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Create a T-Shirt Design Using Halftones in Phantasm CS

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In this tutorial I will give you an in depth look at creating shadings and effects using halftones in Adobe Illustrator using the Phantasm CS plug-in. If you wish to follow the tutorial I highly recommend that you download the free 14 day trial via the AstuteGraphics website.

As well as working with halftones, I'll be also constructing the design from stock image in Adobe Photoshop, using Gradient Meshes and Live Trace (known as Image Trace in CS6+).


1. Find the Right Stock Images

For this tutorial I thought of making a 70s style pinup/movie poster. The first thing to get for this kind of artwork is good stock images. Since we are using it as a template for our composition it is crucial that the pictures are lit well and that they work well as a reference for our halftone effects.

Take your time finding the right kind of stock images, especially if it's a collage consisting of several elements. It can be very frustrating when in the middle of the creation process you find out that you are running into issues with the photos that you are using. Also be sure to own the copyright of the used stock, even more so if you're selling the design onto a client. The pictures I am using with this tutorial have been purchased from Photodune.


2. Compose Your Design in Photoshop

I am creating the main layout in Photoshop. For this kind of workflow you need to get the general layout done accurate as you can. Changing positions or replacing stock when you already have the composition in Illustrator may create unnecessary delays.

I converted the elements to black and white, and made a rough cutout. You don't have to be precise at this step, just make sure that you don't loose any part of the image that you might need later. I usually work with the pictures in the original resolution to have as much detail as possible for when it comes to Live Tracing. My Photoshop file at this point is 2000 x 2500px, so Save for Web & Devices.


3. Create Outlines in Illustrator

Now it's time to head over to Adobe Illustrator. I create a New file and File > Place the image you created in Photoshop. This will be our reference. We add additional layers: a solid fill background underneath the reference and a separate layer for our outlines and highlights.

For the colors we create Global Swatches, this way we can easily change the colors of the composition as it progresses.

I am using the Pen Tool (P) to create the outlines. To have more control over the style of the design, I'm going to draw filled shapes instead of using uniformed stroke lines. My style is basically similar to a cartoon shading; I use lines to indicate where the dark and bright areas are. Try to use as little anchor points as possible and work with the handles efficiently, since you will be able to correct and smooth things easier.


4. Use Gradient Meshes for Shading

Now for the main focus of our tutorial: how to create a style halftone effect. We start by outlining an area with our trusted Pen Tool (P) around the area where we want our halftone to be. The halftones make the most sense in areas where there is a smooth transition from light to dark.

I create a Gradient Mesh inside our closed object. Keep the points to a minimum to keep the complexity low. Next we customize the points of the gradient mesh so we get a shading similar to the skin shading of our reference image.


5. Create Your Halftone Effect

Step 1

Now it's time to fire up Phantasm CS. If you installed the filter properly it will show up under Effect > Phantasm CS Publisher. While we have our gradient mesh selected, we select the Halftone filter which should present you with something similar to that:

Step 2

Now let's get to the settings we need to change.

  • Color: click on the color area, which will prompt the color picker. On the right side click on the button labeled Color Swatches and pick the color swatch that we are using.
  • DPI: The higher the DPI, the finer will be our halftones. 35dpi is a good value for finer details.
  • Dot Gain: With the Dot Gain curve we can increase or decrease the density of the points. Halftones do look nicer if they don't overlap each other, so we make sure that we set our Input to Output ratio for our dark areas to approximately 50%.

Its highly recommended to experiment with the parameters to understand how this filter works.

Step 3

It is also possible to not only create the shadows in halftones, but also the highlights. The concept is almost the same, the only thing you need to be careful about is that you need to think inverted. The black areas will always be what creates the visual halftone effect.

Step 4

Now we can work our way though the whole design. We use our Pen Tool (P) to outline the areas we want our halftones shadings to be applied, apply a gradient mesh, set the black and white values of the mesh points and apply the filter.

To adjust the values of the halftone filter open the Appearance panel and click on the Phantasm CS Halftone link. It will bring you back to the dialog window where you can adjust the settings accordingly.

If the halftones are rendering outside of the area we want them to be, we have two alternatives:

  • Adjust the Gradient Mesh: We can still select every point of our gradient mesh, so we drag the points until all the points are within the area we want them to be.
  • Clipping Mask: We can use another shape on top of our halftone area and apply it as a Clipping Mask. To get to the settings of the Phantasm we have to click inside of the group. This can be time consuming and annoying, so I recommend that you go with adjusting the gradient mesh.

6. Use Live Trace on the Reference

For the next step to save us some tedious work and to get some nice details, I am doing a Live Trace of our reference image. It also will give us a more photo realistic touch. Live Trace is frowned upon because it can easily be misused, but in my opinion it is a powerful tool in combination with other techniques.

Here my line art; I use a low threshold so we only get the darkest areas of the composition. I am also reducing the Min Area to 0px.

Now here is the artwork that we fleshed out with our three techniques: outlining, halftones and Live Trace.


7. Add a Background

Step 1

Lets now make a background for our design. We start with a simple star shape composed with triangles.

Step 2

This time we will be using the halftone effect as a vignette to fade the star to the background. We define the range of the fade out with a simple Ellipse (L) filled with a radial gradient.

Step 3

We apply the halftone effect. The color of the effect is set with the background color. The area outside of the ellipse can either be covered up with a shape in color of the background or by using a clipping mask with the same size as the ellipse that we used for the halftone itself.

Step 4

One thing that you will notice when working with halftones is that depending on the zoom it looks more or less dense. To see how the halftones actually look like, it is recommended to either print a preview or raster the artwork in Photoshop to give you a good idea of the final outcome.

For the background I use a smaller dpi, so the points of the halftone effect get bigger.


You're Done! Great Work!

There you have it, our finished piece! Consisting of only two spot colors and a background. Below are some previews of the final design so you can see how the halftones have been rendered. Happy halftoning!

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