Tips for New Designers

I know there’s a thread that covers the ground rules of the derby, but I thought it might be interesting and valuable if some of the designers that have been around a while shared some tips with newer designers. Hopefully this isn’t presumptuous on my part, but it took me months of stumbling before I got my first shirt printed, and if there was some depository of derby tips it might have made the experience much easier. I don’t claim to be an expert on anything – I feel like I’m still learning myself – so just take my tips with a grain of salt. This is just what I find works for me, and I don’t even use them all the time. Feel free to offer up some of your own. Hopefully we can keep it positive?..

Look around Check out sites like Threadless and Design by Humans. They have a different fan base and often print different styles than woot does, but you can really pick up how a design works or doesn’t work on a shirt. I’m not suggesting find someone else’s style and copy it, just look at how they present their ideas on a shirt. I come from a concept art background, and that doesn’t naturally translate to wearable shirts. Looking at how others do it really helped me figure out how I could as well.

The First Idea that Comes to Mind Every now and then that first idea is derby gold, but most of the time, for me anyway, it’s the same first idea that everyone else is having. Years of watching the same TV and Movies, reading the same books, hearing the same jokes, means that when we get a theme we probably have very similar things come to mind. When I get those initial ideas I try to decide “is this actually going to be a unique design, and if not can I somehow make it unique?” Usually the answer is no and no and I try to move on to the next one.

Connect things When I’m coming up with ideas I’ll often get random things that relate (or sometimes don’t relate) to theme but aren’t really a working idea on their own. Once I have a bunch of these things floating in my head I’ll start to put them together. Many times these random things will just click so naturally you’ll wonder how they were never put together before! Then check the Internet to make sure they were never put together before.

Sometimes Less is More Personally once I get a concept in my head I try to think of how I can get it to it’s simplest visual form and still get the idea across. First and foremost I think a good shirt reads immediately when you see it. There are exceptions of course (many shirts are a pleasure to pour over and enjoy), but you generally should be able to get the concept within a second or two of looking at it. As an example when James Cho and I collaborated on The Butterfly Effect, my initial idea for it was a very convoluted A to B to C to D to E type of process. There was even a drawing of a sneezing gazelle in there, much to my shame. James wisely advised distilling that concept to it’s essence, cutting out all the unnecessary fat. The result was a much more effective design.

Plus it Once I think the core of the idea is coming across, I then try to think of ways to ‘plus’ it. Plussing is when you have something that’s already good, but now you can add that little extra something, like a visual gag off to the side that compliments but doesn’t overpower the main idea. Some designs don’t call for plussing, but if you can work it in, I think it really helps win over that on the fence voter. :slight_smile:

Let the color limitations work for you It can be frustrating to only have 6 colors when you need 12, but one of the cool things about working with a limited color pallete is that the less colors you use, the more impact the final image will have. It’s one of those inverse proportional things.

Don’t get frustrated My first designs (and some of my current designs, lets be honest) were bad. Really bad. Looking back I can see just how bad they were. But at the time I thought they were something special and couldn’t understand why no one else thought the same. It was easy to get frustrated with the voters who weren’t voting or the designers who were getting the votes. The bottom line was I just wasn’t designing shirts people wanted to wear. I had to either keep doing what I was doing or try to find the area where what I wanted to make and what people wanted to wear intersect. One thing I’ve learned during that process is that being too hard on myself or taking it out on other people gets you no where. Just stay positive and move forward.

Ask for Help/Advice/Critiques People are usually more than willing to share with you some design tip they know or a process you really like, but some will only do so when prompted. Prompt! Also don’t take critiques personally. Most of them aren’t meant to be. We all make mistakes, overlook things, or just can’t step back from a design. An honest critique is a valuable way to get a design to that final level of goodness. Also know when to stick to your guns. If you try to please everyone you’ll please no one. Sometimes people will suggest things to change just because they think they should. Know when to use and know when to discard advice.

Well these are the things that I’ve found helpful in shirt designing. Hopefully someone can use them somehow. Feel free to add you own and try to stay helpful?..

Also, enjoy this Krampus egg.

Helpful tips, gentry.

Thanks for taking the time to compile them!

Thanks for this tgentry, it helps to see you and cho post up some of their tips and techniques, very humble and professional of you.

Very well said and pretty spot on. Given the vote patterns on woot, I don’t know how valuable this will be to winning derbies, but it’s definitely stuff that anyone who wants to really push their work forward should think about. I don’t know what I agree with most, but I definitely have to say that looking around is a great idea no matter who you are or what intention you have in entering. Being educated about what’s out there not only keeps you from straddling the line of the rejector, but it gives you an idea of how to use a shirt as a canvas… you wouldn’t learn guitar based on vocal lessons, and just as both of those applications are music, both shirt designing and drawing are both arts that can inform each other, but are not the same. Learn what works, try to figure out why, and try to put that into your own art.

Not only that, but shop your work around to these other places. If you submit your work to Threadless, you’re going to get a totally different consumer base to tear your work apart. Learn from them. Take negative criticism just as seriously as positive, if not more… you learn more from hearing what someone finds wrong about your work than you ever will from brown-nosing. Don’t think that because you’re a woot artist, you can’t shop work to other sites… not to sound like a broken record around here, but Artulo is one of very few wooters to start here and get printed elsewhere (Design By Humans, no less, which is about as un-woot as a site can be). To the same degree, understand what a site is looking for… you might be a titan at woot, but don’t expect to be as well received elsewhere.

Which leads to my bread and butter point… be true to yourself. The average derby has about 300 entries, which means you have a 1% chance of placing no matter WHAT you enter. Even if you’re of the belief that only 30 entries per derby even have a chance to win, you’re still at a 10% chance, which is still terrible odds. You’re effectively designing for a portfolio with a slight chance of profit. Create a portfolio that tells future clients what you are artistically, not what you think others want you to be. Create a portfolio that can transfer over to another shirt site. Create a portfolio that you can look back on and say “yeah, I didn’t win, but this was totally worth the time I spent.” If you’re in it for the money, you should be spending enough time to cement that win, and if you’re spending that much time on an entry that has only a 10% chance of winning at best, it should be one you’ll be proud of. The reason Cho has such a strong fan base is because from most marketable to least chance of winning, he puts himself into it. The reason Edgar fans are so rabid despite his difficulty in securing prints and sales is because Edgar constantly creates what comes to him, not what will necessarily sell. A nondescript and nonthreatening shirt might make you a quick grand, but creating art for you will give you a loyal fanbase, and if you want to really put time into this pastime, that base will be more valuable than a thousand quick cashouts

I really like this, great tips and it’s given me a lot to think about. not sure if this fits in this thread or not, but I’ve been stressing a lot about the Pantone Solid color swatches, I’ve never worked in print before so I honestly don’t know what they are, or how to get them. I’m not sure how many newbies run into this same problem, but it’s caused me a lot of grief.

This is a great post! I’ve got one more that would have helped me when I first started: Don’t worry about the print-ready unless you’ve got at least a remote chance of getting printed. I usually wait until Monday, and then if I’m in the top 10 or so I’ll pretty up my large file and email it in. My first 5 or 6 derbies I spent way too long identifying the pantones, hunting down stray pixels, etc., because I thought you HAD to send it all in at once.

VERY IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that the orint ready must match the shirt comp! So even though you send in the print-ready later, you cant change it in anyway that would make it different than what’s advertised in the shirt comp folks are voting on.

That is a good point. I tend to do the print ready right away just so I won’t have to worry about it, but I have found myself letting details slide knowing I could fix it up later if I have to send them the print file. This is a good tip, especially if you’re short on time. Just know that you better bring the goods if you show it in a comp and it gets votes. :slight_smile:

Took me about 12 derbies to figure that one out. Of course this means that I have not sent a print ready file in quite sometime since I rarely flirt with top ten.

There’s been a few entries where I never sent in a print-ready file. I’m not sure if the two things are connected, but none of those entries made the redo derby. It’d be interesting to know if they won’t pick an entry for re-do if they don’t have a print-ready version on hand.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think Schrobblehead ever gave them a print-ready for his hamburger design that’s in the do-over.

Woot also said this in the do-over derby description: “If you didn’t submit your original art with your first submission, send all art files to”

Ah, very true. Thanks SB.

FWIW, the two of mine that they picked were from the earlier derbies where I was sending in Print Ready files.

I do have one quick question that I haven’t seen the answer to anywhere (pardon if I’m blind and just missed it):

I know you have to stick to the pantone library for colors, but is there a list somewhere of the pantone colors they actually have on hand to print with? Or do they order them as needed? Perhaps they shift a color in a design they don’t have to the nearest color they do have?

'Cause there’s a LOT of Pantone colors, and if I can design to a known selection, it’d probably make their prepress lives easier, heh.

They use Pantone solid coated, so stick with those. However, choosing pantones isn’t necessary; if you just pick colours willy-nilly woot will pick close-matching (probably) colours should you win.

Just to jump into the print-ready commentary, I hadn’t submitted print-ready designs for either of my do-over entries. I sent them in this week because Woot printed a request for designers to submit the files, presumably for an upcoming editor’s pick.

Great write-up, tgentry. :slight_smile:

My only caution here is this: in the bug derby, Myztri got her Mendhi Butterfly entry rejected due to an anonymous tip that linked to a work in progress, in which she had used “Om” symbols, which count as text. There were none in the final product, but because she decided not to include a print-ready, she got rejected from the top 10 when woot couldn’t confirm that her entry was text-free. it’s a horrible precedent, but it’s worth playing safe in some instances.

Really helpful tips TG.

I also wondered about whether the print-ready files are necessary for placement in the ‘do-over’ derby. Maybe someone at Woot can answer definitively.

I’m sure Woot would prefer to have them, but they aren’t necessary to being included. I know at least two of mine (possibly more, I don’t recall on a couple of them) in the Do-Over never had print readies submitted.

Great point Adder. I was rejected for having too many colors once – I didn’t but since I didn’t upload the print-ready they couldn’t verify on their own.

Thanks TGentry for starting this thread – this would have come in very handy if I saw something like this from the beginning. A few more tips:

The Shirt is the Message
Even if it’s not a joke shirt, it has to grab people. You have to surprise them with the beautiful art, the hilarious idea, or the universal meme that has never been communicated in quite such a way before. I’m really speaking to myself here since I’ll get caught up in creating a shirt that I like but haven’t spent the time to really consider if other people “get it” or give a crap. Think about what you’re saying to the voter and what he or she would want to say to the people who see that shirt on the street.

Keep Hacking
Frequently I’ve found the shirts that have worked started with an idea that was actually quite different. Sometimes the difference between an OK shirt and a great shirt is being willing to abandon the core idea that actually got you started on the design and going off on a better tangent.

This is partially true. Beware of letting woot pick your colors; if may not match your vision.

Here’s an example for you.