HOW TO MAKE HOT STAMPS
Hi-res imaging... in shiny metal foil... on a flying object... is awesome. Good custom stamps are a small but valuable piece of the big puzzle in moving disc golf forward. Only board sports have as much image area and emphasis on equipment decoration. For golf discs, it is a large high-quality image platform with strong ties to the fine art printmaking tradition. As a unique art medium, the canvas is an aircraft to be launched by the viewer. An event stamp is the visual key to memories, making it valuable to players and TDs alike. Great stamps make great events more memorable, and sweet discs even sweeter.
The average stamp kinda sucks, and we can change that.
This guide covers:How a Stamp Happens
Technology & Techniques
Design Tips for Stamps
How to Get and Do a Gig
What to ChargeHow it Happens:
A metal die is made from your submitted image file using laser engraving. At the manufacturer's factory, the die is placed on the hotstamp machine and a heated element warms up the die. A spool of foil goes across the disc, the die is brought down making contact with the foil against the disc, and the heated areas of foil are adhered to the slightly melted plastic. That's how a hi-res image is reproduced in foil on plastic.Design Idea Bank:
- Mad Lib -- Noun from event name, location, context, history: ______________________
Option: Turn it into a basket.
Option: Add disc golf to it, visually or conceptually.
- It spins. Make that look cool.
Option: You're in a circle not a square. Jam on that.
- Is there a history to the event and/or stamp? Jam on that.
Option: Nod to it.
Option: Do Rad if it sucked last year; do Radder if it was rad.
- Verbal description of the image/scene, how hard does it make you laugh?
Option: Whoooa man; deep and/or trippy, or detailed.
- Art history. You're doing illustration, it can be any style or genre.
... And Option for All:
Make it old-school or funky fresh, and anywhere in betweenTechnology:
Illustrator and/or Photoshop, or GIMP and/or Inkscape -- best setup is vector program + pixel program
For vector submissions with text, select all and "expand". All lettering must be shapes, not text... they don't have your fonts.
Always do pixel work at or above 600 dpi grayscale; finish to pure black/white with a "threshold" ... no gray pixels in submission file
JPG is safe for delivery only @ maximum quality pure b/w, 300 or 600dpi. You can never go wrong with a single-layer pure b/w pixel submission that meets their dpi specs. They can't screw that up, only you can.
Ask manufacturer for file specs; Innova has the largest stamp diameter and best stamping quality; and highest submission spec with 600dpi vs 300, and shows in the stamp detail
Try to keep solid areas of black smaller than 8pt in width -- foil needs airholes or it can bubble and tear
Look at stamps from that manufacturer for an idea of the level of detail they can handle. Thin lines can drop out -- they may be optically insignificant or they may wreck your design. Thin positive lines work 10x better than thin negative lines (it's negative if it is surrounded by a wider black area). Lines dropping from text is almost never good. They will warn you about problem spots, and you can OK the "potential errors" or fix them. They charge to fix it themselves -- be good to your TD.
The quarter-sized area in the center of the disc is the most prone to a flaw with extremely bold or thin lines
For pixel drawing, use layer opacity modes (multiply, screen, normal) and masks (on layers and/or groups), and all combinations of both. Be fluent in layering with these modes and masks and groups. Use layers like hell and stack black/white pieces -- drawing, imagery, or text. Best drawing practice is many layers within a group, with objects separated to groups. Never paint with a brush with any softness or falloff... should be 100% edge. Soft = gray pixels.
Whenever you scale a layer in pixels, duplicate the layer and keep an original copy -- move it to a group of hidden/unused objects if it's in the way. Never scale pixels more than once if you can help it, go back and scale a new copy of the original. Scaling = artifacts = gray pixels.
Vector programs are better for comping and scaling pixel objects as separate files, then exported to a flat file -- that's one scale after endless editing
For comping pixels in vector, place the pixel image as a linked file. You can edit the pixel file in full layers, and have your saved changes show in the open vector file.
Don't throw away layers or objects in a pixel file. Bounce to a new file at will -- save it, open a duplicate (in PS's History tab, Create New from Current State) ... remove unneeded layers, flatten groups, chop layers, whatever. Keep a full history from sketch to final, for any version of any object.
Same for a vector file -- hide unneeded objects in groups and layers, and bounce to a new file instead of deleting anything
A pen/tablet rig will change your life. Get the largest you can afford, but even budget micro-tablets are 100x better than a mouse. Scanning paper and extensive gray processing is better than drawing with a mouse.Design Tips for Spinning Circles:
Make a sweet template for stamp files in all your programs, work on a big circle and not a square. Best is a full white disc circle on a black/gray screen. Make a light gray line circle as a guide for the stamp area.
Remember the large negative space (bare plastic) around your stamp, and let it interact with negative space inside your stamp -- know that if you ride the circle you cut them off as separate entities... the wing looks more blank and the stamp looks more busy. Stamps breathe better on the disc with a good variety of this interaction.
Use interesting fonts -- avoid boring line widths and boring lines. Look up "text on a path" and "warp" for your programs. Look up "kerning" and use it always, especially in curved text. For best editability of text use the vector program. Learn the strengths and limitations of text in your pixel program.
Look up "blend" for Illustrator, along with "replace spine" for blends. This is for transitions or copies of objects. A ring of stars is a blend. Read Fun with the blend tool
and Shapes around a circle
Look up the "align" panel for Illustrator -- same principles in Photoshop. You can do a lot with aligns and distributions.
Learn your program's key commands and modifiers... shift and option and cmd do a whole lot in Adobe. You need to know how to make circles from the corner and the middle, option and shift constraints on angles and scaling, and selection +/- tricks.
The Spin Test for Photoshop... to see what it looks like when spinning: Tab to hide tools, FF.. to cycle to the no-menu/black view, cmd-H to hide selection points, on a composited stamp layer -- cmd-A to select all, cmd-T to transform, mouse to a corner till the rotate tool comes on, click in the corner... drag to the inside of the disc, start moving the mouse in small circles.. and the stamp will spin around on the screen without any extra selection lines or even a cursor How to Get and Do a Gig:
Find out about tournaments in your area, or seek out people on the web who are running events, or know of an event (the closer to the TD the better)
Talk to club board members or event directors -- tell them you're an artist with knowledge of hotstamp design, and offer them ideas or samples of past work. You want them to be glad you're on board, so communicate well and instill confidence in the quality of the end product.
Hit them with strong concepts, but also be open to their ideas -- the best guidance for a collaborative effort is short and simple. Ask them for a few key words for inspiration, and come back with some concepts or sketches. Take their feedback and develop ideas further, and show again. If they give you a detailed idea or scene, you'll likely just be executing a picture they see mentally, leading to the least satisfying product and experience. If you are stuck painting their imagination, at least make every line and artistic decision as awesome as it could possibly be... don't give up, it doesn't suck yet, it only sounds like it sucks. If it's weak in concept, make it extra strong in form.
Be mindful of the current processing time for the manufacturer. Innova can be up to 7 weeks in a backlog, so get your stamp together on time. Give Gateway a massively long leash. Rush shipping can add hundreds to an order and completely blow the event's margin. An event with no plastic is your potential disaster.
Don't let the client screw you around with revisions -- prevent that with open communication. You need to lay out a concept and/or style and agree to it, showing sketches or drafts along the way. If you spend 5 hours on a finished product, only to hear, "oh hey, what if we did this instead, and you redid everything?", you have been screwed.
If you want more stamp work, it helps to market yourself as a stamp artist. Sign your work. Make a website. Show off work you're proud of, anywhere -- casual rounds, the event, the web. Have your name listed as a sponsor... get a name/logo on the site, on the program, on the t-shirt, on a tee sign, whatever. Sweet discs will become known regionally, and a happy TD who's gotten good work will spread the word, and gigs will roll in.What to Charge:
Graphic design can be a highly-skilled and valuable trade at the pro or semi-pro level. That said, you're helping disc golfers do something for disc golfers and disc golf, with not much capital, and for meager profit at best. Do what you can to help them out, if that means taking payment in plastic or entry fee, or a reduced contract rate. Only large sponsored events have the budget to pay skilled laborers for their work, and don't be afraid to get money from events like this. Money comes and goes easily, and I personally find that getting "prints" of my art is much more satisfying than meager cash.
Event entry is valuable, and not a bad way at all to pay for your tournaments. If the event isn't local, plastic is the next best currency.
A good rate for plastic depends on the size of the event, and the size of the plastic order. You're looking for fair pay, not to blow any margin on plastic or take 10% of the order. I ask for minimum one disc of each model stamped, or 5 discs total if fewer than 5 models are run. T-shirts and other swag are also prints of your art, and you should get one of any type of print.
Be able to offer your client some options. Show samples of work with varying complexity, and let them decide the balance of cost. Great stamps can be made through a wide range of techniques and styles, and there's no reason that a good designer can't produce designs with budget-friendly technique and scope, all the way to intricate fine art.
Never ever enter a design contest. Why logo design contests don't work
. Getting a big prize is cool, if you're willing to (more likely) do your best effort for free, to be judged by a cheapskate non-artist who's already proven they don't have the eye or sense to choose a designer the smart way. Clients are better off choosing an artist they want to work with, based on their past work and their vision, instead of working with nobody and picking from the haphazard results of non-communication. Send that link, along with samples of your work, to any client you'd like to work for, who is going for the contest route -- many people don't realize how bad a contest is for their design quality. Don't put significant creative time into a project until it's locked in and you have an agreement.In Closing:
Make stuff you think is awesome, and trust that you have good taste in frisbee imagery. If you have the honor of producing a stamp, don't screw it up... assume that someone else would crush it, and you can't do any less than that. Don't try to crush it with anyone's style but your own, because that's the one you do best and the one you should develop. It's abstract math, and the right solution is unique to each artist. Your software is like your bag, and you should know it inside and out, so that you can execute any idea or direction without technical hurdles. The actual production should never seem like a technical exercise.
To see stuff I've done, check out my gallery at ZAMdesign.com
The collection there is only 14 months out of date