Every skateboarder has wondered how fire their own graphics would be if they ever got the chance to make them, but thankfully most of us are too lazy, broke, or busy skating to actually print up and sell our own boards. However, if you really want to try your hand at designing your own boards, here’s a short guide to help you on your way.
We talked with Zac, the owner and designer of Lamebrain Skateboards, to take us through all the steps from brainstorming graphic ideas to printing and selling boards in shops.
He even shared a Photoshop template you can use for mocking up your own designs (sorry trend setters, popsicle-shapes only). If you don’t have Photoshop, you can still use the template in free programs or online.
This doesn’t include every single detail needed to succeed as a business, but if you want to know what it takes to at least get a one sheet of graphics ready for your imagined brand’s fall drop, this’ll do.
PART 1: BRAINSTORM & SKETCH
The first step when designing new graphics is to just brainstorm. I throw ideas out there, trends, dumb things to make fun of. Once I have a good amount of ideas on paper I narrow the selection to what I think can translate to a board, then do really rough concept sketches to show how the graphic might work on a board.
I don’t sketch every graphic, only the ones where I need an image to work with and manipulate. If I make a sketch, I draw it in pencil first then go over in marker so when I scan it into the computer I have bold enough lines to draw from.
PART 2: DIGITAL DESIGN
I do some graphics in Photoshop, others in Illustrator, depending on the kind of graphic I’m working with. I have a board template that shows the sizing on the board and the truck placement, which you can download here to play with.
Like any print job you need to understand the importance of your trims. You don’t want an important part of the board to get trimmed off or your full bleed to actually stop a quarter of an inch before the edge of the graphic. That’s why a correct template is so important. So you don’t waste money on fucked up shit!
I recommend 300 DPI image resolution for the design file. If you find an image on Google that you want to incorporate, but it’s 72 DPI, it will be blurry as fuck when you blow it up on the board.
We do most of our graphics as vectors because they can scale as big or small as you want while keeping their quality (for more on working with vector graphics, check out this tutorial).
I also recommend using CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) color scheme for graphic files. Sometimes colors on the computer don’t look how you planned once they’re printed, so I print tests of designs on paper from my home printer to see if the colors are what I planned.
It also doesn’t hurt to have some Pantone swatches (available for free in the paint department of your local hardware store). If you have a specific color you’re trying to hit, you can design with that Pantone color number and you know it’s going to hit that color pretty damn close when it prints.
This process might take 10 versions. I lay a graphic out, show it to some people get feedback, think of a new idea later, etc. Once the final process is done I send the graphics off to the distributor and wait for the final product.
PART 3: MANUFACTURE
After I finish designing my graphic on the Photoshop template, I remove the template guidelines and send the image to the manufacturer so all they receive is the artwork.
They place my art on their own digital template and send me a picture to make sure I am 100% cool with the placement on the board before we start printing. Then they do a test print on a board and send it to me to approve before printing the whole run. It’s a way to make sure we don’t waste money and notice too late that something doesn’t look right.
To find a manufacturer, we started out the same way everyone usually does, by literally Google searching custom skateboard manufacturers. But doing it this way didn’t give us lots of freedom. We also weren’t really making any profit because we ordered such small quantities that our price was pretty high (most distributors I talked with require a minimum order of 100 boards for one graphic). Then at the Agenda trade show we had a few distributors approach us and we were exposed to companies we didn’t find by on Google.
The price of printing boards is about $12-16 per board, maybe a bit higher since the cost of wood is on the rise. And if you find the right distributor you can have a say in the board shapes, concave, top stain colors, custom molds, foils, etc. Just understand all the bells and whistles cost more.
PART 4: SALES
Cold calling or emailing your catalog to skate shops sucks but it’s a necessary evil. You have to hit up stores, you have to try and get product moving or else this is just an expensive hobby.
I think your first step should always be to try and get your product into your local shop. If your local shop isn’t supporting you then you’re gonna have a tough time convincing a store owner halfway across the country to take a chance on your brand when they have local brands there that already have ties to the community.
I think the biggest mistake a lot of smaller brands make is thinking that putting their name on something is gonna sell. You have to have something that attracts people because you are fighting for space against well-known brands. Baker can sell boards with their name on it because people know Baker, but the same rule doesn’t apply to you because you don’t have that brand recognition yet. You have to think outside the box to get a kid to take a chance on your board.