weathering a logo vintage style

Vintage weathered logos became very popular a few years back, and can be a nifty addition to your bag of marketing & sub-branding tricks. The distressed retro “look” can’t be applied to every logo, but a worthwhile treatment if you can. A case study in weathering a logo variant.

Brands often want to create special event logos – anniversaries, festivals and other milestones – and these logo variants can be fun to work on, especially if the client is willing to allow some leeway on the original source design. The studio just wrapped up a decent little design project that featured a fairly popular style – referred to as “weathered” vintage, retro or “distressed,” depending on where you – and thought readers might like a closer look at how everything went together.

The project brief.

Kanata based Mixed Martial Arts Fitness Academy (they call themselves MMAFA for short) wanted to mark a milestone in their history – fifteen years in business – and were playing around with the idea of an anniversary logo or some such. They didn’t want a logo that was limited to this year specifically as the logo was to be reproduced on T-shirts and other swag, and those require a shelf life of more than just a couple of months. MMFA wanted the logo to note 2001, their opening year, using the EST (Established) descriptor. Being in business for a respectable period of time adds a level of credibility that comes with the implied (we do the same thing with our logo tagline.) The client had bumped into a vintage style logo they liked, thought the weathered style suited all their purposes. The sample they sent us even featured a tiger’s head (MMFA’s main brand features a tiger) and had varsity treatment they liked. If you’ve ever been in an Old Navy store, you’re familiar with this distressed “look” – cracked logo art that looks as if the T-shirt has been put through a few too many wash cycles and the ink has started to crack and peel off. People refer to this as all sorts of things – “stressed”, “distressed”, “vintage” and it became very popular a few years ago. They asked our studio if we could come up with something similar using their trademarked tiger character. There were going to be some challenges – their logo had to be reverse engineered into the style, we had to figure out some technical in actually applying the “weathered” look, but we’re always up for a design challenge. Turned out to be a project that was a lot of fun and ended up in a nice results.

Changing the tiger.

When first tackling this project, a concern was MMAFA’s tiger and the original rendering (The Logo Factory had designed the logo almost a decade ago.) Here’s what that handsome fella looks like:the original tiger logoStill works after all these years, but the cat is portrayed in a head-on, full frontal view. The concept for the new work called for a three quarter side view while still being recognizable as THEIR tiger. This is harder than it sounds. There is no “turn this tiger’s head into a 3/4 angle view” filer in Adobe Illustrator) and the new viewpoint would have to be created from scratch. The original logo was designed as flat art, with attention to visual fidelity only, paying scant attention to the anatomy of a real tiger’s head or real world physics. To build this new logo variant, we couldn’t simply slide bits and pieces of the tiger around. We had to now pay attention to the tiger’s features as they’d look applied on a real-word 3D head, all the while while remaining true to the original illustration, which never did. Here’s The before and after of how that reworked tiger head turned out:redrawing to three quarter viewIt’s not technically perfect or one hundred percent accurate but as we were bending the laws of physics to morph the tiger’s flat head front view into a fully formed three quarter view, by eyeball and vector pushing, it turned out not too shabby at all.

Retro fonts and typography.

The typefaces for the design were preordained. As the goal was to create a vintage style design, a script typeface for the words “Fitness Academy” was our only choice. We had to use a condensed slab-serif in the “Mixed Martial Arts” to arc around the tiger’s head, based on nothing but character count. “Mixed Martial Arts” is a fairly long phrase – any bolder and the type wouldn’t arc correctly, or would have to be too small for the design. The typeface selection for the 2001 numerals were an obvious choice too – varsity lettering like you’d find on the back of most football jerseys from the day. That font is ITC Machine, a fun little set we use in a lot of our own propaganda.) We needed to run a few pathfinder outlines around the numerals so that they’d stand out on both the light background of the color field and the dark color of the T-shirt itself. Here’s the typography in its raw form, with and without the tiger logo added:
T-shirt typography layoutOnce we had our basic framework, we just needed to line everything up visually, add some colour fill and drop shadows (armed with the knowledge that the logo was going to printed on dark T-shirts.)Pre Weathered Effect>That’s looking nice. Now, on to weathering the design.

The vintage weathered look.

Some people tend to believe the weathered “crackle” effect is created post print, by washing the T-shirt a million times or crushing the shirt until bits of ink crack and peel off. Nope. The distress look is added during production of the artwork itself and while the technique requires a little tinkering to get it “right” it’s not terribly difficult once you know how to do it. Take a look at this image, created from a vector source:retro-stressed-pattern-tileThat’s your weathered effect right there. That image show a series of simple and random vector shapes, created using noise in Photoshop and Image Traced in Illustrator (there’s an online application called Vector Magic that’ll do the same sort of thing.) By placing the vector pattern on top of our logo (making sure it’s on top of EVERYTHING) we can begin.how to weather a logoAt left is our weathered pattern as it looks filled with white, sitting on top of the design. At right is that same pattern set to the colour of the background (which is a fairly close match to our T-shirt fabric colour.) Voila, a vintage weathered logo that looks old and tired. We still had to hand edit the pattern slightly, removing chunks where they obscured details – the tiger’s eyes for example – and had to add a few pieces where it was sparse. Just a few more technical steps and we’re ready for print.

Weathering a logo for a T-shirt – actual art.

When creating artwork for a T-shirt (unless we’re going with full tilt CMYK,) the colour of the T-shirt is going the darkest colour of the logo itself. In this case, the darkest colour in our design is that blut. This means the T-shirt fabric has to “show through” holes in the art itself and the dark colour in our design has to be deleted entirely. When weathering art, this also applies to the little crackle holes, currently sitting on top of our design – but which have to be “cut out” of the design in order for everything to work. We have to “blow out” the distress pattern using the Pathfinder tool in Illustrator and then delete the dark colour shapes that are left. It’s a difficult concept to write about, so let’s take a look at how the actual artwork looks once we’re finished. Keep in mind the white areas is where the shirt color would show through.weathered effect T-shirt logo on white backgroundAnd there you have it. Weathered logo artwork that’s prepped prepped for T-shirts and ready for print. Pick colors and away you go. Here’s what the art looks like when dropped on an actual T-shirt:weathered logo on T-shirtIf you’re a designer reading this, a couple of really important things to keep in mind – “blowing out” the weathered crackle holes is destructive and renders your artwork non-editable. Keep a pristine version that hasn’t been trimmed should you ever need to go back to the drawing board. Also, group objects – preferably by colour – often. That weathered pattern contains a lot of shapes. You don’t want to been chasing errant vector polygons all over your Illustrator screen.