robot rights, t-shirt design : the complete tutorial


A while ago a little birdy requested I write a tutorial about how ‘robot rights’ was put together. So here goes.

This is the t-shirt :

Step 1 – The Idea and the Process

Every t-shirt design starts with an idea and every t-shirt design ends up differently than originally planned.

This is because the process almost always throws up a new opportunity, something unexpected will happen or another idea will strike mid-way and change the way things are going. This is why, for me, the idea and the process are the most important things when designing a t-shirt.

Most of my designs will take a few hours a day over several days to put together. I love wallowing in the process; it’s a pleasure. It’s great to put something away and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes and then agonise over the composition or become anal about trivial details and colours.

When I started working on robot rights the idea was simply this : to use an existing photo but explore compositional techniques which ‘break the frame’.

Step 2 – The photo

I started with the cropped photo and an uncropped black and white version of the photo as two layers in photoshop. I worked at full resolution (10 megapixels).

This is the cropped photo :

This is the black and white photo, uncropped :

This is the two photos sitting together :

Step 3 – Selecting ‘break out’ elements

After much umming and arring, two pieces were chosen and cut out as the break out bits. They were chosen because of their diagonally opposite relationship to each other so that the composition retained balance and the placement further enhanced the left to right diagonal perspective in the image. The cut outs are shown here, each had it’s own layer.

Step 4 – Removing background stuff

This process was the same for the tree and the graffiti, so I’m just going to show the graffiti.

Because the image is black and white, things were a little simpler, but this technique should work for colour images too.

First off I needed to increase the contrast so that the graffiti would emerge from the surrounding stuff. For improving contrast I use curves. I love curves. In the image below you can see a distinctive ’S shape that I have manipulated in the curve (it starts off as a straight 45 degree line), this increases contrast but also allows you to control how much and where.

Click here for a comprehensive tutorial on curves and levels

To adjust curves, go to :


I then switched to levels to increase the contrast further, note that I have slid one of the tabs at the bottom of the histogram inwards to get maximum effect;


I then used curves one more time.


So that’s starting look pretty good and ready for the next step using the selection tool.

Step 5 – The Selection Tool

The final thing to do is remove the background stuff. To do this I used the selection tool.

Select>Colour Range

I used the eyedropper and clicked on the darkest area of the graffitti, the preview window shows what will be selected from the image, by adjusting the fuzziness slider you can see how much of the image will be selected. I maxed out the fuzziness slider and got a very clean selection. I hit ‘ok’ then inversed the selection (Select>Inverse) and hit ‘delete’. Perfect.

I did the exact same process for the tree and had to go in with the eraser tool to remove the powerlines which had also been selected. The final layout is below.

I then saved out a copy as a png file, opened up the trusty RB T-Shirt template and resized my png to 2400 pixels wide (Image>Image Size). I then dragged the resized png onto the template, placed the image where I wanted it, deleted the template layer and saved the file for upload to RedBubble.


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