Distressed vintage retro style logos are a pretty nifty addition to your arsenal of branding & marketing tricks. Not for every application and certainly not suitable for every logo, but worthwhile if it’s a fit. Here’s one that was.

We sometimes get tasked with creating special event logos – anniversaries, birthdays and what have you – and those are often fun gigs to work on (we did one for ourselves for 2016, our 20th year.) There’s usually a little more latitude in the design parameters and we can usually let our hair down, figuratively speaking, in the creative department. A neat project crossed my desk recently, and since it’s a fairly popular style of design these days, figured a nice little tutorial and case study might be worthwhile this atypically warm Friday afternoon.

The project pitch.

One of our long time clients, Kanata based Mixed Martial Arts Fitness Academy (MMAFA for short) wanted to ring in their 15 years in business (a lifetime in such things) and was kicking around the idea of an anniversary logo of sorts, but one that wasn’t limited to this year. They wanted to use a tiger that had been part of their branding since day one but add their year of opening, 2001, using the EST (Established) tag. Having been around for a decent period of time comes with a certain level of legitimacy (recent EST tags – EST. 2015 for example – less so) and there’s no harm in pointing it out, especially in a design that’s going to be around for a while. They had also seen a vintage style logo on a stock photo site, and thought it fit their bill. The example they were talking about even featured a tiger’s head (but not their tiger) and had a varsity retro vibe they liked. They shot me the image, asking if we could create something similar (without blatantly knocking it off, natch) and using their trademarked tiger from one of their logos. The design I received in my email had a distressed appearance – looked old and battered, almost as if it’s gone through the wash a few too many times. That’s called “stressed” or “distressed” and is something that came into vogue a few years back. At first blush, there were some challenges in crowbarring parts of their logo into the style, some technical issues to figure out, but sure, why not? Would be a fun little project, produced a nice result that we’re gonna talk about. Ready? Here goes..

Converting the original logo.

Before we could get to distressing the logo, a major issue in the design department was the tiger that we culled from their logo proper. Here’s what that fella looks like:tiger-head-logo-portionCool and all, but this is a straight on view of the tiger’s head. The design called for a three quarter angled view, while still being recognizable as THEIR tiger. That’s a lot more trouble that it sounds like, the original logo was designed as flat art and paid little attention to the anatomy of a tiger’s head. It wasn’t simply a matter of sliding various vector polygons around a screen – we had to visually redraw the artwork – paying attention to the head being a 3D portrayal, while remaining true to the original, which wasn’t at all. Here’s how that played out:tiger-redraw-three-quarter-viewIt’s not perfect but considering we were bending the laws of physics to turn this guy’s head into a fully formed 3D depiction, not bad at all.

The typography.

When it came to choosing typography for this project, our hands were kinda tied. The client wanted a retro vibe, sorta varsity and wanted a “flowy” typeface for “Fitness Academy.” We had to use a condensed slab serif to arc “Mixed Martial Arts” around the top – based purely on character count – and the script type for Fitness Academy was, well, a retro flowy one. The 2001 numerals were an obvious choice – varsity lettering similar the back of most football jerseys in the day. Here’s how that played out:
typography-choice-tshirt-designAdd some drop shadows, change the colors (this is always going to be printed on dark shirts) and Bob, as they say, is your Uncle (my Uncle’s actual Roy.)defacto-tiger-head-tshirt-design1Nice. A couple of drop shadows and we’re all set.

Applying the vintage distressed effect.

Some people think that this “crackle” effect is created after the T-shirts are printed, either by washing or smooshing the shirt until bits of the ink drop off. Nah, the distress look is added in the artwork itself and while it needs a little tweaking and messing about to get to look right, it’s fairly easy once you know how. Take a look at this image here:t-shirt-retro-stressed-tileThat’s it. A series of random vector shapes, created from a noise filter in Photoshop and vectorized in Illustrator using Image Trace. This group of random shapes, in a nutshell, forms the framework of the distressed effect. We can now slide the messy vectors over the art and see what’s what.how-to-obtain-stressed-effectAt left is the distressed pattern in white, sitting on top of the artwork. At right is the pattern set to the same color of the background. Voila, instant retro style distressed logo that looks old and broken. We had to hand edit a bit, removing chunks where they obscured detail – the eyes was one such place – and add a few specks where lacking, but generally speaking, that’s all there is to creating the effect. A few more steps and we’re ready for print.

Distressing a logo for a T-shirt. Technical considerations.

Remember, the color of the T-shirt is going to be the dark color in our logo which means it has to show through holes in the actual artwork. In this case, that also applies to the distress pattern – now sitting on top of our design, but which has to be “cut out” of the design. This requires a setup very similar to creating artwork for die cutting or vinyl plotters where each color forms a unique shape, and doesn’t sit “on top” of any other. We also have to “blow out” the distress pattern using the Pathfinder tool in Illustrator (doing that correctly is almost work a blog post in itself) so that the shirt color peeks through those tiny little holes as well. Here’s what the artwork actually looks like once we get finished, and the design is sitting on a neutral background (the white is where the shirt color would show through.)logo-stressed-effect-on-white-backgroundAnd there you have it. Artwork that’s silk screen ready for printing on a T-shirt. Here’s what it looks when laid on top of a T-shirt:vintage-distressed-logo-tshirt-artIf you want to try your hand with some of your own logos or artwork, you can download a PDF of my distress pattern here. Adjust to taste using the “roughen” filter under the Effects > Distort & Transform menu in Illustrator. Keep in mind that “blowing out” the holes is destructive and renders the artwork, for all intents and purposes, non-editable. You’ll want to keep a pristine version that hasn’t been trimmed should you ever need to go back to the drawing board. Due to the number of vector points created in this distress application, file sizes can be largish, so keep your .ZIP compression software handy for shipping to the T-shirt printer.