Mix Cover Tutorial: Outer Limits Pioneer

Outer Limits Explorer - mix cover

Creating a Mix Cover

In case you didn’t know, whipping up mix covers is a great way to exercise some of your creative muscles. It’s an outlet I like to focus some of my more random ideas towards… whether it be subject matter, or a new technique I want to try out. Every once in a while I’ll make a new mix and create an accompanying cover for it to post to my site BLK Apple. Generally these mixes are based around a central theme, idea, or situation, making them perfect for some semi-structured visual experimentation.

With this mix I wanted to create a cover that touched on a Jonny Quest, meets Steve Zissou, meets Outer Space, meets National Geographic vibe.  So what you’ll see in this tutorial is the process by which I came to the result you see above. I want to mention at the outset that this was a very loose process. Alot of the steps I took were completely random, but what you read below is a true un-altered account of the process. Let’s begin…


The image you see above is something I came across while digging through some old advertisement archives before I even had an idea to make the mix. Finding it quite fitting, featuring a strong gentlemanly character, I decided to use this as the basis for my cover.


First things first, I cranked up the saturation (ctrl+U, then adjust to eye), and start to cutout the character.


To cut out the character,  enter quick mask mode by pressing Q, and start tracing his outline with the pen tool.

Once you complete your path, exit quick mask mode (by pressing Q ) and select ‘Load Path as Selection’ in the the Paths palette.


The chap will appear selected. From here I duplicate the layer by pressing ctrl+J.


Here he is, in all his cutout glory. Next up we’ll use the Clone Stamp Tool to fix up the background now that we have the character on his own layer.


When I do this, I generally have it set to around 30% opacity and the brush semi-softened (a nifty shortcut to quickly adjust the hardness of your brush is ‘shift+[‘ and ‘shift+]’)



Here is what I came up with. It’s not super seamless or perfect, but it’ll do the job… Just to make sure, see what our chap looks like on it…


Looks pretty good. The edges of our character don’t seem too bad, moving on…


From here I decided I wanted to frame the content, both to trim the excess imagery and to evoke a more record-sleeve feel. I simply used the Elliptical Marquee Tool to make a circle, then inverted the selection (ctrl+shit+i) and filled (shift+F5) the layer.


I then scaled and placed the character to my liking within the new frame.


From here I started to emphasize the composition by adding in some highlights and lighting effects. Specifically, I sampled a pink hue from the background and started painting where I wished to highlight, then set the layer to Overlay.


Continuing this thought process, I went ahead and added in more highlights and shadows in the following steps.



This, as I mentioned before, was a very fluid process. I would add a bit here, erase some there until I felt I had something I could work with.


At this point I wanted to add an inner shadow to the frame. I simply created a circle the exact size of the frame, set the Fill to 0% and added an Inner Shadow style (double click the layer to bring up the layer style window, select Inner Shadow).


At this point I’m feeling pretty good about where this is going. However I want to ramp up the ethereal/spacey vibe a bit more, so I decide to abstract the background image…


Basically what I decided to do was to duplicate the background, and start blurring and tweaking it… Experimented with combining different Layer Styles, such as Exclusion on top of an Overlay.


With the background now looking a bit more flat, I wanted to add little details to help it out just a little bit.


I started painting on some lines and then rubbing them around with the Smudge tool. I started to see a sort of ‘warping’ effect going on, so I ran with that by painting more lines in a circular motion around the character.


Here I decided that I liked how it was starting to turn out, but I wanted to unify all the different hues and textures. So what I did was track down a texture that was fairly uniform, and would help warm up the piece.


This paper image seemed appropriate, so I scaled it to where I liked it (basically so the grain of the paper didn’t look too big) and set the layer to multiply, thus resulting in a more cohesive version….


Looking at it, I still want to add some more detail to the background. So I decided to use some infographic vectors I contributed to Set 18 to aid me.



Now that I added alittle more intrigue to the background, I can start to see how I’m going to polish off the piece. Though everything is looking cohesive, I want to spike the contrast to add some contrast and drama. To do this, I select all the visible layers (ctrl+shift+A) and paste it on top of all the layers.


Desaturate (ctrl+U) it and adjust the levels (ctrl+L).


Then to soften it up, I add a Gaussian blur.


Set the layer to Multiply, and I now have the additional contrast I was looking for. Now to finish it off, I add in the copy.


I set the type in Avenir, which I am a huge fan of. The title line I chose to open up the tracking to let it breathe and to let the background image come through as much as possible. As well, I opened up the leading for the tagline for the same reason.

Outer Limits Explorer - mix cover

To finish it off, I add in my National Geographic-esque rules and add in the chapter one caption.

I hope you guys enjoyed the walk-through! And if you’re curious to hear the music and how it played in with the visual design, the mix will be up soon at BLK Apple.

Creating an Illustrative Monogram

Creating a Monogram

Monograms are an interesting way to go about making an identity. By nature they can be straight forward or extremely ornamental and illustrative. In this tutorial I’m going to walk you through the steps I (Chris Comella, designer at Go Media, hi!) took to making Go Media’s own Heather Mariano (formerly Heather Tropp) a monogram for her business card.

What follows is a series of animated GIFs. Each show the steps I took toward executing my concept. They all loop, so if you miss something the first time, don’t sweat it. It’ll be back in a few seconds. Also, below each animation you’ll see the corresponding notes.

Creating the H

Step 1: Creating the H

I start off making the general form of the H with basic shapes. Then I add in the negative I’ll be using as guides to ‘carve’ away any excess form. After I draw out the shape, using the pathfinder I unite all the white shapes together to create one solid piece I can use to subtract from the black base. To polish off the H I add a swirl at the stem and carve out a point on the leg.

Creating the T

Step 2: Creating the T

We start off again by creating a basic shape from which to work with. I basically create two circles with a square joining the middle to create an elongated circle. Merge the three pieces and start on the negatives. The two white circles again act as my guide for carving out an unwanted form. Once I’m done drawing out the shape on one side, I duplicate and rotate the piece to fit the other side to keep it symmetrical. Lastly, combine all the white shapes and subtract it from the black base.

Combining the H and T

Once I have that initial piece (the Arm) done, I end up squashing it a bit as you can see. I finish off the T by using two circles to create a a curved stem and adjust the angle a bit with a third shape. I merge those together along with the arm, and the T is set.


Step 3: Rendering the type

So now that we have the foundation of the monogram set, we can start thinking about how to render it. I wanted it to feel a bit more tactile, so what I did was create some contours that help define the shape spatially. I set the standard in my mind with the first line you see made above…following that precedent I just go ahead do the same around the letters. Next, I decided to take another look at the letters themselves. I end up adding in some open lines to two of the primary curves in the pair, giving it a more decorative, floral vibe. Also, you can see I added a horizontal line connecting the two letters.. here was something I kind of stumbled upon and decided to elaborate. What came to mind at this point was adding another aspect to the piece, I wanted it to appear ‘juicy.’

Creating Drips

So in that vain, I decided to add in some water droplets. I liked this because it was in line with the piece’s theme and created some more visual appeal. Following the contour lines I layed down previously, I used those as a jumping off point for the droplets. Drawing them with those curves in mind, I rendered an initial droplet and then elaborated further by adding a couple more throughout the type.

Adding the Color

Next up is the color. This step turned out to be very important, because not only is it making the leap from black & white, but it also defined the unique shapes of the letters themselves. What I did here, similarly to the contour lines, was set a precedent with the first piece and moved forward from there…essentially, winging it, but with a sort of mental guideline.

Step 4: Complimentary imagery

To emphasize the monogram’s theme, and to help round out the composition, I decided to make a flower to pair with the type. I started with the petal and finished by drawing the body out. This needed to be simple as it’s purpose is to fit in with the type.

Step 5: Putting it together

I pasted in the flower behind both the letters and trimmed it down to size (erasing any unwanted parts). Next I drew in a highlight and filled the flower with the same gradient from the type highlights. Taking it one step further, I decided to add in some (what I believe are called) Pistils… aka, antennae things. Finally I duplicate the flower and add it in at the bottom of the T to balance it out. From here I simply tightened the piece up, making any minor revisions or tweaks that were left. I decided to add a stroke on the T, a simple gradient to the water droplets, and create a small lightning bug riffing on Heather’s passion of photography (I always thought of lightning bugs as nature’s paparazzi). And there you have it!

From the Portfolio: Chk! Chk! Chk! Poster

The Beauty of Package Design: Inspiration and Tips

package design

pack·ag·ing [pak-uh-jing] – noun

  1. an act or instance of packing or forming packages: At the end of the production line is a machine for packaging.
  2. the package in which merchandise is sold or displayed: Attractive packaging can help sell a product.

To me, the feeling of opening a well designed package exemplifies good design. All the little nuances contribute to an individual experience. Kind of a lame example here, but when I first opened my Macbook Pro or iPhone, I got a feeling who apple is as a company and the standard they hold themselves at (not to mention the reaction to the product itself). This can all happen very naturally, but we as designers look to analyze that process and replicate it. Getting this kind of reaction to a product’s package before the consumer even reaches the actual ‘product’ itself is an accomplishment.

Plant a Seed

I understand that geeking out over unusual packaging is a strictly designer joy, but conveying more attention to detail is something that can be taken at face value, as well as scrutinized to the ‘enth’ degree. If a package grabs someone’s attention, your most likely to hear a “Huh, that’s kinda cool.” There’s no real revelation had by the average consumer. But what your doing is planting the seed that may stick in their mind making the product seem more relevant, or personal to them.

Beyond that, some people just flat out want to be better than their competition. So they look to inject quality into every aspect of their product. Design can convey that message in a very unique and personal way. Whether targeting a specific demographic, or an entire populace, we have the means to convey quality and individuality before the consumer even knows what the product is. Real world benefits are clear to see when a Design firm re-brands a product’s packaging and sales increase 35%. Product packaging is no joke, and serious companies look to designers for results. On the other hand, creatives in the movie and music industry recognize the opportunity for a more artistic approach to selling their products.

The Price Tag

The relevance of good packaging is present in both the corporate and creative ends of the client spectrum. I think most people would agree that a degree of custom packaging would never be a bad thing. One of the main hindering factors in pimping out clients packaging is the price tag. Many start ups or creatives dont have the cash to invest in something that isnt considered 100% necessary. But Im a firm believer in presenting yourself as serious as you want to be taken by others. Now that doesnt mean if your serious your going to automatically get a custom packaging job for your new album. In terms of taking that extra step in presenting yourself, or making sure your product’s utmost quality is preserved for a consumer, there are few better ways to impress than investing in custom work.

judge that book

I know most of you are waiting for the ‘judge a book’ metaphor to be flipped on its ear somewhere
in this article – “go ahead, judge that book by its cover!”… but no cliches here. Have you ever found yourself saying, ‘Psssh, that Limited Edition CD packaging is sooo cliche’. Probably not.

Odds are, the design speaks volumes about the musicians. Whether it’s Beck and his DIY sticker package, or Green Day providing a blank CD to allow customers to burn a copy for their friends. Different artist have different visions… Or at least a unique perspective. So, I think we’ll steer clear from cliches in this article in the spirit of good design.


First off… im a sucker for kits. Any sort of kit that contains a booklet, a t-shirt, and some random goodies has me at hello. I dont care how lame or irrelevant the actual stuff is. Below I picked out some cool pieces.

Custom Packaging

  • Here’s a custom box Set for musician Ben Sidran.

Sagmesiter Book Cover Design

  • This is a very smart design by design hero Stefan Sagmeister. See it in action.

Mf Doom Packaging

  • MF Doom goes custom here with the foil wrap. Nice touch to a limited edition version.

Custom Packaging

  • Heres a really cool book version of a CD package.

Custom Packaging

  • This packaging comes from Switzerland. Migros is a chain of food retailers with a penchant for good design… check out more.


Some Basics.

Get your hands dirty

If your used to strictly working on a screen or are from a fine art background, you’re all too familiar with the training/development of your ‘eye’. This is obviously our creative intuition that dictates pouring over countless revisions until a layout looks just right. On the other hand (hehe), training yourself to think with your hands until something feels right (double pun) is a whole other animal. There are many connections to be made from the two however.

Texture, an element of design, can be literally translated from the eye to the hand. You can go down the line with that train of thought; Line, Scale, Balance…. all can be translated without much (if any) stretch of the imagination. Try shifting your production process from the eye to your hand. If an illustration your working on needs a little texture or weight added to it, don’t look online for a cool picture. Look around you. What makes something heavy in your hand might also apply to your illustration…make your lines and texture more dense…add perspective. Often times a different approach may shake up your design routine opening up new doors for exploration.

Every designer should work with their hands. Whether its sketching or mocking up your original CD package, training your hand allows you to tangibly realize your ideas. Packaging in it’s appeal and production, (here it comes….) is hands on (duh). This means that a customer isn’t only going to look at the cover, but they’re going to be swayed by how it feels and functions.

Packaging (and Design in general) is USEFUL ART. So the obligation to make the project different in form is also accompanied by the obligation for it to function appropriately. How is the package more than just elaborated wrapping paper? Does it do its job?

These ideas apply to every packaging job. This presents new and different challenges to every project. So really what this does is expand your creative tool set to include more ways to flesh out your designs. We’re talking:

  • alternative papers (organic, synthetic, varying stocks…)
  • alternative/custom casing (folds, shapes, varying functionality/different closures)
  • alternative printing (inks, paints, dies, finishes)

and on and on it goes. If your goal in design is to convey a message, these additional tools can only amplify that message.

The more connections you make from one creative discipline to another, the stronger and more diverse your work will become.

Read Up

One thing that is a necessity when trying to break into custom packaging jobs, is getting to know the production process. Printing posters is one thing, getting to how custom die-cut packages are made is a little more involved. Knowing what paper will work with a certain fold or how it will react with a special varnish you apply to it is a matter of research and experimentation. There are many resources out there that help to fill in the blanks.

Here are some choice books to check out:

Beyond reading up, start collecting and creating. If you read design magazines usually there are a ton of ads for paper and printing companies (most notably in HOW). I have quite a stash built up from collecting over the years. And if you’re feeling especially driven, send away for a swatch book from printers or paper suppliers… People have been know to make up companies to get their hands on the coveted ‘source’ book from printers (…). But don’t wait on getting the ‘right’ paper or tools. Start with what you’ve got.

Start making your own mock ups. Get your self some nice blades and start constructing your own creations. You can find some decent paper to work with at art stores, but the important thing is you start thinking about your how your designs can be furthered using custom hand finishing. Remember, good is in the details.

Final words.

For the Hopefuls:

  • Remember, spray paint, exacto knives, band-aids, patience, and paper stores are your friends! Get to know them!

For the Inspired:

  • The Dieline is a great blog and there are lots of books out there. If youre feeling the love, let us know and we’ll keep the packaging articles coming.

For the doubters:

  • Really? Why are you reading this article?…did you not see those pics above? Go to bed.