Last updated August 4, 2009
Note: Due to other work I have to do, I am unable to keep this gude as regularly updated as I'd like. Check through recent comments to this post for some info, and ask around in the derby threads for help - there are always people willing to lend a hand!
When submitting to the derby, the files required are the design detail and shirt comp. A third file, the high-resolution print-ready file, does not need to be submitted right away. However, if you happen to win, woot needs that file in order to print your design. Therefore, if you are serious about entering the derby, you need to be prepared to put together the print-ready file.
I'm not sure if I can be considered a derby veteran, but I've been printed twice and I do know my way around Photoshop. I'm posting this up as an aid to newbies. Hopefully others can read through it and offer their own experience to improve what I have here. Also, since I'm only experienced in Photoshop, parallel tips for Illustrator, GIMP, Inkscape and other programs would be invaluable. Most information presented here will still be applicable no matter what program is being used. I use Photoshop CS3.
Before we begin, make sure you also check out these unofficial rules. The post hasn't been updated in some time, but most of it is still applicable. I may repeat some of that information here. In addition, you'll find tgentry's advice to be invaluable. He's most definitely a derby veteran, and an amazing artist to boot.
So... here we go.
Starting a Design
In order for us to print your shirt, we'll need you to provide a detailed 16"x20" 300 DPI file layered with each color on a separate layer in AI, PSD, SVG or PDF format. We will also accept a ZIP archive.
Woot will need a print-ready file, so it's a good idea to design at high resolution to begin with. This is especially true if you are working with raster graphics as opposed to vector graphics, since raster images lose detail and clarity when scaled. Note that Photoshop and GIMP are raster-based, whereas Illustrator and Inkscape are vector-based.
Start with a canvas that is 16"x20" at 300 dpi (that means 4800x6000 px). Keep it in RGB, since the shirt comp and design detail must be in RGB.
You may find designing at such a high resolution to be difficult. There isn't much that can be done about that. Some things you could try:
- do a rough copy of your design at a resolution you are comfortable with, or draw it on a sheet of paper first and scan it in. Resize it as appropriate and use your rough copy as a guide.
- work with vector graphics so that you can resize without loss of detail.
- practice. If you work at it enough, you'll get used to designing at high-res.
Note that the woot templates provided on the submission page include a bounding box on the shirt outline. The box encloses a 16"x20" area. Because of this, I've generally been creating my designs on the canvas with placement already in mind, but I don't know if it is necessary to take this into consideration. I've heard that 16"x20" is in fact a maximum size and that you should feel free to work within a smaller area. Just make sure that you don't design too small to match with your comp. It would be wise to err on the side of caution - if your print-ready is larger than you displayed in the comp, Woot can size it down with no problem. Sizing up in raster does not work very well at all.
Colours and Layers
Woot requires that each of the spot colours used are on a separate layer in the print-ready file. For this reason, you should avoid using more than one colour on each layer. Not only does this make the print-ready file easier to create, but it also allows you to experiment with colour choices more easily. In Photoshop, you can double-click a layer to bring up the "layer styles" palette. You can then use "Color Overlay" to change the colour of that entire layer. Layer masks are also helpful at times.
Although you should only have one colour per layer, feel free to use more than one layer per colour. Depending on the design, you may want to have certain elements of one colour be layered both above and below another element of a different colour. When composing the print-ready file, you will be able to gather all elements of the same colour onto one layer easily, simply by using layer selections.
Remember that you can only have six spot colours, plus the background (shirt) colour. If you plan on incorporating the shirt colour in the design itself, it would probably be beneficial to do this with a layer set to the shirt colour and placed above the other layers, rather than cutting parts out of the other layers. If you decide to change something, it will be easier to modify the layer on top than to correct all the layers from which you deleted.
Colours and Printing
When selecting colours, be very careful. Take into consideration the shirt colour, the size of the lines, and the design itself. Subtlety in colours is certainly cool, but it is easy to choose colours that are too subtle, such that they are nearly invisible on the shirt. Woot may even have to pick new colours for you.
Be especially wary of dark colours on dark shirts. Black, navy, brown, olive and asphalt can all be problematic. In general, thin dark lines will be very difficult to see on a dark shirt. Larger patches of solid colour can be more easily distinguished from the shirt. It can also help to outline the dark colour with a lighter colour. Problems we've had in the past include:
- black on brown. Specifically, small objects and thin lines can get lost in the brown background. Larger black areas can actually be quite visible, but care should be taken. Surprisingly, brown on black seems to work - just try not to choose too dark a brown ink.
- black on navy. Navy is ridiculously dark. Just look in the comment thread for any navy shirt Woot has sold - you'll have at least one person asking if it's really on black, because it looks black on many monitors.
- black on asphalt. In general, black works on asphalt. However, we know of at least one shirt where thin black lines on asphalt disappeared completely after only a couple of washes.
- dark green on olive. I personally encountered this issue on my own design. Looking at the comp, the dark green buildings in the background appear very visible. In print, however, they are almost impossible to see. The flames help to delineate the charred ruins, but I regret my colour choice. The olive shirt is surprisingly dark; I believe Woot has since updated their shirt template colours but always be careful - Woot's templates are often deceptively dark.
Try to avoid these situations. If you're unsure, it's probably better to be cautious and do what you can to make the colours more visible. If you are only using the dark colour for linework, consider removing it completely if you are using a dark shirt. Let the shirt colour show through for your lines. Doing so could free up an extra spot colour for you, or at the very least make the design less expensive for Woot to print.
Woot recommends that you specify Pantone colours for your design. More specifically, you should use "Pantone Solid Coated" colour swatches. In Photoshop (and most other programs), the easiest method is to keep the swatches palette open with the appropriate set of swatches.
If you don't see the palette in your workspace, check "Swatches" in the Window menu. With the menu open, open the menu on the palette. You can do this by clicking the button with a downward pointing arrow head and three horizontal lines; it should be in the top right corner. Select "PANTONE solid coated" from the list of options. A prompt will appear asking you if you want to replace the current swatches with the swatches from "PANTONE solid coated.aco". Click "OK". Now you can select a new foreground colour by clicking on a swatch! Hovering over a swatch should bring up a tooltip with the colour name. If you are really impatient, double click to bring up the renaming dialog. Make sure you click cancel afterwards.
However, you don't have to design with pantones. If you do not specify them, Woot will choose them for you. The downside is that the colours that are used may not be what you had in mind. Some colours won't have a close Pantone match. Then again, Woot may change colours on you even when you do specify. Such a change could be due to a few reasons, e.g. if the colour you chose won't show up on the shirt colour, or if they just happen to be out of stock on certain inks.
If you have a non-Pantone design ready but want to select Pantones, there is a simple way to find a close approximation. Click on the foreground swatch to open the Colour Picker menu. Click on the colour that you wish to Pantone-ify. Now click the "Colour Libraries" button and select "PANTONE solid coated" from the Books drop-down list. The closest match to your colour should be selected.
Consider calibrating your monitor properly and getting a Pantone book. Colours on the screen inevitably look different from colours in print; calibration will minimize the discrepancy. I haven't had my monitor professionally calibrated, but by comparing on-screen colours with actual shirts in my possession, I've determined that my monitor is "good enough". I personally don't see a need to have perfect calibration. Even if you see things correctly, most voters probably won't. The same goes for a Pantone book. Sure, it would be nice to know what the colours will actually look like when printed, but it won't help that much for the actual derby. Besides, those books are actually pretty expensive.
Other Print Restrictions
Woot has done wrap-around placement in the past, but only for DAILY designs. If you are entering the derby, wrap-around is an automatic rejection. Belt prints are also a big no-no; Woot hasn't done a belt print for daily designs so they might not even have that capability. Many designers don't know this, but you can actually put designs on the BACK of the shirt. Howver, you cannot do double-sided printing - choose front or back, but not both.
Stock Vectors, Source Images, etc.
Use of stock material is acceptable by Woot as long as everything is legal. If you use such resources, make sure that it is ok for you to use them commercially. Read all licensing agreements and make sure you understand them! To a lesser extent, you should take the same care if you use any fonts; some downloadable fonts are NOT free for commercial use.
Keep in mind that the community prefers hand-drawn and hand-written work anyway. If you can draw it or write it, do so - don't be lazy. There is a stigma against using non-original work in your own. However legal your actions may be, you risk becoming a pariah if people discover that your work isn't entirely your own. On that note, if you do use stock vectors, public-domain images or the like, SAY SO. If you are up front about your sources, community members will be much nicer to you.
Woot has printed with glow and metallic inks, but only in daily designs. You cannot request specialty inks for your derby entry. Don't mention them at all on your comp or you may be rejected for misrepresentation. It is bad form to suggest that Woot might possibly use a specialty ink in hopes of influencing the voters.
If I remember correctly, the finest detail Woot can print is 1 point. On a 16"x20" canvas at 300 dpi, this translates to just over 4 pixels, so try not to use lines or points smaller than 5 pixels in width/diameter. Here's a more detailed explanation:
4Se7ens wrote:The breakdown is like this; A point is 1/72 of an inch, or, in other words, there are 72 points in an inch. Therefore the way they relate to pixels depends on how many pixels per inch the raster file contains. Woot demands that a PSD print-ready file is 300 dpi. To find out how many pixels are in a point for a 300 dpi file use the equation ppi(300)/pts per in(72) x #of points = #of pixels. A circle 5 pts in diameter would be about 21 pixels wide and a 9 pt circle would be 37.5 pixels wide. So the smaller ones in my design do still fall under the 30 px requirement... in the past we were always told that lines should be a minimum of 1-2 points
Keep in mind that finer details will fade more easily. Thin lines will disappear before a large patch of ink does.
Strangely, a design in the mystery derby was rejected because the lines were too fine to print. The strange part was that in the rejection notice, it stated that we need "at least a 20px brush on 300 DPI". So if you want to play it safe, stay above 20px!
Woot "officially" discourages the use of halftones, but they are quite commonly used. Look at printed designs (and to a lesser extent, unrejected derby entries) to get a sense of how small you can make your halftones without making them unprintable. Don't use halftones gratuitously - try not to use them unless you need them.
Woot can print gradients, but it is dangerous to use them in a derby entry. Woot will reject gradients that are "too complicated". I do not have an official definition of "complicated". Just know that virtually no gradient-utilizing designs have made it through the derby.
Shirt Comp and Design Detail
After you complete your high-res design, it's a simple task to size it down to create your shirt comp and design detail images. The shirt comp should be a 580x580 px jpg image and the design detail should be a 240x240 px jpg image. Note that dpi doesn't matter here, as that only affects size when printing.
For the shirt comp, you have a few options. You can use the official woot templates available here, or these old school "real shirt" comps. Courtesy of the wonderful James Cho, we now also have these wrinkly shirt comps. There are others out there; choose something that appeals to you.
WARNING: if using a "real shirt" template, be sure to compare the colour of these shirt images against Woot's official template colours. Entries have been rejected because the colour was off. If the comp doesn't look reasonably close, adjust the hue yourself or choose a different template!
WARNING 2: if using a heather grey blank, make sure the shirt template is actually heather-textured. This is an official requirement as of Derby #104. In previous Woot templates (the latest template may or may not be different), the Heather Gray option was represented by a swatch of light grey commonly used on other sites to represent a silver tee. Woot doesn't offer silver. If you are using Woot's official templates but you don't have the pattern, you can get it here. Just slip it behind the black lines and you're good to go.
Make sure that you do include an image of the shirt in your shirt comp. It is used by Woot to figure out where to print your design. Often (but not always), the most effective strategy is to put a small image of a shirt somewhere out of the way in the comp, utilizing the majority of the image real estate for a larger image of the design. If necessary, you can also link to or post a high-res image in the comments for your design. One of my pet peeves, however, is people who post giant images for a design with no fine detail whatsoever. I almost never have fine details in my own entries (I lack the skill!), so I almost never post high-res images.
Be wary of printing boundaries. I try to match mine up to the bounding box on the official template, even when I use a photo comp. The general guideline is to keep the design at least an inch away from the collar and any seams. Do your best to represent the size you desire on the shirt comp. It's impossible to be exact because Woot only uses 2-3 different screen sizes for shirts ranging from K4 up to 3XL. If I remember correctly, Woot considers the pictured shirt to be size M (Men's Medium). Women's and kid's sizes will generally use smaller screens.
Make sure that your shirt comp matches one of Woot's shirt template colours. Designs have been rejected for being just slightly off. Similarly, make sure that your shirt comp and design detail match. Discrepancies can get you rejected. Some discrepancies are acceptable as long as it doesn't misrepresent the design. Use common sense. And don't complain if Woot's common sense is different.
Avoid gradients in the background. While they can make the shirt comp more visually interesting, they can also lead to rejection. Recently, Woot seems to have relaxed their restrictions on such use of gradients. However, gradients in the design detail are almost always cause for rejection.
For the design detail, be careful to make it as interesting and visually appealing as possible. You may wish to show the whole design, or you may wish to crop the image and focus on certain specific details. Choose wisely, lest your design be passed over by the voters. Sometimes it is advantageous to show only a portion of your design in the detail image. As Barney of HIMYM once said, mystery leads to intrigue (paraphrased). Hiding the punchline to a joke shirt can heighten the sense of "ROFLMAO" in a voter, making a vote more likely. However, many voters also judge designs solely by the detail image, so hiding the joke is a risky tactic.
Text on detail images such as "vote!" or "click for larger" is generally accepted by Woot. In some circumstances, they may be cause for rejection. For example, if the text appears to be part of the design, it can be misleading and thus it can be rejected.
The Print-Ready File
As mentioned above, this file must be a 16"x20" 300 dpi file with each colour on a separate layer. Accepted file types are AI, PSD, SVG and PDF. ZIP archives are also accepted.
If the design was created on a canvas that already meets the specifications, all should be well. The only thing you should have to do is to compile the separate colour layers so that everything of one colour is on one layer.
I've been told that having layers overlap one another is acceptable. In cases where this isn't possible (such as when you have a layer sandwiched between two other layers of the same colour), you will need to delete a portion of the image on the upper layer where you want a colour on a lower layer to show through. I would do this with selections, though there are probably other methods to do this.
I'm not sure, but I think that layers are handled differently in Illustrator, and I know even less about GIMP and Inkscape. If anybody can give some insight on these programs, that would be great.
Useful Photoshop Shortcuts (and tricks)
This list is by no means complete, but I use these shortcuts all the time. These are for Windows; I believe Mac shortcuts are generally the same but with 'command' replacing 'control'.
fill layer/selection with foreground colour: alt+backspace
fill layer/selection with background colour: ctrl+backspace
hue/saturation dialogue box: ctrl+U
merge selected layer down: ctrl+E
select all: ctrl+A
copy everything visible: ctrl+shift+C
Undo/Redo: ctrl+Z (note: there is a setting so that pressing ctrl+Z repeatedly will continue undoing actions, rather than undoing and redoing. However, the redo makes sense because, in essence, you are undoing the undo!)
Step Backward: ctrl+alt+Z (equivalent to repeated undo in other programs)
Step Forward: ctrl+shift+Z (equivalent to repeated redo in other programs)
manipulate selection based on layer: ctrl+(other keys)+click on layer
ctrl+click = make selection from layer
ctrl+shift+click = add to current selection
ctrl+alt+click = subtract from current selection
ctrl+shift+alt+click = intersect with current selection
These same "other keys" can be similarly used with the marquee tools to manipulate selections,
e.g. holding shift while using a marquee tool will add to the current selection.
jimiyo posted a nice video tutorial on cleaning up lines via work paths from selections. He has a few other video tutorials linked throughout this thread.
Here's a technique I commonly use for smoothing and rounding out shapes:
1. The shape should be black on a white background (or white on a black background). This must be on one layer.
2. Use a Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) on the layer. Higher radius values will result in a more rounded image at the end.
3. Use Levels (Image > Adjustments > Levels, or simply ctrl+L) to bring it back to black and white only. You should see three boxes beneath a histogram-ish image titled "Input Levels". The boxes will have the numbers 0, 1.00 and 255. Adjust the lower and upper numbers (you can use the sliders beneath the image and above the boxes) to get rid of the grey from the blur so that there is only black and white. You'll want to bring the lower and upper sliders as close together as possible. If the three sliders are positioned more to the right, black will be favoured. Tend to the left and white will dominate. If you want the shape to be about the same size as it was to begin with, have it near the middle. I generally use the numbers 126 and 128.
4. Select the shape. You can do this by selecting the colour of the shape using a colour range selection (Select > Color Range). If your shape is black, choose "Shadows" from the Select drop-down list. If your shape is white, select "Highlights."
5. Invert the selection (Select > Inverse or ctrl+shift+I) and delete. This will leave only your shape. Now you can modify the colour (via layer styles or hue/saturation, or using the shape to create a selection to fill on another layer) and use the shape in your design!
6. If you use the technique again, two shortcuts that are useful are:
ctrl+F to repeat the last filter used with the same settings (which should be gaussian blur at this point).
ctrl+alt+F to use the last filter, but with different settings.
I'm not sure what else I should mention in this post. I hope this will be helpful for people new to the derbies. I'd appreciate it if people could read through and correct my mistakes (both grammatical and technical) or offer suggestions - being human, I don't know if there's anything significant that I messed up or missed completely. Tips and information for programs other than Photoshop would also be highly appreciated. Thanks for any input or contributions!