By day, D.J. Coffman is an art director with Spreadshirt North America. By night, however, he steps into a phone booth and dons a cape and red vinyl boots, moonlighting as a very well-known comic artist. He has been kind enough to assume the superhero role for today to share some tips for making comic- inspired designs. Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…. DJ!
Hey folks, today I’m going to share my process for making comic-style T-shirt designs. See how doodles in my trusty field notes evolve to being printed on premium products!
You don’t even really need to know how to draw (although it helps and drawing is awesome!). This walkthrough also shows you the same steps you’d use to convert existing art you may already own and want to make sweet merch with.
Here’s what I’m using today:
- A small notebook for your sketches and ideas. I prefer Field Notes dot-graph paper, but you can also use post-it notes if you’d like.
- A camera or scanner: I use my iPhone camera for taking photos of my sketches to open in Photoshop, but you can also use a scanner.
- Photoshop CC: Some makers I know think this is still super expensive, but it’s only 10 quid a month now with an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. There’s always GIMP if you don’t want to spend any money.
- Optional Shortcut App Tip: Adobe “Capture” app which automagically scans your images into vectors. For real!
For me, mostly everything begins in a sketchbook. After a quick sketch session, I’ve decided on the little robot on the left. Let’s zero in on him.
After you’ve chosen which sketch you’d like to “comic-ise,” you’ll need to scan it into your computer. Creating a folder on your desktop for your scanned-in sketches is a good idea in order to make them easily-accessible.
In Photoshop, I create a new document with a canvas size of 4000×4000 pixels at 300 dpi (color mode is RGB) and I open my scanned document.
Think of this ‘canvas’ like your work area or pretend as if it’s the print area on the front of a T-shirt. Don’t worry too much about the final image size on the product. At this stage, it’s all about cleaning the drawing up as best as possible and removing backgrounds.
BONUS SHORTCUT TO LINE ART: If you’re an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber, you also have access to their great mobile apps as well. Adobe Capture will actually vector trace your photos in real time, then sync it over to your Adobe assets library automagically. We are living in the future here, people!
This is a nice shortcut but you do have to experiment with the settings so it doesn’t smooth out your lines too much, causing you to lose that hand drawn look.
While shortcuts and technology are great, let’s do this the long way so you learn some mad skills.
Step 4: Cleanup
First, I trim out the illustration using a combination of the lasso tool, magic wand and eraser. You don’t need a fancy stylus or graphics tablet. It can be done with a mouse too, it just takes longer.
Since I will be colouring this illustration, I want to isolate just the line art. To do this, I use features like ‘Levels’ and ‘Curves’ or ‘Blending Options’ on a layer to fade out all but the black lines of the drawing. It sounds and looks way more complicated than it is. Really just a few small slider moves and you’ll see the background start to vanish. Here is where you can find these features in Photoshop:
Step 5: Coloring & Tricks
Now for the fun stuff! The line art is placed on its own layer and the colors will be on a layer below that. You can see my basic layer setup here.
If you want to paint over your line art, you can use the ‘lock transparent pixels’ selection that I’ve highlighted in the screenshot above. When that is on, it will only draw on lines on that layer. Pretty cool! Many children’s book illustrators use this trick to give their work a friendlier feel.
When you’re all done adjusting your art, you’ll want to trim your canvas to the edge of the design before you upload to your Spreadshirt account. In Photoshop you select IMAGE/TRIM and then select “transparent pixels” in the pop up. The canvas will now look like the above image on the right, neatly tucked right to the edge of your design. Now I save the file out of Photoshop as a .PNG file image. This file type will ensure that I don’t have a background colour behind the drawing, while something like a JPEG would have a big white square which we don’t want printing on the final shirt.
I upload the final image to my account and begin seeing what it looks like in the product designer.
I prefer to visually centre my design since the cape is blowing to the left. I use the top of the robot’s head to line up centre placement. If I were to hit the auto centre button it would look off.
The cool thing about having a finished drawing like this is you can choose to move it around or combine it with text and experiment to make an even greater T-shirt design. Here’s what I settled on:
I used the same steps to TRIM the image to the edges of the design before uploading this to the site.
And here’s the final design and my test print which came out REDICULOUS. As you can see below, this one also looks great on a variety of products. If you want one for yourself, it’s available on the Spreadshirt Marketplace.
Incredible, DJ! We are ever so grateful you took the time to walk us through your process and fill us in on how to comic-ise our sketches. You can find more inspiration with these incredible comic designs.
Do you have any questions for DJ? Did you find this tutorial helpful? We’d love to hear from you – just drop a comment below, and we’ll try to peel DJ away from his sketch pad for a second to get him to answer!
For more help in formatting your art for printing head over to our HELP section.