The Creative Process, Part I: T-Shirts!

Hey, Airwavians! Christina, here.

On the previous post, we mentioned that we have a new line of merchandise currently out. This includes a brand new T-shirt design, 1″ buttons (to match our existing patch design), and album art with a corresponding poster design. All can be purchased at each of our shows!

To sum things up: I am a visual artist by trade, and I serve as the in-house designer and art director for the band. Our merchandise, gig posters, logo, and various other collateral are all designed by myself. It’s been an awesome opportunity to put all of my best skills to work with Crowd the Airwaves since its conception!

Occasionally, I get questions on how my design process actually works. I love learning about the production process of other artists, because everyone has their own way of doing things. I would like to start a series of posts to show you my workflow.

This time around, we’re going to take a look at the new t-shirt design. The shirts were printed by Bands on a Budget. I highly recommend them; they are friendly, communicative, and are very helpful during the proofing process.


More under the jump.

With the release of our latest EP, All the Things We Don’t Say, it was time to refresh our line of merch; this included a brand new t-shirt design. Our first design featured white ink over black, and was printed by Bands on a Budget in connection to our debut EP, Devil May Care. This one played on the “airwaves” theme, and it also focused on typography. This time, I wanted to switch things up a bit.


Our very first design. Still something I am proud of!

I drew inspiration from band t-shirt designs that focused on a large graphic/illustration and less on the text. I experimented with typography for our very first design, but I decided to take the type down for this one. I also wanted to use two ink colors, which costs more to press than just one color, but it’s also more impressive for the fans to see.

The very first step involved preliminary sketches. I did a few doodles on my own, while also touching base with the band about what they wanted to see. Some looked a little nicer than others…


Octi rocking out to his favorite band.

The very first drawing of the octopus was getting somewhere. The octopus is my favorite animal, but I needed to tread lightly so as to not design something that was overly feminine. Keeping that in mind, I doodled some of the first things that popped into my head.


Sketching is always a little frustrating for me. Knowing that I was on a tight deadline, I felt a lot of pressure to create something great. What you’re seeing above is one of my doodle-pages that led to the final design. After showing it to the band, they decided that I should keep developing the sketch on the top right. The larger drawing of the lady in the mock-David Clarke headset ended up being used for the promotional poster for our EP release show.

The band and I discussed different music players and other media that would make up a cool graphic, as a play on the band’s name. I gave some of my favorite t-shirt designs another look, and at that point I had a good image in my mind of what I wanted the final product to be.  It was time to start doing the preliminary pencil drawing.


If you look closely enough, you can see my series of crudely drawn isometric lines, which served as the base of my drawing. Despite this, I wasn’t looking for the linework to be absolutely perfect; this was a stylistic choice. The wavy lines were drawn as an embellishment. My goal was for the wavy lines to be a separate color from the rest of the image. I figured that the best way to do this would be to trace the two components separately, superimpose both drawings digitally, and colorize the lines on Photoshop before sending the .psd file over to the printer.

I cut small pieces of tracing paper from a pad, and taped them over the pencil sketch with artist’s tape. Artist’s tape is low-tack and meant for easy removal, so it didn’t do any damage to the page or the drawing. The linework was drawn with a black .5mm Micron pen. I then stuck the paper onto two blank sketchbook pages. Both pages were no more than 5×5″ inches in size, and scanned at 600dpi. Normally 300dpi is standard, but I was being overly cautious. After all, they were about to be blown up several times their actual size.

stencil-1 stencil-2

Now it was time to take the drawings into Photoshop. I separated the drawings by layer, and altered the levels to hide the wrinkles in the tracing paper. Before colorizing, I set the layers’ blend modes to “Multiply” to temporarily render the white space transparent, and placed the drawings very carefully over each other. This required a good amount of scaling and nudging to position them perfectly.

ps screencap 4

1+ hours of nudging later…

layer panel

My drawings were then separated into two layer groups. My intent was to send off the image in .psd format to make it easier for the BOAB staff to discern, as opposed to merging the whole file which would have rendered it uneditable.

In order to isolate the linework from the white paper color, I utilized layer masks (those little black and white icons in my layer panel next to the drawing layers). The black fills are what I removed from the layers. In this case, the white paper color was selected, and filled completely with black in the layer mask to make it invisible. This made it easier for me to manipulate the linework.

I planned on printing the t-shirts on grey fabric, so I used solid grey as the base color for my working document. I chose white for the wavy lines, and a yellow ochre Pantone swatch for the music player part. Pantone is a standardized color matching system used in the print production process across various media such as fabrics, house paints, and, in this case, screen printing on garments.

During production of the shirts, each ink color was pressed using a silk screen process; one color per screen is used. For this to be possible, the two components of my image needed to be separated into the two ink colors. To colorize the lines, I created clipping masks containing solid color directly above them (see the little downward arrows indicating the clipping masks). The colors were then limited to the previous layer, as they assumed lines’ opacity.

Layer masks were also very important to finalize the wavy lines. I manipulated the layer mask of the layer group itself (called “squiggles”) so the waves appeared to weave in and out of the yellow music player layer (in the group called “instruments”). I wanted the graphic to appear to exist in a 3-dimensional space. Below, you can see how the mask is enabled on the first screenshot, vs disabled on the second (see red “X” mark).

ps screencap 2  ps screencap 3

Now, for the text. I wanted something grungy, but legible. The text was done digitally using a font called F25 Executive which I downloaded for free on  DaFont has been my go-to font database for many years now; it has nearly 33,000 fonts of various usage rights to choose from. Choosing a typeface for a project is usually pretty painful, and I had to narrow my choices down from dozens of different ones. DaFont lets you preview text, which eliminates a lot of the guesswork and the need to download multiple fonts (which I do anyway, haha. My collection is pretty large).

dafont screencap

When applied to the design, I kerned the letters carefully and adjusted the size and position of the text to make sure it looked just right next to the linework. In typography, “kerning” means adjusting the space between characters, which can be a huge pain but it’s still necessary for visual appeal.

type screencap.PNG

The finalized text, after kerning and re-positioning at a slight angle

Here is what the finalized .psd file turned out like after placing the text (plus my added CE monogram):

ps screencap 1

Once the graphic was finally done, the bulk of my work was over with. It was time for me to send the original file off to Bands on a Budget for proofing.

The proofing process is a critical step in sending off your work for production, as the proof you receive will reflect the appearance of the final product. Depending on the service you’re using or the option you choose, you will either have a digital proof set up by in-house production staff, or you will receive an instant digital proof upon upload. Your work will typically be reviewed by the staff in case there are any errors with your file. In that case, they will contact you so you can look into it and revise your work. My t-shirts and posters were reviewed by the BOAB staff very quickly, with a turnaround of less than a day.

During the proofing process, the first proof you receive may not be perfect. More often than not, I’ve had to revise my work or contact the staff because I wasn’t satisfied with the proof. During my very first run of shirts, I spoke to a BOAB staff member over the phone so we could work out some issues with my file and get the best possible proof back for approval. The staff will gladly work with you for your desired result. In this case, the first proof I was sent was placed a bit too high up on the shirt. After shooting them a brief reply via email, it was quickly resolved.

proof1   proof2

The turnaround for t-shirt printing was about 10 days. I can tell you firsthand that the period between approving the proofs and having the product in your hand is extremely anxiety-inducing. Though there were some minor errors in the final product (the white ink must have been pressed first and was underneath the yellow ink, as opposed to the other way around… lesson learned: be careful what you do or don’t mask off!), I was very satisfied. The t-shirts felt nice and soft and the graphic was super crisp and retained its original hand-drawn quality. Their reception has been great, and we’ve made quite a few sales since we debuted the shirts at our EP release show. We will definitely be working with Bands on a Budget for our next design!

I hope this de-shrouded some of the mystery behind my workflow. There’s definitely a lot of work involved! The new t-shirt design can be purchased at our merch table at any of our shows for $15. Please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions!


Christina / CTA


Art, design and art direction © Christina Elliott, 2017. All rights reserved.


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