Band T-shirt Tutorial

This article was originally posted on Go Media’s blog by  Jeff Finley.

The Project:

You’re hired to create a “sick” t-shirt design for a major label Metal band. Their fans also listen to Metallica, Slayer, Slipknot, and Mushroomhead. Describe how you would make something that would appeal to those fans and sell at stores like Hot Topic or Spencers and what software you would use to create it. (Keep in mind the look of those bands merch and how you would create something similar).

The Process:

1. Familiarize Yourself

The first step is to get acquainted with the project and familiarize myself with the bands, fans, and the merch referenced in the brief. I’m don’t need to be a fan of the band I’m designing for, nor do I really have to be a fan of any of the others. But I like to at least listen to the band, maybe check out some lyrics, and their previous merch to see what has been done before.

2. Determine Style

Determine the design style. My main responsibility is to understand the vibe and aesthetic. This entire process really only takes less than 5 minutes because I’m already familiar with the bands and know exactly what style I’m to design in. In this case, I know I’ll be drawing something. What am I going to draw? My instinct tells me it’s going to be dark, demonic, and scary on a black t-shirt. But I shouldn’t be so quick to assume that, maybe the band wants something different. I better go back and reread their brief. Brb…

3. Read the Brief

OK, just read the brief and it turns out they want nothing new. OK, just like I thought. The brief says “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here. We just want something sick, that will appeal to people are into metal. You know, skulls, roses, blood, blades, etc.”

4. Assess The Budget

Talk to the client and assess budget. At this point, I would normally talk to the client about what subject matter they want in the tee and propose some ideas. Once I have a good idea of what they want and how much they can afford, I’ll get to the sketch phase. I suggest that maybe we use some of their lyrics about collecting dead birds and how it relates to a broken heart. I don’t need to REALLY understand it, but I can use some of those images in my sketch. Client likes the idea, so I move on.

5. Concept Sketches

Sketch up my concept. I’ll flesh out my approved concept on paper and I’ll show the client. This way they can give me feedback on overall composition, the meaning, the subject matter, etc. Just for sake of this article, my sketch might be a dead bird lying on its back autopsy style with a beating heart inside. Around the design I might add embellishments like graphical spikes, flourishes, grunge, etc.

6. Go Digital

Digitally ink, color, etc. I like to move to the computer after the client has approved my sketch. In this stage, I will likely use my Wacom tablet to digitally ink my sketches. I’ll gather reference material for the subject matter I am creating (in this case birds and hearts). My linework usually is black and I limit my color palette to about 3-4 colors. I’ll might use some stock vector elements from the Arsenal if I’m adding in decorative vector ornaments, flourishes, tribals, etc.

7. Proofs

Post proofs and mockups: Once I have a design finished how I like it under the budget they have given me, I’ll mock up the shirts on our photo-realistic t-shirt templates so the client can better see how the design will look on a shirt. I’ve found the more realistic you can present their idea in the real world, the more approvals you’ll win.

8. Revisions

Turns out the client liked the design, but they just want some color changes. So I’ll go back and make those changes, log my time spent on them and show the client new revised proofs. If they hate the design (unlikely, because they already approved the sketch and concept) then we reassess the budget and how much they can afford to start over. This rarely happens.

9. Final design

They give me a final approval on the design, then we send the invoice for the remaining hours. Once they’re all paid up, I prepare the final files for print. Usually that just means organizing the PSD or AI files, saving out flattened high res versions, etc. I don’t typically do color separations for tees, we save that job for the printer.

10. Send the files

At Go Media we like to burn everything on a disc and mail the final files to the client. We also send them online via YouSendIt. Both ways to make sure they get the file. We also send out a mini survey so they can give us feedback on how we did. Most of the time it’s 9’s and 10’s but occasionally we’ll get a 7 or 8 :)

Go Media is a creative agency based in Cleveland, Ohio. We specialize in Brand Development, Website Design, and Illustration. We deliver effective designs with legendary customer service, giving our clients an unparalleled experience.
Hire us for your next creative project. learn more | contact us

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  • Preston

    Hey just wondering how you make your company so that nobody else can use your idea. For example, so that nobody else could use your name “Mediocre Clothing”

  • Jon Kruse

    You need to trademark your name. I don’t actually have a trademark on my name, anyone can use the name if they wish. I am glad I didn’t file for a trademark because I am going to change the name and you should really avoid putting extra work into areas of the business that aren’t that important. Why would anyone want to use the same name as you? I think most entrepreneurs often get caught up with all the legalities like trademarks and get overwhelmed.

  • bandtshirts

    Your tips are remarkable. I regularly read your blog and its very helpful.