Join Von Glitschka for an in-depth discussion in this video Creating letterpress artwork, part of Drawing Vector Graphics Laboratory.
- [Instructor] Welcome to Drawing Vector Graphics Laboratory. Design historically speaking has been closely associated with printing in all its various forms, and in a digital age, designers love to embrace time-tested old print technologies because they offer tactile aesthetics that simply cannot be done with modern printing methods. Letterpress printing is one of the oldest forms of printing dating back to Johann Gutenberg in the 1400s.
Regardless of how old this technology is, it's one of the most popular print formats in design circles today. So in this movie, I'm going to show you how I went about creating digital-based vector artwork that'll work well for a letterpress printing project. So let's jump into it and get started. Now, I was asked by a paper vendor, Neenah Papers, who was one of the sponsors for the Beauty of Letterpress, which was a campaign they did which combined beautiful paper, Neenah makes uncoated paper stock, and the technology of letterpress printing.
And they matched up a studio for letterpress printing with an artist, and they asked if I would design one of the cards. Now, all I heard was by mouth originally from the marketing director at Neenah, and she said, well, we want you to create this. I'll get you all the information. Well, I didn't wait for the information. I just kind of jumped on it. This was my initial crude thumbnail sketch of what I wanted to do, and you can see, I've made notes over here. Spatula or roller? Which one should I use? I was just thinking through everything.
I already drew him with a little funky fedora hat and I decided okay, he probably wouldn't be wearing that if he's a craftsman printing in this style. We'll give him a regular kind of ball cap-type thing to wear. So this was just the genesis to capture the very essence of the idea I had in mind, which my concept was new school meets old school. And that's the beauty and the beautiful irony, if you will, between old-school methodology, which is letterpress, and new-school, which is a digital workflow.
So from this, I decided, finally got my hands on an example of a printed card, and I used the sizing on that card to kind of reshape my original sketch. I just took this into Photoshop and hacked it apart and realized, I want to show the screen from the opposite end, because it's kind of what you see when you look at the screen. It tends to read backwards until it's printed, so that's kind of the idea here.
But I'm kind of composing my layout. Now, this obviously isn't good enough to build on digitally, so I created my refined sketch, and this is more precise. It definitely gives me exact cues on what I'm going to use to create my final art, and if you look at this, I even took the time to do some fun hand-lettering that works well with this style. And this specific style is what I call my segmented style. It's very simple, but it's going to work really great for letterpress moving forward.
So this is my refined sketch, and it's at this point that I'll select it, and I will go ahead and set the value to 20, and I'll go ahead and lock this layer. Now, you can see I have these other elements here which were also just scans, and I composed 'em because I wasn't sure where I wanted 'em to be. And we can go ahead and set those to 22, lock the layer, and this is where my basic vector building begins.
Now, on this style, it's all about shape, and then I'll use one shape to create another shape to create another shape. And the best way to demonstrate that is just by doing it. So if I zoom in on the head here, you've seen how I've created these shapes for the face. So I have this part of this face, and I have this side of this face, and the key to this style is contour continuation. And what I mean by that is this path runs from the face up through the bill into the form of the hat.
That's a key kind of component of this style, is that the contour leads into other shapes and content within the illustration to pull it off, and the same thing under the nose. This line goes straight through and hits at the same angle on that apron he's wearing. So, I have this part I created which is just his neck if I pull it out over here. But what I'm going to do is I'm going to use this piece here to create all the elements I need for the design.
So we'll take that piece and clone it, Command + C, Command + F. I'll take the bod shape and clone it, Command + C, Command + F. Select both of them, and then I'll intersect 'em, and that gives us our shape for the collar down here. Now, I still have this bottom part that's the collar. So I'll select the body again, clone it, Command + C, Command + F, and I'll select the neck here and then I'm going to lop off that. So we no longer have that piece.
These two are separate now. If I pull 'em apart, you can see what I mean there. And now, I'll just take this part of the neck, and I'll clone it, Command + C, Command + F, and I'll take this shape and clone it, do the same thing. Command + C, Command + F. I have F3 set up to run those two commands, so I never have to go up to up here and go copy and then go paste in front. So I kind of have it applied to an F key, F3 specifically.
I'll select these two shapes, intersect it. It'll give me that shape. I'll select this. I'm going to make sure this is on front. Object > Arrange > Bring to Front, select the neck, and then I'll chop off the part I don't need. And now, we can go ahead and make this the same thickness here. So now I have my illustration, for this part of the illustration, that is, separated into these three parts here and the back of the neck. So that's how I'll go about building all the shapes in this illustration.
I'll use that same foundation, that same functionality to pull it off. So I have this apron shape here, and it's going to make the apron shape, but it's also going to edit other things as well. So the first thing I want to do is select the body, which has the arms, and I'll clone that, and I'll take the apron shape, and I'll go ahead and clone that. I'll select both of 'em, and now here, I'm going to go intersect, and you see the shapes I end up with. So if I ungroup this, you can see that I have this shape now, and I have the hand shape.
Now I can select this shape, the original apron shape. We'll go ahead and color it a gold so you can see what I'm doing. I'm going to bring this to front. I have that set up as an F5, key, so I can just hit that to bring it in front instead of going to the menu, Arrange > Bring to Front. I have F5 set up as my keyboard shortcut. With that on top, I can select the body, and then I'll just punch it through, and then I have to ungroup it, and I have ungroup set up as the keyboard shortcut as well so I don't have to go up here.
Otherwise, it would be the command here, but I have it assigned to F6. So I can just hit the F6 key, and now I have this shape separated, his hand separated, the apron separated, and the other parts of his body separated. So that's how I go about separating things like this or segment-building is what I like to call it. And we're going to select these and just match 'em with the aesthetic of the line there like that.
So that's how I build. That's how I build this style. I'm going to zoom in on this part, because this is the roller that this character in the illustration is holding, and I just want to talk you through on how I built this. This is just simply made up with simple shapes. It's a stroke to give me the volume of how thick I want that to be. I'm just going to go up here and go to Path and go to Outline Stroke in order to get the final artwork that I need, like that. That's how I would create this.
And then for the paint itself, I'll create independent shapes like this one and these two, this one. I'll take a rectangle shape, and I'll just unite 'em with Pathfinder, just like this, and then I'll take these two shapes. Once again, we'll colorize 'em this way, and I'm going to unite those. I want to make sure that instead of a group, we have a compound on that. It's sitting on stop of the shape we previously made, and I'm just going to remove from shape or punch through.
And that gives me my end shape for my paint. Now, on something like this, I'm pretty picky about my vector art. So I'll go in and I'll select anchor points not needed, and I'll just remove 'em like this, select 'em and click Remove Anchor using the button up in the menu at the top of the screen. Just click it, just to clan up the artwork. You don't have to. You're probably never going to notice it. But it kind of irritates me keeping those in, so I do that all the time.
Now, the reason why I'm showing you this is because it's easier to build a piece of artwork like this at a 90-degree angle rather than trying to build it at the angle that we have it over here. So once I build this, and I can go ahead, let's go ahead and toss this. You can see how it's placed in here, though. It's easy just to take anything 90 degrees and just bring it over, and just rotate it in place the way you need it. And so it's much easier to build something at 90 degrees than it is to try to build it at an angle.
It's just going to be kind of an exercise of futility. So always look for ways like that. You can cut corners and speed up the whole process when you build. But that's the process I go about to build all my base vector artwork, and when it's all said and done, I have all my artwork like this, and this is where the fun begins, because I can bring in the tonal families. Since this is letterpress, it needs to be simple, meaning I don't have the luxury of printing six, you know, full color, because I'm limited to spot colors with letterpress.
And you don't want to get overcomplicated to that. So this is the limited color palette I've given myself. This darker blue, a mid-tone blue, and a gold, a nice complementary color of all of it. Plus, the paper stock itself I will use as part of my design in the illustration. So this is where I'll just start selecting elements in my design such as this type and this type, and this is where I'll also, we'll go ahead and zoom in a little bit.
Let's do that, just so you can see this a little better here. We can turn off our refined sketch now, and I'm going to use the eye dropper just to apply color to the various things I'm selecting. So these two things, and I think we'll make the bird speaking bubble blue and his tail blue, his body, this color, his eye. Once again, this is going to be the paper stock showing through.
And same thing for the note. This will be this gold color. We're going to select this, which is also going to be gold. His face is going to be the nice, dark blue to contrast with that. We'll select this. This will become all the blue. This, the collar of his shirt, is going to be white, the paper stock. We'll select this. That'll become the dark blue. Teeth, white.
We'll select this eyeball. That'll be a dark blue. Select this. That'll be white. We'll select his ear, and that'll be a dark blue, and the top button on his cap will be the medium blue. So you can see how this kind of color combination comes together. And when I'm coloring, I usually explore. I try to balance the colors, so not any one color dominates. And on a design like this, that can be a little bit tricky at times, to work that all out. But in this case, it was pretty simple, because of the limited color palette, and the colors worked so well together that I think it's going to look really killer when it's printed.
It's fun seeing it come together as you start to color it, and on this one, as soon as I started dropping colors, I was like, okay. This is going to, this is going to work really well. And I think that's working really well. We'll go ahead and color these two little letterpresses. That's what these are supposed to represent, is the hot type, type of artwork here, and we're just going to go ahead and color these in. We're going to just sample from the artwork we've already colored, and on that, this will go here.
We can scroll over to this one, and that'll be blue. We'll color this dark, and this is going to be our orange. So that's how the final base colors on this for this design worked out. Now, as I got more information on this project, Neenah Paper sent me a template to work from, and I'm going, okay, well, drop it in and see what it looks like. And I dropped it in, and I thought, hey, that's looking good.
I really like this. This is going to be cool. And I ran a copy by 'em, and there was like, we kind of have a problem. We forget to tell you something. This area down here represented in pink, this is where you need to list your studio and the letterpress studio that's printing this. And I'm like, oh, man. It's like, well, that kind of blows, because I really like it and I don't want to screw it up. But the nice thing about the style, it's really flexible in terms of manipulating the art, in terms of proportion.
So just by moving this up just a hair, you know, to align with what they wanted on this, it really doesn't bother the art or change it enough to ruin it. So that's a good thing. So I adjusted it, and I worked in that information on their template. Now, my friend Jason Wedekind runs his studio called Genghis Kern. It's one of the coolest names of a design studio I've ever heard.
I just love it. It's a great pun. But it's a letterpress studio. He's based out of Denver, and he does amazing work. And he did an amazing job printing this. So I decided and said, since this is a collaboration, a creative, I made two hands shaking. That's kind of what I'm playing off there. I also added in an ink can since, unlike digital, this is physical ink for each of the spot colors shown here. Now, what I'm working on here, as you can see, the file is CMYK.
So I want to show you the exact same design in artwork but spec and spot color. So notice the change in the hue value when I turn on... This is CMYK. When I turn on spot, it's kind of muted. And I should just point out that in the files up here, you can see we have the spot colors in this file as well. So these are the actual Pantone spot colors that are going to be used on this project. And what you have to do is you have to kind of ignore what you see on screen, because it's almost never going to match what you see in a printed Pantone book for the colors.
So you have to trust the book and specific by the book, because when I hand this to Jason, he doesn't care what he sees on screen. All he's going to look at is the numbers in the book for uncoated stock inks, and he's going to go from that. That's exactly what he did. And this just shows the final printed piece on the left here. We can go ahead and zoom in. You can see what this looks like in its final form, compare it to the file I gave him. So you can see how some of the tonal values don't reflect exactly the same.
Like the blue. I actually like the darker blue better in the final version. But this project came out really great. Here's some more glory shots of just closeups. I really love letterpress. I love how it indents the paper, and some things become embossed, like his smile and his eye. And this on the speaking bubble of the bird, the note really pops off. You'll see some dimension on this lettering, because it stamps down into the paper and it creates these nice emboss and debosses.
So that's the beauty of letterpress. It's not a solid ink coverage, either. Since this is uncoated stock, some of that fiber of the paper is showing through, which looks really cool. Here's another nice shot of the interior of the design, and I just think it came out good. It was a lot of fun to work on, and it was a very rewarding project. This was a fun one for me, and Jason does an incredible job with printing and is a true craftsman of letterpress, I must say.
So I love working digitally, but when it comes to tactile, old school beats new school, every single time. Thank you for watching DVG Lab, and remember, never stop drawing.
Skill Level Intermediate
Q: Why can't I earn a Certificate of Completion for this course?
A: We publish a new tutorial or tutorials for this course on a regular basis. We are unable to offer a Certificate of Completion because it is an ever-evolving course that is not designed to be completed. Check back often for new movies.