughts on animation and character development.

Some words from Derek: I usually feel the most inspired when I’m away from the screen. Every now and then ill find myself getting into a visual turnstyle, so I’ll mix it up and go to a library or an antique store. As much as I’m online, it’s almost startling how much of the world hasn’t been scanned in yet. Sometimes just taking walk or drive to some music, or taking a couple steps away from the computer to the drawing table or the couch to do some sketching does a lot of good. It’s easy to get too reliant on imagery to fuel your creativity, especially when its so accessible. Just putting the pencil to paper and letting everything you’ve been digesting spill out on the page whether you’ve got something in mind or not can do wonders.

AJ Dimarucot


Collision Theory

AJ is an artist that I see has a vision. He’s not content with looking like everyone else and oftentimes his designs are very experimental. He pushes the envelope conceptually of what can be printed on a t-shirt. And he was very generous with his list for us. He even broke it down into categories for everyone.


  • Notcot.org
    Pure design/visual/art treat! Once you check out the way they lay out their features you can’t help but click on them. Lots of inspiration covering everything from design, architecture, art, photography etc.
  • joshspear.com, thecoolhunter.net, coolhunting.com
    Similar to Notcot.org but features are more in-depth. I find inspiration not only in graphic design but in all aspects of art and design. These sites have an abundance.
  • ffffound.com
    Pure eye candy. It’s a social bookmarking site for images. You can’t imagine how many images i’ve downloaded from this site alone. I keep a folder on my laptop that says “INSPIRATION” and most of the content there comes from this site.

All these are totally invaluable to me because anytime I feel like I’m
in a creative rut I just open up my folder of ‘inspiration’ or visit these sites.
The visual stimuli alone can jump start any design task.


  • coroflot.com, behance.net, styleportfolios.com
    I’ve bunched these together because I use them to get my work out there. I’ve put up my folio and have networked with other artists and designers. This has led to some good leads and actual freelance work. Browsing other folios also gives you an idea what other designers are doing.
  • craigslist.org, guru.com
    Contrary to popular belief, I’ve actually found some decent clients over there who pay well. But it’s a matter of rummaging through the crap to find the good ones. Being a freelance t-shirt designer, work from here has partly sustained me for almost a year now.

Since July 07, I’ve been totally committed to t-shirt design work and it’s paid off quite well. Last February 08, I finally left my day job as an Art Director for an ad agency and have focused solely on freelance work. Halfway into the year and I’ve already earned twice as much as what I would have earned in a year in my previous job. So it’s been totally awesome!


  • designbyhumans.com, threadless.com
    I’ve recently been successful in these two sites (threadless soon!) and it’s been great at giving me confidence in developing my own style. Working with clients, you have room to adjust based on the what hey want, as long as it’s close to your style. But submitting designs to these sites, it gives you total freedom to do your thing. As a younger designer, I tried too much to fit into the style of dbh and threadless, that didn’t work. But as soon as I started to do my own thing everything seems to fall into place. Getting loves and getting my designs printed. It’s also good for work because some clients have found me on these sites.


  • emptees.com
    My favorite site at the moment. I get to showcase my t-shirt designs, it’s a great way to find potential clients. But what I love about this site is the bonding and camaraderie that you form with other t-shirt artists/designers. Tons of drama on the message boards [from time to time] but it’s all good.
  • rumplo.com
    Similar to notcot.org but only for t-shirts. It also has a social networking aspect but not as vibrant as emptees. I love the variety of t-shirt styles over here compared to emptees though.


  • vecteezy.com, bittbox.com, psdtuts.com, dafont.com
    Aside from Go Media, I visit these sites occasionally to pick up some skillzz or a few vectors and fonts here and there.
  • dobizo.com
    Great resource for learning about the business aspects of putting up a clothing brand. Also has a social networking aspect but I’ve only started to use this.
  • freelanceswitch.com
    Tons of good advice for freelancers.




Godmachine (real name Aziz) is some fresh talent that has been exploding this year. That’s not an understatement. As of this writing, he’s been awarded with 15 Shirt of the Day awards and one Shirt of the Month for this design. His style is raw and very illustrative. As drawing makes a big push in the t-shirt design community, Godmachine is shoving his way to the front of the crowd. He’s someone to keep an eye on.

He provided us a quick list of sites he loves:

Chris Sandlin


Chris Sandlin

Chris is another talented illustrator that I noticed because of Emptees. He’s got a very pro-looking and dare I say “cartoony” style. He’s won his share of SOTD’s as well (13 as of this writing). He sent me a quick list of links that he loves as well as a few books that he finds inspirational.


Wes Allen


Wes Allen

Wes is a versatile designer that has been establishing himself as a premier artist for the music industry. He’s also on Emptees and his work is often seen in retail stores that sell band merch.

Wes says, “Here are a few sites that I always look at for inspiration. Just about all of them are well known for their collage work. I would not be doing the type of design work I do today without the inspiration of these people. I’m a sucker for crazy collages using vintage photos. In my opinion, keeping yourself inspired is one of the most important things about designing.”

So that’s about it. That’s a whole lot of resources for the aspiring artist who wants to break into the music industry. These guys are pros at what they do and are all around good people. They’re nice and were more than willing to share a few of their “secret” resources hidden behind their bookmarks.

Tell us YOUR thoughts

These artists want to hear what you think. Just post a comment and I’ll have them answer them right here on this post. And feel free to give us sites YOU can’t live without!