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How to Create the Iconic "T Birds" Jacket Logo From Grease

This post is part of a series called Grease Movie Week.
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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Today’s tutorial is part of the Grease-inspired series that will try to bring a little of the 50s back to life. Believe me, it’s going to be awesome. 

In this tutorial I’m going to take you through the step-by-step approach of recreating the iconic logo that Danny Zuko and his boys wear during the movie, using some of Illustrator’s basic shapes and the powerful Pen Tool.

In the end we will see how the logo would look when it's applied onto a nice black T-shirt using one of the many available mock-ups from Envato Market.

1. Set Up the Document

Since the idea behind the project is to be able to recreate and then use the final product as a print or patch on an actual piece of clothing, we will have to make sure that we create a document that is intended for that kind of a job. 

So, assuming you already have Illustrator up and running, start by creating a New Document, either by going to File > New or by using the Control-N keyboard shortcut, and then let’s go through some of the settings that you’ll need to adjust:

  • Number of Artboards: 1
  • Width: 24 cm
  • Height: 24 cm
  • Units: Centimeters

And from the Advanced tab:

  • Color Mode: CMYK (since we’re creating with the intent of printing the final result)
  • Raster Effects: High (300ppi)
  • Align New Objects to Pixel Grid: disabled (since this time we’re going to keep things looser)
setting up a new document

2. Layer the Document

We’re going to use a couple of layers, since the logo itself will be white, which would be kind of hard to create without a background since the Artboard itself is also white. We will also need to use a couple of guide lines to help us position the different elements that make up the design.

So, bring up the Layers panel, and create three layers and name them as follows:

  • background
  • guide lines
  • reference images
  • actual design
setting up our layers

3. Set Up the Reference Grids

Once we have our layers, make sure to position yourself onto the guide lines one, and then let’s divide our Artboard into a couple of sections in order to get a sense of where things need to go.

Step 1

First, turn on your Rulers by pressing Control-R, and then drag a horizontal line and align it to the top of the Artboard using the Align panel's Vertical Align Top function.

Quick Tip: By default, the Distribute Spacing and Align To options are hidden, which means that you will have to click on the little down-facing arrow from the panel's top right corner and enable Show Options.

Step 2

Next, select the guide and hit Enter in order to bring up the Move tool panel which will allow us to position the guide at a specified distance.

Now, since we only want to move it vertically, we will leave the Horizontal value field at 0 and enter 16.2 into the Vertical one.

As soon as you hit Enter, Illustrator will reposition the guide using the values that we’ve just entered. We will use the same steps to position the second horizontal guide and the vertical one.

positioning the first horizontal guide

Step 3

Create a second horizontal guide, and position it vertically at about 10 px from the top side of the Artboard.

positioning the second horizontal guide

Step 4

Using the Vertical Ruler, drag to create the third and last guide, which we will position 18 cm from the left side of the Artboard. Since this time we will be moving the guide horizontally, input the value into the Horizontal value field, leaving the Vertical one set to 0 cm.

positioning the vertical guide

Once you’re done positioning your guides, you should have something like this.

all three guides positioned

4. Add the Background

First, make sure that you’re on the background layer, and then use the Rectangle Tool (M) to create a 24 x 24 cm black (C: 0%, M: 0%, Y: 0%, K: 100%) square and center it both vertically and horizontally to the Artboard.

Now, keep in mind that the background itself will be used only as a visual aid system designed to help you create the logo itself, and will not be part of the final print file.

5. Create the Actual Logo

From this point on, you can lock all the other layers except for the one titled "actual design", since we will be focusing on building the iconic logo, and we will do that by working on the letter “T”.

Step 1

Start building the “T” by creating a 5.6 x 1 cm white rectangle, which we’ll use as the base, and position it just above the second horizontal guide towards the center of the surface created by it and the vertical guide.

adding the base of the t letter

Step 2

Create a 3.2 x 10 cm rectangle, and position it just above the base, making sure to align the taller shape to its center. In typography, this section of the letter is known as the “stem”, and it represents the main, usually vertical stroke of a letter form.

adding the stem of the letter t

Step 3

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 12.4 x 1.8 cm shape and position it towards the top of the stem (the vertical shape that we created in the previous step).

adding the top base of the letter t

Step 4

Draw two 1.6 x 1.4 cm rectangles, and position them underneath the top line of the letter, one on each side.

adding the main shapes for the letters serifs

Step 5

Since the letter itself uses a serif type style, we will have to add the top and bottom serifs to the main horizontal lines, by drawing them using the Pen Tool (P).

Once you’ve added the serifs, select all of the letter’s elements and group them using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

letter t finished

Step 6

Once we’ve finished working on the “T”, we can start working on the bottom section of the logo, which houses the word “birds”.

Now, to be honest, I tried finding a premade font that we could grab and use, but I haven’t managed to find one. So this part of the process will require us to grab a reference image of the actual logo, and vector trace the letters using Illustrator’s Image Trace tool.

First download the image and place it onto the reference images layer.

I recommend that you lock the topmost layer, since it might get in the way, and then select the image and go to the Image Trace panel and click on Preview to make your trace visible. Then, simply play around with all of the different settings until you get a smooth enough trace of the bird's letters.

using the trace tool to recreate the bottom letters

Quick Tip: By default, Illustrator doesn’t show the Trace Tool panel, which means that you will have to go over to the Window top menu and click on Image Trace to make it visible.

Once you’re happy with your trace, click on the Expand button located on the top bar, next to Tracing Result. In a couple of seconds, Illustrator will transform your reference image into a vector, allowing us to remove certain bits and pieces.

Step 7

Now, the problem is that we only want the bottom letters, since we already have the “T”, and we will recreate the bird by tracing over the image using the Pen Tool (P) since this way we’ll have a much cleaner shape.

So, using the Direct Selection Tool (A), click and select all five letters while holding down Shift, and create a copy (Control-C) which we will paste (Control-F) over the actual design layer. Then, simply remove all the other elements of the traced images by selecting and deleting them using Delete.

creating the bottom letters using the trace tool

At this point, I’m probably sure that some of you might be saying, “Well, you could have traced the entire image and used that as the actual logo." But that would have taken all of the fun out the project, and it wouldn’t have ended up looking so good, since the Trace Tool can only do so much when it comes to creating clean lines.

Step 8

So we now have all the letters, but we’re missing the little bird silhouette, which we will need to create by placing another copy of the reference image, and tracing over it using the powerful Pen Tool (P).

For this task, I recommend you set your fill color to blank, and choose something that is easily visible for the stroke, since you will be staring for some time at it, which could make you dizzy if the contrast with the background is really hard.

Since we want it to look good, take your time and adjust the final trace by selecting the different anchor points and adjusting their handles until you get a nice smooth line.

It’s been a while since I’ve played around with the Pen Tool (P), and although my trace might not be perfect, I think it’s good enough since the original shape has a hand-drawn feeling to it.

tracing the bird element

Quick Tip: Now, if you’re feeling adventurous, you could create your own version of the bird, but for this example I decided to keep it in line with the original.

Step 9

Now, once you have your finished trace, flip its Stroke with its Fill by pressing Shift-X, and set the color to white.

As you can see, I’ve positioned my bird so that its head touches the first horizontal guide, while its bottom right tail feather slightly touches the intersection created by the two guides.

positioning the bird element

Step 10

Finally, the last missing details that we need to add are the quote marks that go on each side of the “T”.

To create them, select the Pen Tool (P) and draw some simple diagonal lines using a thicker Stroke Weight with a Round Cap and you’re pretty much done.

logo finished

That Was It!

So there you have it—an almost exact replica of the original logo of the movie that made history with its characters and charm.

If you’re wondering which mock-up I’ve used for the final project preview, it’s one of the numerous ones available over at Envato Market in the Product Mock-Ups category. Most of them are really easy to use and come pre-packed with an instructional file, a couple of different backgrounds, and options that can make any logo pop. So make sure you check them out, since you never know when you might need one.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial and managed to learn something new along the way.

Finished image
T-shirt mock-up
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