I’m not a visual designer, but I do like pretty things.
On the top of my mind recently has been the idea of my Purple Owl Theme. It comes from the “Night Owl” theme on MonoLisa’s website.
Blue background with a big purple highlight. Light gray as a text color. I love the theme, and I’ve tried to make a version of it for Obsidian. In doing so, I realized that actually figuring out what colors goes where is confusing. Colors that make sense on the MonoLisa site don’t make sense in my Obsidian theme. There are also a bunch of additional color and syntax settings for something like my Obsidian notes that aren’t really matched to any of the theme values from the MonoLisa site.
I look at some other themes like Monokia Pro and see that they are using mostly 6 colors and backgrounds.
There has to be a better solution to theming. Having to write themes for everything, customizing for each individual application. As we do themes at Airkit, the same thing applies. We have things like “Brand-Primary” and “Brand-Tint1” and various other colors defined within our apps.
After talking to a VERY smart coworker he turned me on to Design Tokens. Design tokens are the elements of style that Salesforce uses in their Lightning Design System (LDS). They define a set of tokens that are then used throughout their various different products. They use tools to take these defined tokens and send them out to SASS out for web products and p-lists for iOS, etc.
After looking at LDS Design Tokens, there are a bunch of things on there that aren’t exactly what I’m looking for. I’m looking for a way to define a few select attributes and have a tool interpret it into a full theme that is usable in many different applications. Looking at Solarized they only have 16 defined colors.
Anyway, I’m not done with anything yet. I’m just starting to think through this project.
This is an idea I’ve had for a while. One of my personal missions in life is to connect people. I do this through community aspects at work, through teaching acroyoga and Thai message, but how do I get even more people involved?
I once read about a project, but have been unable to find it online, where a group of people mailed out a bunch of notebooks, asked people to hold on to them for a couple days and fill out some pages and then send them to another users. When the project was done the group had some amazing works of art.
I’ve always wanted to recreate it. I wanted a collection of art and inspiration created by a connected community. My most recent concept involved me starting a coffee shop to solve it and hiring a bunch of artists to create notebooks.
I was sharing my idea with the owner of Simple Merchant Coffee and he wanted me to maybe create an expo at his space. I told him I didn’t have the notebooks yet and so he proposed something interesting: Let’s set up a couple of notebook stands at his location and let people fill out some pages. He proposed that this morning. This afternoon it happened.
I put two notebooks out there and two mason jars of pens. Hopefully it works out well. Hopefully they both don’t get pilfered from the store. I mean, even if they do I will learn something.
I’m still interested in working with artists to create more notebooks and build out some additional notebooks. If you are interested, please let me know.
I love backpacks. I even bought a domain to talk about my backpacks, though it isn’t up and running. For about a year prior to Covid, I had been carrying the same backpack. This was a huge step for me, because I often switch between packs as needed. I was blissfully happy with my Patagonia Black Hole 32L in Hammots Gold (color no longer available). Then a friend of mine convinced me to try a new brand of pack, Evergoods.
It started out with a Evergoods MPL 30L V1. Which is a great pack, but doesn’t have the side water bottle holders which is a requirement for me on a backpack. Fast forward a bit and I’m a huge Evergoods fan. I have a pack from most of their lines, so when the announced the MHP, I resisted for a day or two (don’t really use hip packs that much), but finally bought one, and the TL;DR is: I love it.
I decided on a black pack over the signal blue. While the blue is cool, a hip pack is usually something I’m going to carry while hoping it isn’t noticed. I have a signal blue pack and it is loud and easily seen. Call it fear from living in the Bay Area for too long, but I don’t want things to be noticed and pilfered. There is still a patch location and sometimes I’ll throw on one of my cool patches for unique identity when I need it.
Both compartments are pretty awesome. I’ve only taken the pack out for a couple of adventures at this point, but usually, the back section is where I put my notebook, pen, pocket knife, and phone. The front pouch is where I put in a first aid kit, headlamp and anything else I need.
One downside, even though there is a passthrough pocket upfront, if I put something large, like an R1 through it, it will eat up space in the front pouch and make it harder to fit things in there. Still, this pouch would be good for a thin waterproof layer.
The MHP can be worn in two ways, as the standard hip pack or as shoulder sling. I’ve worn it as both. As a hip pack it is perfect. Functions exactly as expected and I can’t say anything bad about it. One practical thing I’ll say about wearing it as a sling, the arm that makes contact with the pack might have some rubbing. While there is a guard against the buckle, the excess webbing, while tucked up might hit your arm as you swing through it. You can adjust the pack on your back, but if it is at all loose it will be near the bottom. This isn’t a super big deal, but it is definitely noticeable if you are hiking with the pack for a couple of hours.
I’m sure my opinion will continue to evolve as I continue to use the pack (I’ve had it for a couple of weeks), but so far I’m a fan. A friend asked me if it would fit a iPad mini, so I checked and conformed that both the front and back pockets are big enough to hold an iPad mini.
I had the idea for writing this post a couple of weeks ago, but then I picked up Twenty Bits from Dan Cedarholm, and his first tip is about making a T-shirt. That solidified that I needed to write this post.
I’m a computer person. I spend 95% of my days in a simple T-Shirt. I do have some plain shirts, but most of mine have sort of graphic on them. I guess my obsession with them started in college when I would get about 12 a year in college for my cheerleading team. Each shirt would have a different design on it.
Once I got out of college and started running my own high school team, I was in charge of making the shirts for those team. I started to learn about brands, as well as printing and designing the shirts. The more I did that, the more I learned about how different cuts and fabrics feel. As with most things in my life, once intrigued, I dove into the research of what was best.
I had once found it in American Apparel Tri-Blend shirts, but then the company (for good reasons) went out of business. I’ve had to do some research to stay up on what works best in my opinion. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over my decades of making shirts. Hopefully, it might help some people.
About shirts, fabrics, and cuts
First thing to talk about when it comes to a shirt is the weight. T-shirts come in many different weights. Some are light weight and some are heavy weight. Light weight shirts are great for working out and summer days, but some say they aren’t warm enough for winter months. Heavy weight shirts wear on the body and sometimes feel stiff and hard to move in. Which shirt weight you want will depend on what you are looking for. My preference usually tends towards the lighter shirts, as I use these mostly as a base layer and will put stuff over top.
Fabric is another factor of how a shirt fits. There are shirts that are 100% cotton and various blends. There is also a thing called ring spun cotton. Different blends will have different textures and different stretch patterns. Depending on the shirt, my preference is either a 60 / 40 cotton poly blend or a ring spun cotton option.
The last little piece to talk about is the cut. Some shirts have longer arms, some are longer in the torso. There is also the whole notion of unisex vs men’s and women’s shirts. All of this is a factor. As someone who made cheerleading shirts for mostly women, the female cut shirts were a big deal.
Shirts and brands I trust
Whenever I go to print a shirt I start with a design idea, but I’ll talk about that later. Once the design is determined, the next step is to find the shirt. There are several go to brands that are great places to start. Next Level is one of the brands that I use a bunch of the time. There Tri-Blend shirts tend to be my favorite on the market. These shirts are light and very flexible. They fit naturally over the body and are super comfortable to wear. These shirts are also in the relatively affordable price range for making a bunch.
Another shirt that I love—but have not been able to get a big enough quantity to do some screen printing on—is The Blanks from Cotton Bureau. I enjoy the fit of their shirts so much. They are probably the most comfortable shirts I own. I usually get them with one the designs, but I do have a couple of blanks I’ve gotten throughout the years. These shirts are breathable, a pretty great weight (not too light, not too heavy), and seem to wear really well. The downside, they are expensive and hard to get a hold of.
Other brands that I have a passing familiarity with in terms of shirt include: Bella, Guildan, and Fruit of the Loom. None of these shirts have really impressed me enough to point where I look for them when I first start creating a shirt.
If none of these options really match what you’re doing, work with a representative of the printing shop to figure out what they would recommend. These people spend much more time than you building out shirts. They know the brands they have in stock, and if you are able to answer the weight and style questions, they are usually pretty good at helping you find your options.
Ink, Colors, and Locations
Another factor in the cost of a T-shirt is the number of colors and locations. I’m not a screen printer, but as I understand it, colors are layered on. Each layer requires its own screen. Creating a screen has a cost. Changing which screen is on the machine has a cost. If you want to print more than just on the front—for example putting a logo mark on the back of the neck—you have to pay for another screen and another print. All of these costs go into your final shirt design. For this reason, most of my shirts are single color, single location prints.
One T-shirt is light. 100 T-shirts starts to get heavier. When trying to make an economical T-shirt, shipping can really add up. For this reason, if I’m making a smaller number of shirts, it might make more sense to find a local screen printer than pay for shipping, even if the cost per shirt is higher. You can just search for “Screen Printing Near Me” and find some good results. Most shops will give you a quote if you know the shirt, colors, and locations of prints.
The shop that I’ve used the most recently is the Golden Road Ink. I worked with a sales rep named Kyle, but he has since moved on. They had good connections to get the shirts I wanted, had pretty quick turn around (even doing a couple of super fast jobs for me), and reasonable pricing. They are a Bay Area local place. Currently, I’m not in the Bay Area, and I don’t have a new printer where I am now, yet.
I have in the past used Threadbird. This is the shop that Dan Cederholm uses. Depending on the number of shirts you are doing and the features you want, I’ve found that with the shipping they aren’t always at the same cost level of getting it done locally, but they do VERY good work.
Some places will take a rough sketch and turn it into a design for you. I’m a little more controlling than that. My designs are usually illustrator vector files. This allows me to really have control over what I’m doing. I will shrink it down the actual size of the print to make sure details still match what I want. Remember, you need to have a design that works on all the sizes of the shirts you are making. If you are making an XXS and an XXXL you might want to have two different sizes of the same print (though this will add cost). The chest area is different on each of these sizes. What might take up the whole shirt on the XXS will be a patch in the center of the XXXL.
Another point worth making, CONVERT all TEXT to OUTLINES. If you are using a special font, your printers may not have it. They may choose one that is recommended, and it may look close enough for you or it may not.
Hopefully, this article will be helpful to others, but even if it isn’t, maybe it will remind me not to make the same mistakes I’ve made when making shirts in the past. It’s not exactly a how-to do this; it’s more of a how-to think about making shirts.
Does anyone else obsess about fonts? I mean, I know there are graphics designers and various other people who go nuts about them, but I’m wondering in general is a large portion of population or just clustered around my friends?
While I have fonts that I go to, and I enjoy the Macklemore song where he calls out “Gold Fonts”, I don’t really know as much about them as I feel I should. Fonts are so powerful. They help words take shape. They can help you easily identify words or make text incredibly hard to read. As someone with a reading disability, pattern recognizing a signature of word is a trick I use to read a little bit faster. Good fonts can help that, bad fonts can hurt that.
I had a realization the other day (I think the shower), that I want to change my lack of real understanding around fonts. I want to study and understand them. I want to know Font Families by name and style.
Lets start with one font that I’ve discovered and now paid for a professional license for. MonoLisa is a mono spaced font that I’ve set up as the default in all my editors. It is cleaner and easier to read. It is not free, but it’s worth paying for good things, even digital things. Hopefully soon I’ll find a way to tie it into the code boxes that I have on this site, but in the mean time. This font is helping my day to day in my various editors. It’s a mono spaced font, meaning that each character takes up the same amount of space on the x axis. This makes columns as you line up you type. Not all fonts have the same spacing for all letters.
Here is another reason why this is important to me. I have had a reading a writing disability that was diagnosed around the 3rd grade. I’m not sure, but it feels like one of my tactics for getting around this is memorizing word shapes. Fonts do affect the shapes of words, so some fonts are more readable for me and others are not.
So next up, becoming a type master. I have a lot of learning to do. What is the difference between a font and typeface? How does one pick the perfect kerning for a set of lettering? I have a bunch of typefaces to learn about.
Let me know if you have any tips, suggestions, or favorite fonts!
I let you in on a little secret. Part of me wants to be a designer. I wish I could draw. I wish I could be very creative and be a professional creative. One problem, I’m really not that good.
I saw this video on Youtube that gives me just a small ray of hope that maybe someday my skills will improve:
Basically the gist of the video is that everyone goes through a phase of work that they know sucks. It takes years of practice to get past this phase and get to a point where we are good. My problem is that I spend so much time looking for perfect, when good enough will do.
I’m starting a new category, and while technically it should be called a typeface, I’m using fonts. I’m a fan of typography. I think all great designers are. I’m not a great designer, but I have aspirations of being a better one than I am now. Anyway, I see fonts that I enjoy I will be mentioning them here for documentation purposes and hopefully to help others.
I recently ordered some boxer shorts from J. Crew. I received them and was caught by the typography on the belly-band. Here it is:
There were some things that I really enjoyed about this label, especially in the font face. I really like the shape of the capital “B” where the top bubble is slightly smaller the bottom. Almost as if it is sitting on top. I like the width of the “R” as well. Gives the letter almost a subtle strength feeling.
It took a couple of attempts at What the Font to get a font that I think would be a good candidate for this font. I think it is Engravers Gothic Bold. Looks like a very nice font.
A lot of my posts recently have just been posts about interesting things I have read on other people’s websites. This is another one of those posts. I’ve been catching up on 43Folders.com recently and quite captured by Merlin Mann.
Today I say his video on Creativity Patterns. This video changed my entire personal perspective, about myself and about my abilities at least for the day. He’s a great speaker and the concept is motivating. Check it out if you haven’t, and consider reading/watching more of Merlin if you have the time.