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Free to ride

Free to ride
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About the T Shirt...

Cool retro typography on this bicycle themed T shirt design by Chad Gowey. This is his debut Threadless design too so great start!

Read about how this T shirt design was created from the designer himself…

“Free To Ride was originally inspired by and designed for a Threadless contest sponsored by Chrome, the producer of exceptional messenger bags. The goal was to create a tee inspired by urban bike culture. I discovered the contest just after moving into a tiny apartment in the heart of Boston, Massachusetts, where my treasured bike commute to work of the previous year was no longer necessary. Desperately deprived of 2 wheels, I had to give Threadless a shot. I wanted to create a badge emulating those people who I pedaled alongside everyday, navigating the endlessly unpredictable maze of cars, pedestrians and intersections, and were happier for it.

After many sketches, slogans and text treatment concepts, I arrived at “Free to Ride”. It seemed appropriate as it encapsulated a variety of themes: the sustainability and exhilaration of the experience, the steadfast cyclist attitude, and even a mild innuendo. I wanted the graphic to be bold, visually rich and worn in.


With the sketch in hand I gathered a variety of source images for style, inspiration and reference. I began my work in Adobe Illustrator compiling the reference images so I could construct the elements of the design, starting with the bike centerpiece.


I prefer Illustrator for this type of work as it’s incredibly fast and vectors are infinitely flexible. You can achieve fine detail and create repetitive elements with ease. For example, I used the Pattern brush to build the bike chain by simply repeating a shape along a vector path, creating a effect that would be a freehand tracing nightmare


Once the most detailed components, like the bike, were finished, I begin compiling them together into the final image, playing around with scale, placement and pattern. At this stage it was all about silhouette, shape and font – color and value taking the back seat. In the working file there were MANY iterations: different text treatments, sunburst effects and banners. Instead of a solid graphic object I created the cassette to place behind the bike, reinforcing the cycling theme.


Satisfied with all the elements of the design, I tested out some Threadless tee color swatches and chose grey as my primary shirt color. I was then ready to export the Illustrator file to Photoshop. By carefully separating the vector shapes into manageable working layers I saved a copy of the file as a Photoshop document. This took some trial and error as the export process can improperly flatten certain pieces, but was incredibly valuable in the long run – copying and reassembling all the pieces by hand as Smart Objects in Photoshop was NOT worth the hassle for a complex design.


Once I had the Photoshop file how I wanted with the correct layers, color mode, and resolution for printing, I began one of the most satisfying steps: distressing. Using a high resolution texture from a lithograph print of mine, I applied it at a variety of angles as layer masks to select design elements. Instant gratification!


When I had the all the pieces just right, I saved off a print-ready file and combine the elements down into just 2 layers, one for each color. This allowed me to completely change the colors of the graphic with a couple clicks if ever wanted to design for a different color shirt.”


And here it is: the final design, Free To Ride.


Big thanks to Chad for sharing his work process with us! You can view more of his work at his website

If you are a T shirt designer and would like to share your work with our readers please drop us a line with a link to your work.

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