15 March 2010

Design a character for a T-shirt print

Speakerdog creator Ben the Illustrator, guides you through your own character creation – and then from screen to printed T-shirt.


Character creation is a personal thing. Anyone can doodle stick drawings and scrappy characters, but armed with an insider’s knowledge of cracking character design, you can breathe life into any design.

Characters can be created in any application – from 2D pixels to 3D models – but vector-based artwork holds a special place in any creative’s mind. And vector-based characters can make the jump from screen to screen-print with ease.

For this tutorial, Ben the Illustrator reveals the process he goes through to create one of his famed characters – and he has created a special character just for Digital Arts readers.

His original sketch is also included on the cover CD so you can follow along and learn that good characters come down to background, colour, and line control. The secret, though, isn't just about pixel pushing.

Character design involves actually getting to know your character and its reason for being. One trick is to keep a scratchpad handy with you at all times, and especially on your studio desk.

When you fancy, doodle, draw and explore character shapes and designs, gradually building up a look-&-feel to your design. At the same time, explore what motivates your character – and what message it is trying to bring to the viewer. Once this is solved, the actual design in Illustrator is made far easier – and designs can be modified for a genuine reason.


Step 1
Before sketching your character on paper with a pencil, you need to decide what it will be (human? dog? flower? suitcase?) and think about its personality and the feeling of your piece. Is it to be heartwarming, intelligent, or violent? Keep experimenting with your sketches to find the perfect design. Try different ways of drawing facial features and body shapes.


Step 2
It’s also worth giving it a purpose. Is it to be informative or entertaining? What will it bring to the viewer? You may want to add props to strengthen its integrity or charm. In this tutorial, we’re going to be working with Sanchez, an office boy/flower that tells us all to spend less time in the office and more time outside.


Step 3

Now, sketch its environment – where does your character live, and what is your illustration as a whole going to depict? Ensure the illustration style of your landscape and character work together, even if they differ slightly. Try and keep your sketch fairly clean, it will help when you come to tracing in Illustrator.


Step 4
Once drawn, scan it in. If possible, scan at a high-resolution (300dpi is recommended) as you may need to zoom right into the sketch to trace smaller details later, and save your scan as a JPG and import it onto your artboard in Illustrator (File>Place). To help with this tutorial, the original scan is included on the cover CD.


Step 5
Next, we’re going to trace the sketch. Ensure you retain the natural curves you put into the sketch. Relying too much on the bézier curves created within Illustrator can make your character look too plain or unnatural, being made up of regular graphic shapes. It’s worth spending time over the tracing, as it can be tricky going back to this stage once the image starts coming together as a whole.


Step 6
Illustrator has three brilliant tracing tools, especially if you are using a Wacom tablet and pen; the pencil retains a very natural line, although it can be a little shaky. The paintbrush allows varied line thicknesses and can work wonderfully for a fresh adaptation of the traditional tool. The pen tool is incredibly clean but the bézier curve function can take some time to get used to.





Step 7
Where possible, group your objects according to what colour they will be later, allowing you to colour them all at once and try colours more easily without having to go through and select each object individually. Select the objects using the direct selection tool, then group using Cmd/Ctrl+G. For example, if you have a field full of same-coloured trees, group them together in the layers panel.


Step 8
Illustrator has some wonderful colour swatches (Window>Swatch Libraries) some of which are particularly formatted for print processes, for example Pantone Solid Uncoated which is solid (neither pastel nor metallic) colours to be used on uncoated print stock, such as art prints on watercolour or textured paper. It can be a bonus to always use Pantone swatches so you can easily get the Pantone codes if required by a printer or your client.



Step 9
Don’t just choose colours that look nice. Pick colours that set the scene, create an atmosphere, depict a time of day and add depth to the scene as a whole. Here we are going for an airy, spring afternoon. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment with the outlines, either colouring them, or taking them out. Landscapes without outlines have a more authentic air to them.


Step 10
When colouring your character, really take your time to get it perfect. Consider whether or not the colouring could confuse the viewer (colouring a zebra in two tones of brown may just make it look like a horse, for example). Colour the predominant areas of the character first, then colour the smaller areas and props to complement.

Step 11
Illustrator has some wonderful graphic tools, so make use of them. The star tool can add a kitsch effect. Click on the Rectangle tool and scroll along to the star, then click on the artboard and enter the values required. Colour gradients always add a satisfying depth, and you can also break your faded gradient into tonal bands (select the object with the gradient, then click Object>Expand and decide how many bands of tone you require).


Step 12
Look at your masterpiece as a whole, and to ensure the character fits comfortably into the scene, consider adding a shadow. Use the pen tool to draw the shape then select a darker tone of the colour you have on the ground, and reduce the opacity (Window>Transparency) to suit.


Step 13
If you are keeping the outlines on your illustration, make sure they are all correct and of a balanced thicknesses throughout. Thick lines in the distance can make a scene look incredibly clumsy. If you have text, whether it’s a title, tagline, or in a speech bubble, take some time to choose a font that suits your character’s personality and the style of the scene. If you continue to use your character, the font may be a useful branding tool for future creations.



Step 14
Don’t just choose colours that With your character’s first illustration complete, consider taking him/her to other places, locations and situations, build on its life story and personality. Taking your character to different landscapes can improve your skills having to evoke different types of scene but each being part of a series in the same style. Or you could take your character into other media…


Step 15
T-shirts are always a popular medium for fresh design and illustration work. Our design will have to use a limited number of colours – most T-shirt printers ask for four colours or less. Consider adding slogans or different graphics to your previous landscape image. Think what works well on T-shirts, and what products would you buy yourself? Many T-shirt printers also make belts, bags, pin badges, and other products.


Step 16
To get your artworks out into the world you could sell them as art prints (giclee prints are cost effective and high-quality), postcards or stickers (both can be great promotional tools and are available from many online suppliers). Try and include your URL or contact details – you never know who may see your character.

1 comment:

  1. More efficient and versatile methods were developed over time allowing designers to add more than one color with complex design possibilities. Screen printing, with its simplicity, speed, and versatility, have allowed itself to be an extremely widespread and simple way to design graphics on t shirts as well as canvases. Tshirt Design

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