Arrow path duplicated and slightly modified.

AI Workshop: Celebrating The Pats

Illustrator workshop header

Welcome back to another edition of the AI Workshop! I’m honestly not a huge football fan (which is somewhat sacrilege here in Texas). But I do enjoy a good football game every so often. One of the big divisional winners in 2015 are the New England Patriots. Due to that dominant victory, and possible shenanigans involving balls, I had a request for a quick Pats design. I’m pretty quick in Illustrator. So I’ll show you how I pulled it off.

Research With Google

Since I’m not a Pats fan, nor do I live in Boston or Massachusetts, I have to do a bit of quick research online. I used Google Image Search to get the flavor and style used in Pats swag and fan art. (You can use Google Search for virtually any topic.) It was also useful for seeking common visual elements, such as the tri-cornered hat, stars, and variations of the Patriot’s logo.

I also used Google to help me find the correct font/typeface and PMS (Pantone Matching System) colors. I was very fortunate to had found a nice little PDF with all of the official PMS colors used by the NFL. The reason why I researched the font should be obvious. So why did I need to know the PMS colors?

All About Spot Color

I’ll go into a little detail here. (You can skip this portion if you like.) If you’ve spent any time within the print or graphic design business, you’ll learn very quick about spot colors. Spot colors are standardized premixed colors that are produced and can be used again and again without variation. Spot colors are mixed using special pigments mixed in specific formulations to produce specific colors, especially those that can’t be reproduced using the CMYK Process, which is the standard method of printing using Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black inks. Think about spot colors much like the tubes of paint that you buy at the art store. Some colors you know you can mix yourself, and there are special colors that you know you’ll never be able to mix without a specific pigment.

For any good business that has a basic understanding of marketing will know that the colors they use in their logos and any promotional material will help current customers and potential customers immediately identify their company and products. For example, the red, green, blue, and yellow in Microsoft’s logo brings instant recognition to themselves. Those four colors are used throughout their products and all of Microsoft’s marketing materials. In order to maintain color constancy across everything they produce, Microsoft and their designers had to come up with a specific red, green, blue, and yellow that will be used again, again, and again.  That’s where the Pantone Matching System come in.

Thanks to good people like Pantone, businesses and designers can pick the exact colors that they want with the Pantone Matching System. Those colors can be repeatedly used without any possible variation, across different media.

Rough-out and Refine

Practically everything I do starts on paper or in my sketchbook. Why? Because for me, working on the computer has too much of a sense of finality for me. It’s not always easy for me to play around with ideas in virtually any program on my Mac.  Yeah, I can B.S. here and there, but it’s not as good as when I work out my ideas on physical paper with a pencil in my hand. I’m allowed to quickly screw-up and move on.

In my sketchbook, with my mechanical pencil using red lead, I quickly roughed out a few ideas. I try to quickly get them out of my head as soon as possible. I don’t do anything too fancy.

scan of sketches for Pats t-shirt design

You’ll notice I don’t put too much effort into the typography. As much as I appreciate typographic design, I hate  drawing it on paper. I much prefer using a vector program like Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape to help me handle my typographical decisions. On paper, I place more of my concern on the shape and form that the collective words make. If I can get that right, the rest is easy.

Designing in Illustrator

Step 1:

In Illustrator, I created a new document. I’m honestly not concerned with the height at this point. I don’t plan to make it ridiculously lengthy. I can always adjust it later. Of course it’ll be in CMYK mode because this is a print job.

A new document window in  Adobe Illustrator CC
Here’s my “New Document” window in Adobe Illustrator CC. The only things you really need to focus on are the dimensions, Color Mode, and Raster Effects (Just in case).

Step 2:

On your artboard, draw an oval using the Ellipse Tool(L key)  Make it about the length of a football. Use the Anchor Point Tool  (Shift + C) to pinch the points on both sides of the ball. The easiest way to pull this off is by holding down the Shift key while using the Anchor Point Tool and slowly dragging out the point handles until the ends curve more like a football.

I created my football shape starting with an oval made with the Ellipse Tool.

If you’re anal like myself and need both sides to be exact. Delete one of the points on the ends by selecting it via the Direct Selection Tool (A key) and pressing the Delete key. With the left over points selected, select the Reflect Tool (O key), and click on either the top or bottom point. Doing so will place a target-like object, much like what you’d see whenever using the Eyedropper Tool with Caps Lock on. What you are doing is telling the Reflect Tool at what point you want to flip the object. Somewhat like a hinge. While holding down both the Shift key to constrain the transformation to a 90 degree angle and the Alt/Option key to transform a duplicate of the vector object, left-click and drag across the object to create your other side. Finally you’ll use the Selection Tool  to select both sides, and join both sides together by going into your Main Menu and selecting Object >> Path >> Join. Now you’ll have a perfectly shaped football.

creating the perfect football shape using the reflect tool

I would recommend creating a duplicate of your football shape. You can either do so by either copying and pasting to another layer or you can use the Direct Selection Tool while holding down the alt/option key to drag and drop a duplicate outside your artboard. Do whatever’s easiest for you.

Step 3:

Next we’ll make some wavy cuts like in the rough. What I plan to do are to create shapes that can be used to make those cuts. There are two ways to get this done. Either you can draw the shapes using the Pen Tool (P key). Or you can draw your lines, apply an arrow shaped brush, and expand that into an object to use. Here’s what I did:

I drew my first curve using the Pen Tool (P key). When I drew my curve, I adjusted it using the Anchor Point Tool (Shift + C keys). You can also adjust the curve using the Direct Selection Tool (A key).

I created a new path in Adobe Illustrator CC with the Pen Tool.

Next I remembered that there was an arrow brush stroke that could be used to easily create the shape I need based on the curve I just created. Open up the Brushes Pallet. (You can do so by either pressing the F5 key or by going to your Main Menu and clicking Window >> Brushes.) There’s a small icon in the bottom left-hand corner of the pallet, which is referred to as the Brush Libraries Menu. When you click that icon, you’ll see a menu with a list of different brush libraries that you have access to. Select Arrows >> Arrows_Standard. This will open up another brush pallet with the same title. I used a brush stroke called Arrow 1.06. Doing so will stroke your curve with this brush.

Stroking my curve using an arrow-shaped stroke

I created another curve the same way I did the original. Or heck, you can “cheat” by using the Selection Tool (V key) and while holding down the alt/option key, dragging, and dropping to create a duplicate. Then you can easily adjust the curve with either the Direct Selection Tool or the Anchor Point Tool. 

When I was happy with my curve, I applied the same brush stroke as the first path, using Arrow 1.06. I then made it slightly bigger by adjusting the path’s Stroke Weight to 1.25 pt. This setting can be easily found within the Control bar/palette, in the portion known as the Stroke Panel.

Arrow path duplicated and slightly modified.

Step 4:

If you had just drawn your wavy arrows just using the Pen Tool, you can skip this step. But we need to expand these paths into usable vector shapes to make our cuts into the football shape. With both arrows selected, goto your Menu Bar and select Object >> Expand Appearance. You’ll see a new window appear with some options, but the defaults will work just fine. Click OK.

I personally hate having a ton of points to define my curves, especially when you know that you can draw a shape using just a handful of point and not twenty or thirty points. This issue can be remedied by selecting Object >> Path >> Simplify… With the Preview checkbox selected, play with the Curve Precision slider to cut down on the number of points on your objects.



Step 5:

You’ll love this step. This is when we’ll get to play with the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M key). It’s an over-glorified Pathfinder tool that’s much simpler to use. Here’s how it works. You’ll have all three vector shapes selected. As you roll over the shapes, you’ll notice regions that become highlighted. These regions are based on how the objects overlap each other. To merge regions together with the Shape Builder Tool, just simply click and drag across the regions you want to combine. As you drag, you’ll notice a line appearing from where you started to wherever you’re currently at with the tool. Whatever that the line covers, it will merge. Holding down the alt/option key will change the plus next to your cursor into a minus. So whatever you select will be subtracted.

Rolling over regions with the shape builder tool

With this much power, I can make the cuts I want into the football shape. While holding down my alt/option key and with all three shapes selected, I simply click and drag over the regions that make up the arrows. Now I have the cuts that I need in my football shape.

new cuts created with the shape builder tool

Step 6:

At this point, I just need to make some tweaks to my football so that it looks a bit more “stylish”. I can easily use the Pen Tool (P key) and it’s other variants, the Add Anchor Point Tool (+ key), the Delete Anchor Point Tool (- key), and the Anchor Point Tool (Shift + C keys). I also relied on the Direct Selection Tool (A key) to make my tweaks.

Adjustments made using the Pen Tool, Add  Point Tool, and Delete Point Tool

Step: 7

Now I need to make more cuts to my football. In the top two tails I would like to make most of them red. I plan to achieve this by the same method I used in step 6. I’m going to create a shape via the Pen Tool. While creating that shape, I’ll cover over the areas of the football that I want to change.

created a new overlaying vector shape that will be used with the shape builder tool

With both the new red vector object and the blue football selected, I’ll use the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M key), while holding down the alt/option key, to click away the region that I don’t need. After doing so, I’ll have just two red tails that are perfectly aligned with my football shape.

Now the tails of my football are mainly red after using the shape builder tool

Step 8:

Now I’m going to create a white star and bend or curve it in a similar fashion to the star on the Pats logo. I’ll start with a simple 5-point star. I can easily do it by using the Star Tool. When creating my star, I can scale and rotate it while I’m in the creation of the star or before I let go of my left-mouse button. If you’re not happy with what you have, you can always adjust it via the Selection Tool (V key). There are other tools you can use to do the same thing, but I the Selection Tool is one of my favorite all-purpose tools.

The Star Tool allows you to  scale and rotate your new star before committing.

At this point, I’ll bend or curve my star shape using the Shear window, by going to the Menu Bar and selecting Object, Transform, Shear… Set the Shear Angle to just 5 degrees. That visually works for me.

using the shear window to bend the star

Step 9:

Remember that duplicate of the football I created back in Step 2? I am going to use the duplicate shape to properly curve text around my football. You can also create a path to do the same job, but I’m anal.

Bring back my duplicate football, I will create a new path that runs parallel around my duplicate shape. I get this done via the Offset Path window. To access this window, go to your Menu Bar and select Object >> Path >> Object Path… Within the Offset Path window, I’ll set the Offset to 10 pt. Click OK and now I’ll have a new path around my duplicate.

I created a new path via Offset Path window

Step 10:

I cut my new path using the Scissor tool

Now I’ll use the Scissors Tool (C key) to split my newly create path in half. I’ll start with the text that will run arose the top of the football. I will click at the very top of the top curve with the Text Tool (T key). After doing so, there will be a blinking cursor to let me know that I can type some text. I type in all caps NEW ENGLAND.

Now I’ll need to format and stylize the NEW ENGLAND. I will go to the Control Panel, which is located towards the top of my screen and set the correct font (I’m using a free font called NFL Patriots), and in Paragraph panel, I’ll set it to Center Alignment. At this point, I won’t even bother with the font size. There’s one more thing I need to do.

When the path with NEW ENGLAND is selected, you’ll notice three tick/marks/line/etc. Two of the ticks will have a box with a white fill. The center won’t have anything. The ticks on the sides represent the start and end of the space you’re taking up for text on that path. The middle tick is there to let you know how the text is currently aligned. Since NEW ENGLAND is currently centered, the text is centered on that tick.

showing ticks for text on paths

As you can see the text currently falls on only the right side of the path. I want to use the entire path for NEW ENGLAND. Here’s how I remedied this problem. I used the Direct Selection Tool (A key) and grabbed the left tick, not the box (if you grab the box, Illustrator will want you to click on another path for the text to over-flow to), and dragged it all the way to the left end of the path. Now my text is directly centered on my top path.

I center my text on path using the direct selection tool

Now I can adjust the font size and color of NEW ENGLAND. The Font Size can be adjusted in side the Control Panel.

New England is resized in Illustrator

Step 11:

Now I’ll do the same with the bottom path. I’ll click on it with the Text Tool (T key), type in DIVISIONAL CHAMPIONS, center it, set the font, and then ensure that the text runs arose the entire length of the bottom path by dragging the right tick all the way to the end.

Text is upside down on bottom path

Now I have another problem. My text is upside-down. To correct this, I’ll go into the Main Menu and select Type >> Type on a Path >> Type on a Path Options. In this window, I’ll check the Preview check box so I can see what’s going to happen before I finally click OK. I’ll check the Flip checkbox and set the Align to Path to Ascender. This gives me exactly what I want.

Modifying "divisional champions" using Type on a Path Options window

Step 12:

Now that I’m happy with the bottom line of text, I’ll accent the ends of the design with stars. For this I’ll use the Star Tool. With that tool, I’ll create a perfect 5-point star and center it in the space on the left side created by the text. Using  the Selection Tool (V key), while holding down the alt/option to generate my duplicate and Shift key to keep my new star constrained, I’ll drag and drop a new star to the other side of the design.

Take the original star, click and drag while holding the Shift, alt/option keys to duplicate a new star.

Step 13:

Looking good so far! Now I just need to artfully put 2015 some where in the design. I decided place it on the bottom. We’ll start with the Text Tool (T key), and simply type in 2015. Then I’ll adjust the size and font face within the Control Panel. You can also adjust the text via the Selection Tool (V key). It might be easier this way.

I can align the 2015 to the design by grouping to main portion of the design using the keystroke G + Command/Control keys. I select both the design and the 2015. I can use the Alignment options that can easily be found within the Control Panel, and I’ll use Align to Selection and Horizontal Align Center.This centers the main portion of the design with the 2015.

A large 2015 added and scaled up


Step 14:

In this step, I’ll bend the top of the 2015 to curve around the design. I’ll go back to the Control Panel and click the Make Envelope  button. This will bring up another window. Within the Warp Options, I will set the Style to Arc Upper and slide the Bend to -44 percent. You can adjust this if need be.

At this point, I’ll adjust the 2015 with the Selection Tool (V key). I can use it to adjust the size and to help adjust the way the top of the 2015 curves.

I use the warp options window to bend the top of my 2015 into a downward curve.

The Final Step:

Okay, I might be lying. This might not be the final step for you. But let’s say someone with the rights to use Pats intellectual property want to use this design for print. This is the most critical step if you’re sending this to a printer of any kind.

Always contact the printer for the correct specifications. Ask for the max dimensions, what file type to use, how many colors you can use, do you need to set the trapping or will they, etc. The printer wants to get the job done correctly the first time. If they screw up, it’ll make them look bad and cost you time and money. And when the printer finds out that you didn’t format your file correctly, you will look bad.

Here are a few basic settings that most printers will use:

  • Set the color mode to CMYK.
  • Use only CMYK colors or spot colors (If you don’t know what type of spot colors to use, ask the printer)
  • Convert all type to outlines/paths. If you have any text that won’t be used, delete it. Avoid creating vector art that needs a font when it goes to the printer. There will be no change in quality when you convert text to outlines.
  • Always save your final vector art to EPS (Electronic Post Script) unless the printer or client tells you other wise. (Another print-friendly file format is TIFF.  TIFF is a raster/pixel based file format and requires a higher resolution to keep the art sharp. Unlike EPS, TIFF will pixelate whenever you scale it bigger than its original dimensions.)
  • Use only one artboard and delete any vectors, points, and text that will not be used in the final design. Trust me, you don’t need anymore problems. Keep only what you need.


We’re Done!

Now I have my New England t-shirt design. If you wish to personally look inside my work file and tinker with it, feel free to download it. Just as a warning, I will not include the font that I use for this design NFL Patriots. You will have to use Google or Bing to dig that up or to find something similar.

AI Work file (4 MB): New England design work file

final pats t-shirt


Some House Cleaning…

New England Patriots, the Pats, and any design elements used for this tutorial are the intellectual property of the New England Patriots football club and probably the NFL. This tutorial is for educational purposes only. I make no claim to the rights to the design used in this tutorial and therefore freely distribute it under the assumption that the AI file and design will be used for solely educational purposes and not for any commercial use without the consent or expressed permission of the England Patriots football club and the Nation Football League. 

You have been warned!