Learn to Create Collage Typography

Ever been asked to come up with a type driven design but still wanted to use imagery? Creating text through collage can be an awesome solution. Here’s what you’re going to need to create a successful piece:

1. An open mind. I always find that being noncommittal toward the placement of objects allows you to easily rearrange the elements into a better composition.

2. A solid sense of composition. When you’re looking at the elements you’re going to use, it helps to have a rough idea of where that element will go and how it relates to the elements around it.

3. Lots and lots of royalty free stock photos. You don’t want to just pull images off of Google. That’s always a bad idea. The original photographer may somehow see that you’re using his/her work without permission and seek legal action against you. I find that using sites like istockphoto or sxc.hu are good places to start. Also, flickr can be a great resource if you ask the photographer’s permission.

4. Patience. It can take a long time for the forms to take shape in the way that you want them to. The important thing is to not get frustrated and to keep working until something strikes you.

5. Basic understanding of Photoshop. This tutorial uses the pen tool, blending modes, transformation tools, and other filters and effects.

Before we get started, you need to think through the project and determine whether or not that collage typography is appropriate for your project. It should only be used in a situation where you can use full color or four color process printing. There may be situations where a good color separator can get it down to 10 colors or so if you’re printing silkscreen, but that could be quite expensive.

Preproduction: Type Layout & Editing photos

Okay, let’s get started. First thing we’re going to do is rough out the composition, which basically is just laying out the type that the image is going to be based on. In this case, I’m going to be using Sign Painter, a typeface by House Industries. Let’s go with something short. Fly is an easy three letters. Bird imagery makes sense here, so let’s stick with that.

The next thing you’re going to do is find imagery and remove the background. I’m only going to show one here, but I’m probably using around 30-40 images total for the whole collage. For this pelican image, I’m going to use the pen tool to outline the shape of the bird.

Now I’ve got the outline finished, and I’ve used the right click (ctrl click on mac) -> Make selection to get our pelican selected.

Next, I’m going to go up to the top menu and go Select -> Refine Edge. I want to make sure that the edges of the bird are clean and crisp and don’t get weird edges.

These are the settings that I used for this photo, but it’s going to be different for each photo, so you’ll have to try out each setting on your own to see what photo will work for you.

So now that I’ve refined the selection, I want to make the pelican its own layer, separated from the background. Ctrl/cmd+J will create a new layer for your selection. Now, we’ve got the pelican on it’s own layer, lets see how clean the edges are. Make a layer under the pelican and fill it with a bright color. This helps to see how your edges turned out. I’m not looking for them to be absolutely perfect here because the layering of images will help hide any imperfections in the edges, however you don’t want them to look too weird.

Building the letterforms

I’ve gone ahead and cut out a bunch of bird shapes from various images and dragged them onto the collage canvas. I like to have them all visible, away from the text so that I can see what I have to work with. It’s similar to having a palette of paint. Also, I prefer to make all of my images smart objects so that I can scale them as I please. It increases file size, but keeps your options open in terms of composing the images.

Now I can start to create the letterforms using the images. Analyze your photos, see if there’s a shape that will fit perfectly as part of a letter. For example, using a wing as an arm on the F. Again, don’t marry yourself to a particular image in a particular spot. You may end up finding a better image to use down the line. Also, don’t be afraid to edit the images. You can use just a part of a bird if it fits better. Also, for this image, I’m not worrying about color. I think the random splashes of color from the various birds will result in a colorful image. We’ll talk more about that later in the tutorial.

As I said in the previous step, don’t be afraid to edit the images. The warp tool is a great way to manipulate an image into fitting into part of a letter. Here, I’m using the warp tool (Edit -> Transform -> Warp) to bend a feather into the L shape.

Keep forming the letters using the images, paying attention to how the images are layered on top of each other. You don’t want too many images just floating without something on top of them. Also, I prefer to use larger images to create the letters, but there are always going to be gaps. I like to feel those gaps with colorful pieces layered behind the larger shapes.

You should always be looking for images that will fit a specific space in the letter. For example, the head and beak of this toucan forms the counter of the lowercase Y.

From here, I’m filling in the spaces with images. I’m paying attention to the layering of images, the shapes of the images, and the relation of images to each other.

I’m also keeping an open mind the entire time and thinking if each element is in the best place. I’ve moved a few of them into new places, deleted a few, made a few bigger, etc.

Post Production: Additional Elements & Vintage Effects

So I’ve finished the collage. At this point, I want to clean up and organize the file. I’ll delete layers I’m not using and put the layers of each letter into a group so that I can adjust the placement of each. So now that I’ve got my file cleaned up and saved, it’s time to move onto some post production. I’m going to put some clouds in the background of the image. First, make a layer behind the word and fill it with a light blue. Next, find an image of clouds.

Now we’re going to separate the clouds from the background. It would be insane to try to do this with the pen tool, so we’re going to use the channels instead. First, desaturate the image – ctrl/cmd+shirt+U. Then bring up the levels – Image -> Adjustments -> Levels, or ctrl/cmd+L and make sure that there is very high contrast between the clouds and the sky. It should look like this:

Next, go to the channels palette, it’s next to the layers palette. Ctrl/Cmd click on the thumbnail to the left of the RGB/CMYK channel. This will select the lighter parts of the image, so in this case it will select the clouds.

Next, we need to see how the selection worked. Make a new layer and fill it with a lighter color. Then make another layer, fill that with black and put it behind your new cloud layer.

Now we can drag the clouds over to the collage and color them white. Mess around with the placement, find something that works for you.

To help unify the colors, we’re going to use a color balance adjustment layer. You can access this at the bottom of the layers palette. Because the background is blue, I’m going to slightly shift the colors of the collage towards blue. I’m not saying to make the whole collage blue, just to give it a hint of blue to help bring those colors closer together.

Let’s add in some noise and stuff to give it a slight vintage/aged feel. Yes, it’s super trendy at the moment, but we’re not gonna go crazy with it. It’s just an added flavor. First, you’re going to need to copy all of the layers and merge them together. This is going to be your filter layer. Next, lets add noise. Filter -> Noise -> Add Noise. These are the numbers I used, feel free to mess around with it.

Next, use gaussian Blur. Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur.

Onto smart sharpen. Filter -> Sharpen -> Smart Sharpen. Again, these are the numbers I used. Feel free to experiment. Make sure the Remove: is on Gaussian Blur.

This is the result.

It’s a bit too much for what I’m looking for, so I’m going to knock down the opacity to around 40 or so.

I’m going to make another layer, fill it with a pale yellow, set the blending mode to multiply, and move the opacity down to 60 or so:

And that should do it. Here’s some other examples of collage type:

View the full size image.

Photoshop Tip: Sharpening with Photoshop’s High-Pass Filter


Greetings. Have you ever been working on a project and needed to give an image a little boost? Whether it needs a bit more contrast, or needs to be sharper, I always find that the High Pass filter can give me a more dynamic result without spending too much time.

The High Pass filter should be used as an Overlay on top of a merged image. To see how it works, open a photo. I’m opening this awesome photo of me smashing sandwiches into my face, but you can open whatever photo you like. Press Ctrl/Command + J to duplicate the background (great keyboard shortcut). Now, let’s High Pass this thing.


The High Pass filter is located at the bottom of the filter list under “Other.” The radius dictates what detail is omitted from the image. Play with it and figure out how much of the image you want to sharpen. I’m leaving it at the default of 10.

Now set the layer to “Overlay.” If you feel there’s just way too much sharpening for your taste, mess with the opacity. Here’s my finished image. It’s not too different from the original ( which wasn’t of the best quality to begin with), but the contrast is more dynamic, and there is some additional depth added through the sharpening.



Here are some additional examples:


From the Portfolio: Maylene & the Sons of Disaster

Client: Maylene & the Sons of Disaster
maylene tee shirt

This is a design from roughly a year ago. While I was pretty excited about it at the time, I look at it now and get disappointed. This is a case of me trying to do too much. This design should have been the illustration and a simple type treatment, maybe a few other elements, and that’s it. I think it’s still a really solid piece, but I don’t think I did the illustration justice by putting all that extraneous stuff in there.

From the Portfolio: Triple Five Soul

Barack Obama Portrait Deck on UrbanOutfitters.com

Barack Obama portrait deck by Oliver Barrett of Go Media

In August, the Obama campaign was running a contest for the next Obama T-shirt. I thought to myself “Self, you don’t like John McCain, and you certainly don’t like Sarah Palin. You DO like drawing, fresh ideas, and what Barack Obama will bring to this mess of a country that we’re living in.” So I decided to whip something up for this shirt contest. I was thinking about what would make a good piece for this particular project, and figured that putting Barack Obama’s face on a tee for the Barack Obama campaign made some sense, so I started there. I fleshed out the portrait in a couple of hours, employing this new layered drawing technique I’ve been developing.

Once the portrait was done, I wanted to get some complimentary elements into the piece. I added a flurry of Obama logos and some of those concentric circles that I’ve been beating into the ground since 2006. I mocked it up on their template and submitted it.

For some reason, the submission never showed up on the page. Not sure why. It could have been that I just didn’t do it right (even though I tried a few times), or the contest couldn’t handle the big, fat wad of coolness that I was shoving down its throat.

So now I had this illustration that didn’t have a purpose. I decided that I should turn it into a poster and let people download it for free. I posted it to my Behance profile, but was too busy with other projects at the time to really push it. About a week later, I was putting some stuff together for Deck Peck and thought this poster/shirt design/whatever it had become would make a pretty cool deck. We submitted the illustration on a skate deck and it was well received enough for Urban Outfitters to feel the burning desire to sell it. Woo hoo! Go America.

You can buy the deck here. Buy it, get some fishing wire, and put it on your wall.

Here are some in progress images of the piece:

Barack Obama portrait deck by Oliver Barrett of Go Media

Barack Obama portrait deck by Oliver Barrett of Go Media

Barack Obama portrait deck by Oliver Barrett of Go Media

Barack Obama portrait deck by Oliver Barrett of Go Media

Barack Obama portrait deck by Oliver Barrett of Go Media

This is the finished poster. The aged look worked better on the poster than it did on the deck, so I left the deck clean.

Help Go Media on Design by Humans!

I had some spare time at home last week and thought I’d submit something to Design by Humans’ 10K contest. I tweaked another piece from 2006’s Concentric Series into a tee. I actually think it will make a better shirt than the design that won shirt of the month in June,which is currently sold out. I’m in buried under an avalanche of student loans, so help me out and send some votes my way. It would be the nice thing to do. I realize that some people might not agree with this submission after I won last time, but it’s a series. You need more than one. Tell your friends about it. I’d really appreciate it.

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.


“Concentric Downpour” Printed on DBH

Another Design by Humans winner for Go Media. I tweaked one of the pieces from the Concentric Series to work as a shirt design and it won shirt of the day. Concentric Downpour
They did a great job with printing, and making sure the artwork flowed onto the back of the shirt. Big thanks to everyone that voted and helped get the design printed!

Be sure to send us photos of you wearing the shirt if you buy it!
Buy it Here!

More photos after the jump

Application advice for creative jobs

Because we’re looking to expand our staff here, I want to off some key advice to anyone applying. IT IS ALL ABOUT PRESENTATION!! Some of these things are common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t think about what they are doing when applying for a job. If anyone has committed any of the career crimes that I’m going to mention, don’t feel bad. I’ve made some of these same mistakes myself and learning from them helped me out immensely.

Angel artwork by Oliver BarrettThe first impression is key. A bad first impression will almost kill any chance of someone even looking at your work. For example, if you are emailing your resume, do not simply say “See attached” and that’s it. You come off as both lazy and uninterested. Why would someone want to hire you if you don’t make the effort to introduce yourself? You don’t have to write your entire life story in that first email, but say something professional about yourself and that you’re interested in the job. You could mention that you’ve worked in the industry for X amount of years, you just graduated, you’re a fan of the company’s work, etc. Do NOT mention that you are looking for a salary hike. It will never help you to mention money immediately. Also, NEVER EVER EVER cut yourself down no matter how bad you think your work is. If you think you stink, then we will think you stink. Drawing negative attention to yourself will not get you hired out of sympathy. It will draw even more negative attention toward you and the company will laugh at you. Okay, so maybe we won’t laugh at you, but we definitely won’t hire you. I’m not trying to sound like a jerk, but I’ve made some of these same mistakes and some well-timed verbal abuse really straightened me out.

A big no brainer in the first impression department is FOLLOWING DIRECTIONS. If a company is asking for 5 samples, don’t send a 9 samples, don’t send a text-only resume, SEND 5 SAMPLES! That’s a bit annoying, but nowhere near as annoying as when someone emails soliciting freelance design services when a company is looking to fill a full-time position. If the job description says “full-time,” it doesn’t mean “full-time, but maybe freelance too.” FAIL!

There are also obvious things like spelling and grammar. If there is someone specific that you are addressing, make sure to spell his or her name correctly and don’t screw up a prefix if you can avoid it (Mrs. and Ms.). Make sure you are articulate so that the company doesn’t question whether you made it through junior high.

Use complete sentences and avoid internet shorthand. “HI, U GUYZ R DA BEST DESIGNARS. CAN U PLZ HIER ME? C MY RESUME PLZ!” deserves a slap in the face. If you have actually done this, and I know some of you have, please write this on your forehead: FAIL!

The resume is obvious a very important part of getting hired and I think many applicants are not paying enough attention to it. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve received resumes created in Microsoft Word using the default settings. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it won’t help you stick out in a sea of applicants. We work in a creative field, so a well thought out resume is a great way to get noticed.

Treat your resume like a design project. Try different dimensions, colors, compositions, etc. I took a class in college called “Business and Professional Practices” and the Professor told the class about how she got her first design job. She had made a small booklet containing both her resume and some samples. She was creative with an intricate spiral binding of the booklet and made it so that anything placed on top of it would slide off. That forced her resume to be on top of the pile. A cool looking resume is a great way to capture the company’s attention.

The content of the resume can be just as important as its appearance. I would advise keeping your resume to a maximum of one page. There can be thousands of applicants for a job and no one wants to spend time flipping through a 15 page resume. You don’t have to put every job you’ve ever had on the resume. You only need to list the positions related to the one you are currently applying for. It’s a waste of space to mention that you were a soda jerk in ’98.

Samples are probably the most important part of your application. Make sure you are submitting your ABSOLUTE BEST work. If you are unsure of a particular piece of work, then don’t include it. You should be absolutely ruthless with yourself when putting samples together. Detach yourself from your work; don’t be afraid to cut your babies loose. Also, try your best to match what the company is looking for. If a company is looking for a web designer, include the best web work you can.

There are exceptions to everything I’ve mentioned, but not many. I hope you’ve learned a thing or two from this. Again, some of these things may seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many crappy applications we get. If you’ve read this and still send us a stupid application, I will come through your monitor and wring your neck.

Vector Packs at the Mall

coheed and cambria shirt

Over the past week, I was out of the office. I was on tour with my band, and it was a decent time. I’m not the biggest fan of touring, but it can be fun to go out on the road and play cities that you’ve never been before. Anyway, there is always a lot of time to kill before the show starts, so we would usually stop at the local malls for about an hour or so. In a Hot Topic in (I forget what the name of the mall is) Kansas City, a shirt graphic caught my eye.