Music Merchandise Design: Thought + Process skillshare originals badge

Brandon Rike, Graphic Designer & Band Tee Artist

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

    • 2. Client Interview

    • 3. Research & Brainstorming

    • 4. Sketches

    • 5. Adobe Illustrator - Part 1 of 4

    • 6. Adobe Illustrator - Part 2 of 4

    • 7. Adobe Illustrator - Part 3 of 4

    • 8. Adobe Illustrator - Part 4 of 4

    • 9. Finalizing in Photoshop

    • 10. Mocking Concepts for Presentation


Project Description

Design a Band Tee

Client Interview

  1. Ask for direction

    Materials needed:

    • Sketch Book
    • Pencil
    • Open Mind

    While having free-reign may seem like an ideal situation for a designer, it's always helpful to extract as much direction from the client as possible. With each project, there is an opportunity to move forward and create something new for them.


    In the case of Twenty One Pilots, I inquire about the direction that he wants his merchandise to go, and if there are any new ideas that he has in mind. I hear what is important to him, and the ideas that should show through in the merch.

    Ideally, your goal is to get aligned with your client, and for you both to have an invested interest in the work that you'll make. If done correctly, a client meeting can turn from "Make me this..." into "Let's create something new, together."

    It's also important to recognize that a band doesn't always know what they want. Their expertise lies in making music, not merchandise. So it's your job to create visuals to accompany their music, and to create it with the same passion that they have behind their work.

    The goal in every client interview is to get on the same page, but also on the same team.

  2. Take notes and doodle

    During your client interview, there will be key words that pop up. Be sure to write these words down to reference later.

    Also, be sure to do quick doodles of any ideas that may enter your head during the conversation. Good ideas are fleeting, and any quick instance of one should be jotted down.


Research & Brainstorming

  1. Digest direction

    Materials needed:

    • Clear head
    • Google Image Search

    All of your notes and doodles are useless if you don't take the time to digest them. With a clear head, sit back and decide how you can translate the client's input into visual graphics.

    It's not uncommon for a client to discuss an idea that is much larger than what can be translated in a single graphic. That's okay. You can take pieces of a much bigger idea, and turn those into artwork.


    The beautiful marriage between music and art starts to come into play here. Some songs sound like a certain color. Certain imagery may enter your head as you listen to your favorite album. There is some intangible relationship that music and visual art has that is important to tap into.

  2. Research previous graphics

    Most of the time, you will not be the first designer creating graphics for the client. It's typical that they've already established some type of branding, albeit good or bad, and your job is to progress from that, and improve upon it.

    Research what the client has already done. Take notes on what they may be drawn to. You can get a head-start by knowing what they already like, but creating something much better.



  1. Sketch ideas for each design

    Materials Needed:

    • Sketch Book
    • Pencil
    • Ideas

    The speed at which you can sketch each idea on paper will always be quicker than creating each design on the computer. The time it takes to move a pencil across paper is faster than clicking points with the Pen Tool.

    This is your chance to draw out the basics of those ideas that have been floating around in your head. The first image that popped into your head, draw it. The idea that you had when the client said something, draw that. Allow all of those possibilities to come out onto paper. In addition, one sketch will spark an idea for another sketch. This is your time to exhaust every possible idea that you have.


  2. Narrow down concepts

    After you've got all of your ideas onto paper, it's time to narrow down which ones will work the best. The benefit of laying out all of the sketches on paper is being able to clearly see which ones stand out.

    Depending on how many you're submitting, pick the ones that achieve the goal and that you're most excited about.


Execution in Adobe Illustrator

  1. Organize your assets

    Materials Needed:

    • Computer
    • Adobe Illustrator

    If the project has any pre-established assets, like logos or photos, it's best to have them readily available at your disposal.

    Have a separate window open with which to access these elements if you need them.


  2. Setup project folder

    You'll be using lots of files, and creating new work that should all be in a central location. I create a project folder organized like this.

    Folder name:
    Twenty One Pilots _Month_Year

    Enclosed Folders:

    • _concepts
    • _assets
    • _workfiles

    This folder is organized on my hard drive in my "Projects" folder, but there is an alias that sits on my Desktop for easy access, while the project is in progress.

    Strict Organization is essential to having a streamlined workflow. Organize your project however you like, but stick to your system.

    Set a Deadline, and never miss it.

  3. Setup artboards

    Newer versions of Adobe Illustrator feature multiple artboards.

    I like to setup a new Illustrator Artboard at 16.5"x 20.5". This is then size that Hot Topic has established for the display on their retail wall - so I tend to use it as a base.

    Inside Illustrator, use Shift+O to Option+Drag artboards around to give yourself a comfortable area to work. I often lay out one artboard for each design that I want to do, as well as an extra on top to leave a few assets and extras.

    Here is a screenshot of my palette setup:


  4. Layout basic shapes

    Now it's time to begin laying out the elements of each design. This can begin with a few basic shapes, any assets that you have, or a lettering piece.

    Start with the central focus, and then create elements that compliment it. There is no need to stray too far from the focal point. The time that someone views a t-shirt is quick, so it's beneficial to be bold and straightforward.


    Tools used:

    • Rectancle (M), Ellipse Tool (L)
    • Pathfinder Palette: Minus Front

    Feel free to move on to each design, and bounce back and forth. It's beneficial to have a new set of eyes on a piece, and it's fun to start something new from scratch. The multiple artboards are very conducive to this working style.

  5. Embrace the pen tool and stroke width

    These notes are very specific to the designs in the class. Nevertheless, it gives you a very basic understanding of using the Pen Tool (P) and Stroke Width to achieve a desired look.

    Some elements do well when they are represented in strokes alone. This allows all the elements in a piece to have a consistency, as their stroke widths are the same, and can be easily editable.


  6. Unite and intersect shapes

    When dealing with the construction of shapes, you'll get aquainted with:

    • Pathfinder Palette (Minus Front)
    • Pathfinder Palette (Unite)
    • Offset Path
    • Alignment Guides
    • Pen Tool
    • Stroke Width

    When it's time for the type to come in. You'll see the use of the Type On A Path tool. This tool is often difficult to use, but it will allow you to type words on a shape as a baseline, as opposed to a straight line. I often use this to type words in a circular layout.

  7. Choose the right fonts

    My first recommendation would be to create your own lettering. Unfortunately either time or the design itself doesn't always accomodate, and it would be best to choose an existing font.

    Choosing the right font is arguably the most important aspect of any design piece.

    I am obsessed with fonts, and have way too many. I keep my fonts organized in a font management program. I use Font Explorer X Pro, but there are a few others on the market that also work well, including Suitcase or Fontcase.


    When choosing a font, you are trying to find a tone that matches the overall feel of your design. Each font has it's own identity and personality, and it's important to make sure that works with your piece. Style, thickness, shape, width, and height all are important factors to consider.

    You'll watch as I go through my thought process on choosing appropriate fonts.

  8. Play around with elements

    You'll find yourself wanting to play around with the elements that you've created. In my opinion this is one of the best parts of the creative process. After establishing shapes, be sure to move them around and see what works best.


    There is no real wrong or right way to arrange these elements. However, maintaining a set of parameters is always beneficial. Whether it be spacing, thickness, feel, tone, color, etc, -- there should be a few constraints that you should create within. Everything should reference something else on the piece.

  9. Establish color relationship

    Before leaving Illustrator, it's important to establish the color relationship that is happening within the design. There is a balance that will need to be maintained once color is added in, and that is best decided by just trying out what works best.

    It's important to keep colors separate the best you can. It's my general rule of thumb to not have any color touching another color, and allowing ample space between areas to separate. This is where the Offset Path function may come in handy.


    While colorways may change, it's important to atleast establish which portions are colored different than the others. We can fine-tune these relationships in the next step: Photoshop.

Finalizing in Adobe Photoshop

  1. Paste designs into photoshop

    I usually copy an entire design, and paste it right into Photoshop. Again my canvas size is 16.5" x 20.5".

    The quickest way to turn your canvas black is by hitting Command+I (Invert) on the background layer.

    On a new layer, paste your design from Illustrator. You'll want to be able to switch back and forth between Illustrator and Photoshop. In Mac OSX, I use the Expose features for this.


  2. Texturize artwork

    When adding texture, it's best to texture everything evenly. If a t-shirt had been around for 30 years, it would all weather evenly - so it's best to try and replicate this process altogether.


    Texturizing process:

    • Turn artwork to gray. (Command+U)
    • Merge with black background.
    • Add Gaussian Blur.
    • Use brush or texture file over top of art. 
      (Multiply layer)
    • Take away distress. (Layer Mask)
    • Merge layers together.
    • Crank contrast all the way up. Fine tune Brightness. (Legacy)
    • Mess with Gaussian Blur and/or Dust & Scratches to soften distress.
    • Fix any elements that lost too much detail in the texturizing process. (Grab from Illustrator)
  3. Separate colors with magic wand

    The Magic Wand tool is extremely useful when separating colors. Now, most printers will have professionals that do the official color separations, but it's always nice to provide a nice clean file that clearly shows the colors. The organized file also makes color ways much easier.

    Which the white art flattened to a black background, begin to select the areas that will be colored the same. Once selected, you can put these areas on a new layer. My usual method is:

    • Select area with Magic Wand
    • Grab desired color with Eyedropper (I)
    • Hit X (moves foreground color to background)
    • Create New Layer
    • Hit Command+Delete

    The selected area is now filled with the color on a new layer. I do this because simply selecting an area of color, and hitting Command+J leaves a tiny border around the new color. It's the easier way, but it drives me nuts!


    You may have to finely select certain areas, but the object is to get all of each color on separate layers, so that you can name each layer it's respective color.

  4. Tweak colorways with color overlay

    Once each area of color is separated, it becomes very easy to mess with color ways.

    While the annoying Layer Style drop-down will appear, I've found that it's easiest to change areas of color by double-clicking each Layer, and applying a Color Overlay.

    While you establish what color each element looks best at, you can have these Layer Styles editable.

    Since I'm a tad OCD, I tend to Rasterize these Layer Styles when I'm done. This results in a nice clean file for the printer.


  5. Save file without background

    Once you've established the colorways in Photoshop, it's best to turn off the background layer.

    Save the file as .psd, being sure to include which color tee that design is intended to go on.

    This way, when the design is placed on the mock up, there will be no color box surrounding the art, just the art itself.


Mocking Concepts for Presentation

  1. Place Artwork Onto Garment

    While many designers are familiar with photo-realistic mock-ups, it's important to alter these files to make them quick and easy to use. 

    I've attached a Photoshop file "TShirtMOCK.psd"

    I've found that many pre-made templates' files are too complicated, and aren't conducive to the fast-pace that I prefer. Make it quick and easy. (I may show you how to make your own mock ups in another class)



    Place the art inside the ARTWORK layer. Here you can get the placement right, as well as experiment with colorways. 

    Double click the SHIRT COLOR layer, and use the Color Overlay function to change your t-shirt color.

    Making sure there is no background layer, Choose File > Save For Web, and save the file with the PNG-24 setting.

    Store these mock up png files in a folder together. I call my folder "Mocks"

  2. Submit Your Concepts

    Now comes the time to send your newly created .png mock-ups to the client.

    For this class, I'd love to see what you've come up with. Gather your .png files, and submit them in the Student Projects Section.

    It's even possible that we will select a design to get printed and sold on tour with Twenty One Pilots!

Additional Resources

  • Twenty One Pilots ART PACK:

    • Vector Logos
    • T-Shirt Mockup
    • Reference Mood Boards
    • Font
  • Font Management Software:

  • Twenty One Pilots ART PACK:

    • Vector Logos
    • T-Shirt Mockup
    • Reference Mood Boards
    • Font
  • T-Shirt Mock-Up Template

  • Twenty One Pilots ART PACK:

    • Vector Logos
    • T-Shirt Mockup
    • Reference Mood Boards
    • Font

Student Projects

project card
Brandon Smith
project card
Joshua Krohn
project card
Nick Beaulieu
project card
project card
Brii Jamieson
project card
Juan Pilar
project card
Bob Ewing
project card
Travis Fetting
project card
Maddie Harbert
project card
Beth Johnson
project card
Jamie Vernon
project card
Tyler Wetta
project card
Justin Mace
project card
Ali Bowman
project card
Titus Smith
project card
Kallie Raymond