by Kirk Wallace
Kirk Wallace, trzown | Freelance Illustrator & Graphic Designer, Boston Massachusetts
Art prints, t-shirts, stickers etc for sale. Illustration & graphic design by Kirk Wallace
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Blog

As an illustrator and graphic designer, I'm able to do what I love for a living. That doesn't mean I'm content, satisfied, or even happy with a lot of what I do. I am creating this blog to share some insight that hopefully both you and I can learn from about my experiences in the world of designing for a financial and emotional living.

Designing Shirts, for People

Photos by Monica Justesen

At Wagepoint, we wanted to get some meaty stuff to give away and wear internally that we could still afford as a young startup. Our future thoughts go far into mascot toys, comics, all that. But for now we need to keep it feasible and broad since we're not Mailchimp, yet.

Shirts were the obvious, but what a challenge that provided. I want to tell you a bit about the thought process behind the shirt content, sizes, colors, all that because I did learn a great deal.

Without copious amounts of research, we knew our target audience is much more adult than 16 year old kids going to concerts but we still wanted something that we'd wear ourselves. First thought was do two shirts which has its ups and downs but primarily ups. We got to have two ideas come to life, we get to wear two shirts, we get to test what people like more, and we don't lose that much money creating the second. 

Fun, louder, 4 color

Subtle, softer, 1 color

So we went with a conservative, and a fun. The fun is a 4 color on white (100% ring-spun cotton american apparel) and the conservative is a 50/50 (cotton and polyester) blend again, american apparel heather grey. Both printed with water based inks for a really comfy high quality feel.

My number one rule designing merchandise is keep it classy, do not get tacky with it. Make it high quality, make the people want to wear these for a comfort level, style, and pride. I designed these shirts from scratch with shirts in mind. I did not take a coffee mug design and slap it onto a shirt. Different canvases and mediums deserve new thought from birth.

Sketching

I started by sketching a bunch of ideas, just trying to get an idea of how digit might look on a shirt. Will digit look good at all? What else could we do? Should he be doing an activity? Should he just be standing there?

Sketching helped weed out what was totally not going to work, more than anything.

Waving and standing ended up coming out too weird, because like most of you probably know, designing for a shirt is significantly different than designing on a flyer or web or anything else It need to fit the shirt, it can't be awkward for people to wear, and it needs to be a bit subtle. That was my take, anyway. So needless to say we made sure to ditch his feet, it looks weird with someone standing on your waist line and we ditched the and we ditched the waving because it was too deliberate and quite frankly a bit pathetic of digit to be arbitrarily waving at people. No one wants that.

Less waving, more profile / hero is what we ended up moving forward with. Less awkward, more subtle.

The Colorful

Next up was just bringing in some vectors of digit and testing him out to see how he'll do in a limited color palette, what colors are going to work, and how big should the design be. You can see here I was playing with all kinds of ideas but the one lesson I kept coming back to was to keep it simple and subtle if possible, even with this being the 'loud' shirt. 

Getting a feel for it. Trying not to make him too cross eyed as the center of attention.

What we ended up with was pretty good. I keep saying I got lucky with the colors. I'm just thanking the design heavens that these 3 colors exist. I first wanted to print these on an oatmeal or natural white to help date the design, but it seemed a little too particular, most people are used to white. Let's keep things a straight shot for our first shirts, see what people think, if they'll wear them, etc. We know this is an experiment we'll be learning from. I still think a natural / cream would have been very nice.

Final design for the 'loud' design

The Subtle

This shirt branched off the sketch where I wanted to take one line and loop it around in a mono weight and make digits figure. Kind of like a cathode bar light, all one stroke and one color. The sketch is rough but the idea was there. But we already learned (we think) that him standing on our chest is going to look awkward, so we cut him down to the shoulders. makes him bigger, less going on, more friendly.

Looking like a real freak here, who has a neck like that? Even for a robot it's pretty fucked.

Less like we took a design we had for a flyer and slapped it on a shirt now. That's one of the biggest grievances when companies design swag, they put the same thing on a mug, a shirt, a mouse pad, and a stress ball. It's like getting a t shirt design tattooed on your arm. It wasn't designed for that space, so chances are its not going to look good. Everything should be designed for its canvas and medium in my opinion. We'll always put effort into what we do with Wagepoint stuff. Guaranteed.

To keep in the spirit of a/b testing busy and loud shirts, I decided to keep this 'simple' one pretty similar to the color but just... more mellow. Something I could almost see an adult wearing!

Final design of the 'subtle' design. Notice that custom w loop? Wow I'm a hand letterer now!

This one came pretty easy, it started on black to be the opposite of white (better for testing, we thought) but I quickly realized that even though black is my favorite shirt color, I think we're knocking a lot of people out because despite black being a popular and neutral color, it is intense. Wearing a black t shirt is probably something you won't see most people doing out and about. We don't want these shirts to be bed time shirts, we want them to be the types that they wear every day and people say 'hey, whats that?'

Final Mockup for one color

Getting it printed

That watch doesn't match this dudes outfit. What an asshole.

Being in charge of the production of these, I let them know they were gonna be a bit more costly, because I refuse to have these digitally printed, direct to garment, or even screen printed with clunky heavy plastisol inks. It was high quality shirt fabrics, made in the USA under fair labor, and printed with water based inks for a soft touch and comfy feel.

Setting up for screen print isn't so bad especially when you have super talented printers helping you out. I did some trapping, separated my colors out, matched them to a pantone book, and shipped it off with all the specs I wanted.

Photos captured by Monica Justesen

We actually printed with both Realthread and Threadbird. Reason being there was minimal price difference and both support had be so so great that there was no reason for me to choose one or the other so I told them both up front that I'd be splitting it and going 4 color with one and the 1 color with the other and they were just thrilled to be able to do half the work. I still don't have a preference. Both printers have been amazing in the whole process.

Tags

I repurposed one of the sketches from earlier to create the screen printed tags, which I think is actually my favorite little details I've always wanted custom screen printed tags that I designed. So I am really happy with the way these came out. Click some of these images to see em bigger, check the detail!

Check out Wagepoint.com to see what this payroll product is all about. Great fun to be a part of the team.