AI Workshop: Create An Ugly Christmas Sweater

Illustrator workshop header

In this edition of the AI Workshop we’ll learn all about how to create an ugly Christmas sweater. This Christmas (2015), they’ve been pretty popular. I’ve seen them on television (Kevin Owens sporting one on WWE RAW) and all over Teespring. Most of the ugly sweaters I’ve seen on Teespring have more of a humorous slant to them. (For example, I’ve seen one of a t-rex humping a reindeer.) I’m sure that most of my readers are interested in creating family-friendly ugly Christmas sweaters. I’ll take you through my process of creating a real one.


Sketch It Out!

rough sketch of ugly sweater design draw in red pencil
Rough sketch scanned from my sketch book. How much time did this take?

That’s right gang! Get it out on paper before you commit. What’s in your head may not translate well in real life. For this ugly sweater, I drew a rough in my sketch book. It looks like garbage at this point, but it’s not suppose to be pretty. As you can tell, I’m not all that concerned with neatness. I’ll even mess with it when I want to be distracted.

Of course you can make it much cleaner. You could rough in some color. Or you could even rough in how you want the type to look. (sans, serf, whatever) At this point I wasn’t particularly committed to where I wanted to layout the type. When it comes to type, I’d rather do my rough layouts in Illustrator or any other graphics program that can handle typography. My perception as to how type will fit in any given piece is still a bit off. I also wasn’t committed to any colors yet. At the time I was considering just white art on whatever color the sweater is.

Basic layout In Illustrator

Teespring template in Adobe Illustrator.
My Teespring template in Adobe Illustrator.

In Adobe Illustrator, I’ll open up my specially made Teespring template. I created one because I am anal when it comes to print jobs. Plus I don’t have to waste time digging through my emails or printed notes looking for print specifications. You can also create a New Document using the keystroke Command/Control N. For your purposes, don’t be concerned with the size of your artboard. It’s roughly the equivalent to a letter sized page. If you choose to upload your art to Teespring, their online designer will keep you from going past their trim or where the print area ends.

You must set the Color Mode to CMYK because the goal is to create vector art that will be screen printed. Teespring requires this and you’ll have fewer problems when it’s time to upload your art.


Creating Underwear

The Basic Concept

We will be working with a stitch pattern. With that pattern we will use whatever vector shape, and clip the pattern with the vector shape. This is similar to creating Christmas tree cookies. You have your plastic Christmas tree shape. Press it into the dough. Pull the shape out, resulting in dough shaped like a simplified douglas fir. Let’s go through the motions…

Shaping Underwear

underwear made of basic vector shapes.

My one of my goals for this ugly sweater is to create underwear made out of stitches. During this job, I decided to use two colors for my underwear. I’ll use my rough sketch to help me break down my underwear into simple shapes. I used the Pen Tool, keystroke P, to accomplish this task. Click and drag with the Left Mouse Button to create your paths. Hold down the alt/option key to move the handles to adjust the curve of the paths.

Another thing I do because I’m a big fan of symmetry, is use the Reflect Tool (use the O keystroke) to quickly replicate objects and flip them. With your shape selected, you’ll see a tiny blue target graphic in the center of your object. Click where you think the mid-point of the distance between the objects will be. The blue target will move wherever you click. This spot will be the point that the Reflect Tool will use to flip your object against. You’ll flip the object when you click and drag. Holding down the Option/Alt key will generate a duplicate that’s reflected. Holding down the Shift key will constrain the movement of the reflection.

Roughing In Type

Whenever I create anything involving type, I almost always default to using Illustrator or whatever graphics program that the final art will be in. I’ve been doing graphic design off-and-on since the 1990’s, which seems like ages ago. And I still remember only a handful of fonts and what they look like. So in my head, I’ll try to visualize what I want and try to match it to what fonts I have access to.

text layer out in Adobe Illustrator

Before I even decide upon a font, I roughly layout my type using the Type Tool, the keystroke is T. When roughing out my type, the only things that I’m concerned with are placement, size, and spacing. Keep in mind that whatever font you settle with will likely screw these three things up when you select it, but I’m doing this for my benefit. Also the rough layout that I do use will not be final. As mentioned before, when I do decide on which font to use, I’ll have to tweak the type layout to suit both the design and the font.

Creating Stitches

Download Teespring’s stitch pattern and open it, you can use the keystroke Command/Control O. Select the pattern using the keystroke Command/Control A. Make sure the stitch pattern is grouped together, using the keystroke Command/Control G, and copy it, keystroke Command/Control C. Go into your ugly sweater file and paste it on top of your shapes using the keystroke Command/Control P. With the Selection Tool, keystroke V, scale your pattern to your liking. If you need more pattern the easiest way is to use the Selection Tool, and while holding down the Option/Alt key, click and drag to create duplicate stitches.

Another way to accomplish this same goal is to go into the Main Menu, and select Effect >> Distort & Transform >> Transform… to bring up the Transform Effect window. Check the Preview box to see what you’re doing. In the Copies number field, enter the number of duplicates you wish to create. Under Move, use either the Horizontal or Vertical slider to space your duplicates. Unfortunately, unlike with the Create Tiles Clones window from Inkscape, you only have the choice of going only vertically or horizontally in a row. Using both sliders steps your objects diagonally.

A demonstration of how the Transform Effect works

Crop & Trim

Edges cleaned up in Illustrator.

Depending upon how lazy you are, this could be most tedious aspect of this process. Select your stitch pattern and copy it using the keystroke Command/Control C. It’s important that your shape is on top of the pattern. Use Control/Command Shift ] to bring the shape you want to work with to the front. With both the stitch pattern and one of the shapes selected, open up your Pathfinder palette. In this pallet, you’ll click on the Crop button. What you’ll have left is the part of the pattern that lies within the shape.

Now at this point you can be lazy and use what you have. Or you can go through the tedious process of making it look more authentic by deleting all of the partial stitches and adjusting the stitches to where the shape is still recognizable.  You can directly edit the resulting pattern using the Direct Selection Tool (use keystroke A) or you can double-click the group with the Selection Tool (use the V key) isolating just the group so you can hack away at it without disturbing other objects.

Rinse And Repeat

That’s right. I’ll Paste In Back, Control/Command B (Or go to the Main Menu >> Edit >> Paste In Back) my stitch pattern, and do the same thing with all of the remaining shapes. As I go about working with each shape, I’ll make the ones that form the red trim and the material or main portions of the underwear green. I’ll end up using Pantone Uncoated colors. Go to your Swatches palette to bring that color set up.

Do It With The Type

type outlines to stitches
As you can see, the stitching really determines the overall shape of the text.

For this project, I wanted to use a blocky font face. Creating art made up of stitches feels much like creating the 8-bit graphics for a classic NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) game. I liked the typeface that I chose, but the curves were difficult to convert into blocky stitches. I had to fudge here and there. (There’s no rule against fudging as long as it looks good and the client loves it.) 

Prepare and Export

Artboard in action

Now’s the point when I prepare the final EPS (Electronic Post Script) file for upload. The first step is bringing up the Artboards palette, and clicking the New Artboard button. Then go back to your original artboard, and select and copy your artwork. Paste the art on to your new art board.

Now you can scale the Artboard using the Artboard Tool (keystroke Shift O) to fit your art. You can do this with your art still selected.

Save A Copy For Press

save as dialogue
To save a specific art board, check “Use Artboards” and enter the art board number next to “Range”.

Now I plan to save a copy of just the second artboard with my final artwork. To accomplish this, we need to either use the keystroke Command/Control Option/Alt S or go to your Main Menu, select File >> Save a Copy. This brings up a new window entitled Save a Copy. In this window, we can name our final file, choose the file type (select Illustrator EPS), and below that is a checkbox labeled Use Artboards. When we check this box, Illustrator allows us to choose which specific artboards we wish to save within the new file. Within the Range number field, enter 2-2. This is similar to telling your computer which pages you wish to print in your print dialogue.

Adobe Illustrator CC Eps options

Clicking the Save button will bring up another window titled EPS Options. In this mess of options, I only want use to mess with one thing. Uncheck the Embed Fonts box. Why? First off, this is an option meant to be used for PDF documents. Second, the font that you’re using may not allow you to embed itself into your documents. Never assume that any of your fonts will allow for this. Third, because whenever you send an EPS file out to a printer, you’re basically sending it to another computer that may be running a different operating system, a different program, and/or that has every font known to man except for the one you’re using. That computer opens your file and all sorts of errors pop up. Then you get that phone call telling you that they can’t print from your file because they’re missing your font. Make it a habit of converting all type to outlines (use keystroke Command/Control Shift Oand unchecking this box. Doing so will allow you to eliminate any font related errors.

Up, Up To Teespring

final art on sweater
Currently on sale at the T-Store.

Now for the easiest part of the process. But since this is an Illustrator tutorial, I’ve decided to put my foot down here. Uploading art to Teespring and launching a champaign is so easy, any idiot can do it. (Maybe.) And I mean that. Teespring makes it that easy.

When it comes to making money on Teespring, that takes good copywriting and marketing. Not any idiot can do that.There are tons of resources online, including on Teespring that deal with these topics.

Links And Stuff

Just to show that I’m not really a scrooge, here are some helpful links that will help you spread some Christmas cheer: