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How To Make A Skateboard For Digital Printing

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Read Time: 9 min

Loungekat shows us how to make a skateboard design with some of the new features in Illustrator CS4. Let's check out her process of creating this hot vector design and how to prepare it for digital printing - the CS4 way. Let's get to it!

You can find the source files in the directory labeled "source" that came in the files that you downloaded. You may wish to look through them briefly before we begin.

Step 1 - Inspiration

Consider the kind of graphic you want to produce. I would recommend making a mood-board if you have time. For those who may not know, a mood-board is a collection of inspirational references. Traditionally mood-boards are made from paper clippings and pasted onto heavyweight board. These days a Photoshop montage is a nice alternative. The images below are collected from

Step 2 - Sketch

Using your mood-board as inspiration begin to sketch out your idea. Try to consider the shape and form of the deck as well as the image. Tracing paper is useful when repeating elements. Take as much time as you need on this step, there's no need to rush creativity.

Step 3 - Scan and Clean-up in Photoshop

Scan the image into Photoshop. Since it will be used as a guide in Illustrator, it's best to adjust the levels and erase any unwanted markings. A guide can also help in determining the composition. A simple guide can be made by making a layer above the sketch and filling an inverse shape of the skateboard. When finished, select and copy the sketch (Command + C) (Without the guide layer).

Step 4 - Set the Workspace in Illustrator

First things first... When using creative software you should always set the workspace before you start work. This small step will save you time later. If using version CS4 there's a nifty function to save your preferences. This is located in the top right hand side of the program.

Step 5 - Make or Open a Template in Illustrator

Open Illustrator and make a file slightly larger than your skateboard dimensions.

It's always best to have a template when working on skateboard graphics. You will notice that each element of the deck has its own layer. I made this by tracing a guide of the skateboard, separating each element into a different layer and marking out the areas I need to be mindful of. The Truck Overlay (4) has been included to show parts of the design that may be covered by the trucks and obscured by the wheels.

Note: Skateboards come in many different sizes, so it's best to double-check which one you'll be designing for before you start.

Step 6 - Paste the Sketch

Make a new layer and paste (Command + V) in the image that was copied from Photoshop. Resize the sketch to fit the template. With the sketch selected go to the Transparency Palette and turn down the transparency to about 30%. In the Layers Palette double-click the layer and name it "Sketch," and lock it.

Step 7 - Make a New Layer

Make another layer underneath the "Sketch" layer and call it "Image - Lashes."

Step 8 - The NEW Blob Brush!

Select the Blob Brush from the Tools pane, double-click the icon to bring up the dialogue box. Change the fidelity to 10 pixels (The higher the value, the smoother and less complex the path, the lower the value the more control you have over the shape) and the smoothness to 20% (higher the percentage, the smoother the path, but it also makes it less accurate). The size of the brush will depend on the size of your image.

Step 9 - Outline

Follow the outside edge of the eye shape with the brush.

Step 10 - Dot

Once the eye is traced you can add the bottom lashes by dotting the brush (adjust the brush if necessary).

Step 11 - Fill

Fill the rest of the eye so that the shape is entirely covered.

Step 12 - Simplify the Object

Select the shape and go to Object > Path > Simplify, then adjust the shape until smooth (make sure preview is checked as well).

Step 13 - New Layer

Make another layer and call it "Image - Whites." Select the Pen tool from the Tools pane (P) and trace the whites of the eye.

Step 14 - Clipping Mask

Make a new layer, call it "Image - Iris." Select the Ellipse Tool (L) and draw a circle over the top of the iris. Select the whites shape, Copy (Command + C) and lock the "Image - Whites" layer, select the "Image - Iris" layer then Paste the Object In front (Command + F). Now Shift-select the iris shape and make a clipping mask by Right-clicking and going to Make Clipping Mask (Command + 7).

Step 15 - Object Within a Clipping Mask (CS4)

Double-click on the iris mask group to make a new shape within the mask. Draw a pupil with the Ellipse Tool (L).

Step 16 - Pathfinder Within a Clipping Mask (CS4)

With the pupil shape underneath the clipping mask, draw a reflection shape and drag the layer underneath the pupil. Select both and click Minus Back in the pathfinder panel (Shift + Command + F9). These group layers can be named just the same as regular layers, but I'd only do it if the image is extremely complicated.

Step 17 - Make the Eyelid

Make a layer and call it "Image - Eyelid." Trace the eyelid shape with the Pen Tool (P) and round off the tip by using the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift + C) and dragging diagonally away from the anchor point.

Step 18 - Reflect the Eye

Select the entire eye image and select the Reflect Tool (O) the hold down Alt and click where you want the reflection reference point to be. In this case, it's the middle of the eyes. The reflect dialog box will appear. Choose Vertical from the Axis options and then click copy.

Step 19 - Fix the Second Reflection

Personally there's nothing I hate more than eyes that have a mirrored reflection, it makes them look crossed. To fix this double click into the left eye until you reach the pupil, select the Reflect tool (O) then hold down Alt and click in the middle of the eye. In the Reflect dialog box select Vertical and click OK.

Step 20 - The NEW Appearance Function (CS4)

Select the Pen Tool (P) from the tool palette and trace around the outside of the illustration in white. Once you've done that, select the outline shape and bring up the Appearance panel by going to Window > Appearance (Shift + F6).

Add a stroke by clicking the New Stroke button on the bottom-left corner. Click in the strokes row to display and set its values. Color the stroke gray and set its weight to 0.8 cm. Then make a second stroke underneath the first, change the color to black, and set the weight to 2 cm.

Save the Path appearance by dragging the preview icon (in the top left corner of the Appearance panel) into the Graphics Styles panel by going to Window > Graphics Styles (Shift + F5). To name the Graphic style double-click the swatch to bring up the name dialogue.

Step 21 - Make a Repeating Pattern

Use all the techniques as outlined previously to make a repeating pattern. You don't have to make your pattern as complicated as the example, if you want to try then remember this rule... Something that comes out of the pattern has to feed back in again - so left turns into right and top turns into bottom (as seen highlighted in white).

Group your pattern elements, then put a transparent box around them and send it to the back (Command + Shift + Left Bracket Key). Select the group plus the transparent box and drag them into the Swatches panel. You will now have a new pattern swatch.

Step 22 - Review

This is how my pattern looks underneath the eyes. It's OK, but I want to play around with it some more. Also, take this opportunity to clear out the Swatches palette of any unwanted colors or failed patterns. Go to the Swatches Panel Menu, Select All Unused, then drag them to the bin (Delete).

Step 23 - Rotate and Resize the Pattern

A pattern that changes with its shape? I was surprised too! Let's do it. Rotate and/or enlarge the pattern using the Free Transform Tool (E). Using the Direct Selection Tool (A) move the anchor points back into the rectangle shape of the skateboard, or make another rectangle shape for the skateboard, and sample the edited pattern with the Eyedropper Tool (I).

Step 24 - Edit the Pattern

You can also apply size and rotation from one pattern to another. For example, I changed an element in my design and wanted to replace my previously resized and rotated pattern with the new one. With the shape isolated and selected I chose then new pattern from the swatches pallet (one click, two clicks makes it the original size and rotation) and replaced it - pretty easy. You will notice that some patterns will have transparent lines through them, this is just a rendering glitch and it doesn’t appear when exported.

Step 25 - Make Another Artboard!

By now you would have guessed that I've had lots of fun learning the new features in CS4. Let me show you the one that takes the cake. Multiple Artboards!

Select the Artboard tool then click the Move/Copy Artwork on the Control panel, then Alt + Drag the artwork to make a copy.

Step 26 - Colorways

You can play around with color-ways by duplicating Graphic Style swatches. First select everything in the Artboard number one and lock it by going to Object > Lock > Selection (Command + 2). Now, select the element you want to change, click the Select Similar Objects button, duplicate the corresponding graphic style swatch and change the color values. Patterns won't change so you will have to change the colors in the pattern artwork and turn it into a new pattern swatch before it's applied to the background.

Step 27 - Export the Final Artwork

When you have made as many different designs and colour-ways as you like, turn off the template layer (If you haven't already done so) and export the file.

I have found that Illustrator tends to have memory issues when exporting large images so a PDF is a good way to overcome this. Go to File > Save As (Command + Shift + S) and save as a PDF. Illustrator will automatically save each Artboard as a different page in the PDF. If you want to make another file, type open the PDF in Photoshop, select the page you want to import and save according to the requirements needed.

When producing artwork for an online service such as Zazzle, export your images from Photoshop as 300dpi PNG files (in RGB) as it's best suited to digital printing.


Here's my finished skateboards (after a bit of photoshop by Nunosk8).

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