Illustrate A Screen-Printed Skull T-shirt From Photo Reference

Pale Horse, Digital Illustration Wizard

Play Speed
  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x
9 Lessons (1h 12m)
    • 1. Trailer

      1:16
    • 2. Set Up Your Reference Photo & Sketch Layers

      PaleHorse-Sketch-Brush-Screenshot.jpg
      5:13
    • 3. Follow Along As I Walk You Through the Sketching Process

      12:50
    • 4. Digitally Ink Your Sketch - Part 1

      9:28
    • 5. Digitally Ink Your Sketch - Part 2

      6:19
    • 6. Select a Color Palet & Shade Your Skull - Part 1

      9:29
    • 7. Select a Color Palet & Shade Your Skull - Part 2

      9:04
    • 8. Create A Mockup of Your T-shirt Artwork

      8:13
    • 9. Set Up Your Final Art File For Print

      10:11

Project Description

Digitally Illustrate a Skull T-Shirt

Welcome to the Class!

  1. Download Your Skull Reference Photo

    Download the reference image “IllustratedMonthly_Skull.jpg” from the link below and open it in Photoshop.

    Or, if you’d like to try any of my other skull images, you can purchase and download the 72 pg. digital reference book ‘New Life’ from Illustrated Monthly here. 

  2. Crop, Rotate & Add Sketching Layers
    • Set your 'Crop Area' to 16x20in
    • Set your background swatch to black
    • Rotate the skull photo to maximize it on the 16x20in document
    • Add a 'Hue/Saturation' 'Adjustment Layer' above your image (simulates a tracing paper layer)
    • Add a new layer at the top for sketching
  3. Set Up Your Sketching Brush
    • Set up a pressure sensative, sketching brush by following the settings in the screen-shot that I've uploaded below
    • Spend some time visualizing your sketch and get excited for the next unit!

Create a Concept Sketch

  1. Sketch with Your Pressure Sensative Soft Brush

    Some tips that I've mentioned while you are sketching:

    • Use black ink to build up shadows and dark areas.
    • Use white ink to add highlights back in.
    • Experiment with the brush opacity setting to get more subtle or drastic results with your sketching brush
    • Adjust the opacity on your "Hue/Saturation" layer to make the reference photo more visible or less visible to suite your needs
  2. Visualize & Make Modifications to Your Concept Sketch

    This is an optional, advanced step, but if you are up for it, when your sketch is complete, feel free to visualize what else you could add or change to make your skull more unique. (Ex. Add eyes looking back at the viewer - sketch in plant life growing out of your skull, etc.)

  3. Post Your Sketch

    I want to see your skull sketch!

    Post your work and join the community by liking and leaving helpful comments for the other students.

    I'll be checking them out and answering your questions as much as possible. Do it!

Digitally Ink Your Sketch

  1. Increase Your Image Resolution

    Set your image size to 16x20 at 600 dpi (300 dpi will work if your computer can't handle the large file size)

  2. Load the Brush Tool Preset

    Download the free "Inker Organic" Brush Tool Preset from the resources section or below. (Provided by Rey Frenden

    Note: These Tool Presets are only compatible with Photoshop CS5, CS6, and Creative Cloud. Click Here for loading instructions if needed. (It's very simple)

    If you are using PS CS4 or earlier, please refer to the presure sensative brush settings screenshot in the resources instead.

    This is only one sample of the many art brushes available from Frenden. Click here to download the rest.

  3. Ink Your Sketch!

    Add your lineart, black shading and practice, practice pratice!

  4. Use White to Knock Out Black Details
    • When your black inking is complete, add a layer names 'white' and use white ink to knock out areas for added detail.
    • Hold comand (control for PC) and click the layer icon to select the white areas that you just added.
    • Click on your black lineart layer, hit delete and trash the white layer.
    • You should end up with only a black ink layer when finished 
  5. Post Your Skull Line Art!

    I want to see your skull line art!

    Post your work and join the community by liking and leaving helpful comments for the other students.

    I'll be checking them out and answering your questions as much as possible. 

Color & Shading

  1. Create Separate Layers & Add Highlight, Base & Shade Colors
    • Follow the video to select your skull shape, create a new layer and fill with the lightest 'highlight' color
    • Select a darker color and add a new layer above the 'highlight' layer and name it 'base color'
    • Select your darkest color and add a new layer above the 'base color' layer and name it 'shade'
    • Work from the darkest color to the lightest color, making sure all that colors are on these separate layers
  2. Post Your Color Skull Art!

    I want to see your colored up skull art!

    Post your work and join the community by liking and leaving helpful comments for the other students.

    I'll be checking them out and answering your questions as much as possible. 

Create a T-shirt Mockup

  1. Download the Mockup Template
    • Click the link in the resouces section to download & open the free T-shirt mockup template file
    • Delete the exsisting 'your art here' layer (to keep things simple) You can also double click the layer icon & past your artwork as a smart object if you like. 
  2. Create A Realistic-Looking T-Shirt Mockup Preview

    NOTE:

    It would be wise to click  'File' - 'Save As' to create a new, separate file at this point. We will be merging our color layers for mockup preview purposes only and we don't want to accidentally save over our nice,  working, layered artwork. You could name this new file "Skull_Merged Artwork" to distinguish it from your working  file that we'll be opening back up in the next unit. 

    • Add a color stroke to the outside of your skull design to pop it off of the shirt color background.
    • Follow the video to merge the 3 color layers
    • Select/delete the black lineart areas from the merged color layer. (This is so the black shirt will show through in the mockup.)
    • Add in your signature and merge it with the colors layer (Optional)
    • Drag your colors layer onto your T-shirt mockup template file and resize / postion it as you like on the template
    • Add a sleave print and inside neck tag print for additional branding. (Optional)
    • Save your mockup file and send a low-res jpeg preview to you client for a realistic preview of what you are planning for production. 

Set Up Your file For Print

  1. Set Up Your File For Screen-Printing
    • Delete the un-needed layers that we used for our sketching.
    • You should be left with 4 layers total: 3 color layers and your black lineart layer
    • Add a new layer below the others. Fill it with black and name it 'Black Shirt Color' (This is your background color)
    • Rename your 'Lineart' layer to "Black shirt color. This way your printer will know that you don't want to print black ink on your black shirt. (You could print black lineart on a black shirt if you like the look, but it will be more expensive and usually not worth the added cost)
  2. Specify Pantone Ink Colors
    • To ensure proper ink colors, purchase a Pantone swatch book to select "uncoated" ink colors for your artwork 
    • Rename each color layer in your file with the selected Pantone Ink name (Ex. PANTONE 395 U)
    • Take a screenshot of your 'Layers' window to later paste into your email when sending off for pritning 
  3. Add Outline & Signature
    • On your print file, follow the video to select and create a 'Stroke' outline to pop your image off the shirt background.
    • Paste or drag your signature image onto the file. (You could also sign it with your tablet if you like)
    • Select and fill your signature with your choosed color on the appropriate layer.
    • Delete the un-needed signature layer that you pasted. (We don't need it anymore since we selected and filled it on the appropriate color layer)
  4. Organize Final Files & Create Upload Link for Printing
    • Create a new folder on your computer that will contain your final artwork .psd, a folder containing your mockup .jpg
    • Click "Save As" on your final print file and save it as a .psd (Note: I usually save my files as RGB just to make the file size smaller. My printer will change it to CMYK later when printing films, but yours may require you to send the file as CMYK)

Additional Resources

  • The 'Out of Body' Skull T-shirt from this class is now available in my online store.

    Click here to pick one up and see the final, screen-printed result. This shirt was printed with water-based inks to make the print super soft.

  • If you are looking to purchase a graphics tablet and are not sure which one to get check out Frenden’s tablet review blog here for great reviews to help you decide.

  • Illustrated Monthly
    I contibute regularly to the digital reference book collection at Illustrated Monthly. For additional skull images, download my 72page skull reference book for artists called 'New Life' here. Feel free to alternatively use any of these photo references in this class if you like.

  • I love this 'Inker Organic' brush tool preset created by Rey Frenden, but this is only one sample of the many art brushes available from Frenden. Click here to downoad the rest and try them out in the class for various styles.

    Note: These Tool Presets are only compatible with Photoshop CS5, CS6, and Creative Cloud. Click Here for loading instructions.

    If you are using PS CS4 or earlier, please refer to the brush settings screenshot instead.

  • If you are using Photoshop CS4 or earlier, please refer to this presure sensative brush settings screenshot instead of loading the "Brush Tool Preset".

    Brush Tip Shape
    Hardness: 100%
    Spacing: 1%

    Shape Dynamics
    Control: Pen Pressure
    Follow the screen shot

    Smoothing
    Check on

  • T-Shirt Mockup: Template File Download the file here

    Download this file & Follow the video to make a realistic-looking mockup of your artwork.

  • Here's a video of my screen-printer producing my 'Our Lady of Luchadores' artwork onto a black t-shirt. 

    To get a better sense of the physical printing process, I would recommend scheduling a visit to your local screen-printer to see the process in action. Also getting an idea of their abilities will help you design your piece for best results.

Student Projects

project card
Trey Eckles
9 comments
project card
Tarex Seven
14 comments
project card
Jenny Bolin
1 comment
project card
Chris Seney
7 comments
project card
Fabio Cortes
7 comments
project card
Irati Martinez
5 comments
project card
Daniel DFox
project card
Dan Jacso
5 comments
project card
John Martinez
1 comment
project card
Ricky Gane
project card
Laws B
project card
Yuri Del Duca
1 comment
project card
Matt Maddox
2 comments
project card
Jit Nimana
1 comment
project card
James Dalton