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Design a Diabolical Skate Deck

By Von Glitschka

You can personalize your skateboard with stickers, but if you design the art yourself, your deck really will be one-of-a-kind. In this tutorial, I’ll walk you through how to design and print your deck art. You can also download an Adobe Illustrator CC file that I’ve already set up with the correct dimensions and my art so you can see how I built the file.

> Download the compressed folder "Adobe_Create_Magazine_Skate_Deck_files.zip" (5.7MB).

I began with pencil sketches on paper, moving from rough to refined drafts. When I was happy with my devilish creature, I scanned the drawing at 600 dpi and saved it as a .TIFF image.  My skateboard deck is 9.5 x 33 inches, so I set up an Illustrator file with those exact dimensions. 

Von Glitschka began his skateboard deck design with hand drawings before moving to Adobe Illustrator CC and Adobe Photoshop CC.

STEP 1: BUILD SHAPES

Open the Illustrator file and place the scan of your drawing on its own layer. It’s just a guide for your vector art, so adjust the transparency to 20% and lock the layer.

Now you can build the base shapes. Use the Pen tool to lay down your anchor points. (Anywhere your art comes to a point gets an anchor point.) Adjust the Bézier curves using the anchor point tool by selecting the path and bending the Bézier curve to form the shape you intended. 

STEP 2: APPLY COLOR

Before I apply color, I like to set up my palette as a series of small squares off to the side of the Illustrator artboard. Then I use the Eyedropper tool to sample a color square and quickly add that base flat color to a shape. 

STEP 3: ADD DETAILS

I use a combination of tonal color hue, opacity, and blend modes to add details. For example, I set a drop shadow to 40% opacity and a blend mode of Multiply. To give the illusion of dimension, I use the Gradient tool, as I did for the radial gradient around the eyes.

STEP 4: GET YOUR GLOW ON

To add an outer glow, select the base shapes that make up the creature’s profile and unite them into one compound shape with the Pathfinder panel. Put a stroke on the compound shape. (I made my stroke 32pt, which you can see in the in-pocess image on the left.) Change the color from white to black, and copy it to your clipboard. 

Open Adobe Photoshop CC and paste the outline into a Photoshop grayscale file. Select the layer with the outline and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the radius to 40 pixels.

Select the layer again and go to Image > Mode > Bitmap. You’ll see a window that says “Flatten visible and hidden layers?” Click OK. Another window appears asking for resolution. Set it to 350 ppi and set the method to Halftone Screen. Click OK.

When a new window pops up with halftone screen fields, choose a frequency of 10 lines/inch, an angle of 45 degrees, and a round shape. Save the file as a bitmap TIFF.

Now you’ve made a halftone that will print well. Place your glow TIFF on its own layer in your main illustrator deck file and color the glow white.

STEP 5: LIGHTNING!

If the background of your deck looks a little plain, try adding atmosphere with lightning. I licensed two lightning images from Adobe Stock.

Open one of the photos in Photoshop and convert the mode to grayscale (Image >  Mode > Grayscale). Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels and drag the levels until you’ve isolated the lightning. Click OK and go to Image > Adjustments > Invert. Select the inverted layer and go to Image > Mode > Bitmap. Click OK in the window that says, “Flatten visible and hidden layers?” In the next window, set the resolution to 100 ppi and the method to Diffusion Dither. Repeat the process for the other Adobe Stock photo. Save them as TIFFs.

Place the lightning TIFFs as their own layers in your main Illustrator file and move them around until you like the composition. Select the foreground color and make the lightning white, then create a clipping mask based on the board shape.

STEP 6: PREPARE FOR PRINTING

My design is done. Once you’ve completely finished your art, you need to do a few things to the file so that it prints correctly. Some vector-based content doesn’t print well; for example, if you have subtle gradients that blend from a color to transparent, you might see banding in the printout.

To avoid possible issues, select the layers that make up the creature (not the background), go to the Option menu on the Layers panel, and choose Merge Selected.

Select the merged creature parts layer and go to Object > Rasterize. A new window asks you to input the rasterize settings. I choose the CMYK color model since I’m creating in a CMYK file. I set my resolution to 600 ppi and background to transparent because I want my own background to show through. In the Anti-Aliasing drop-down, choose Art Optimized (Supersampling). Then click OK.

The design may not look any different, but the creature is now a raster-based image, ready for you to send to a print shop. Most local sign shops that can print with white ink should be able to handle the job. Ask for the shop to output your design on transparent adhesive. If you’re having trouble finding a printer, this list of Roland printer dealers may help you identify a shop in your area.

I made my deck design in preparation for a class I’m helping to teach at the Adobe MAX conference, “Russell Brown@MAX Presents: A Halloween Sci-Fi Creature Spectacular.” If you’ll be at MAX, visit the Community Pavilion to see my and the class’s skateboards. 

There’s still time to sign up for Adobe MAX. Use the Create discount code PCM16 for $400 off of registration!