San Diego Graphic Tee Design

Cities each have their own unique personality.  I should know – I’ve lived in a lot of them.

Like, A LOT, I realized after I set myself the task of creating a graphic for each one.  I had to limit myself to major metropolitan areas, which gave me a good set of 12.  I may, next year, go back and complete the entire list of… 30+, but for this year while I’m focused more on web design, I decided 12 was a good start.

First batter up is my hometown of San Diego.

San Diego is a laid-back place.  We love to be outside, eat good food, drink good drink, and if any of these activities take place in proximity to the ocean, our happiness level goes way up.

And we love our graphic tees.  More than any other city design I do, this one needs to look like it could go on a tee-shirt or hoodie.

I lived here as a child, and a lot of my memories from here are from the 80s, so I wanted to give my San Diego script a vintage, beachy feel.

I found a reference font with lots of over-sized loops, and a fun, California attitude, and I sat down with my pencil and a sketch pad.

I did a second sketch that was cleaner, but my first dumpster-fire of a sketch was actually the stronger reference, so I ended up using that.

San Diego Hand Sketch

I am not the best sketch artist.  I was so focused on my reference typeface that I even left out the “e” in San Diego.  Fortunately, all can be repaired in Illustrator.

I went through a few drafts of different letters.  In the end, it was the “g” I fell in love with, and I kept coming back to that letter as my strongest stylistic reference when modifying the other letters.

First Digital Draft of Script for San Diego

I photographed the hand sketch and brought it into my iPad, where I started tracing and cleaning up the letters in Affinity.  I’m still learning Affinity, so the next day, I brought the SVG into Illustrator to clean it up more before bringing in a reference font to work out sizing and spacing.

I used to do letterpress by hand, with lead type and the whole 9, so I’m pretty comfortable lining up my typeface myself, but things are always cleaner if you have a font reference.

The font I used for spacing was not the same typeface I had used as a visual reference, but they shared a lot of characteristics.  I love the big, bubbly, flower-power, pseudo-nouveau style.

Benoa Script

This typeface actually did some things I didn’t like, and I tweaked my script to correct some things here.

Traditionally, letters with curves sit below the baseline for the other letters.  While the curve of the “a” and the “o” sit nicely below the baseline, I didn’t think the “e” was deep enough, so I lowered it.  The bowl of my “g” takes up the entire x-height, so I gave it the same treatment.

San Diego Finished Script

I gave the “S” a lot more heft, and simplified my “D” as I wasn’t liking the spiral design.  It was a bit more Burton than Benoa.

To get the “e” right, I turned the “a” upside-down and edited it.

I made an effort to bring the ocean into the letters.  Working in this color helped, and I tried to make each shape have something in it that made the curve of an ocean wave.

I wanted a graphic to sit behind it of a sun setting over the ocean, and I wanted to bring in that 70s/80s style again.

Graphic of the Sun Setting Over the Ocean

After a few false starts, I had my sun.  I started with a circle and divided it using rectangles in increasing ratios of 1.618 – because why would you not use the golden ratio when you have the option?

I gave it a feathered, transparent glow behind the divided circle, and bisected it all by two ocean waves.

Script Placed Over Sun Graphic

Set behind the script, it looked pretty good.  It’s a bit of a 70s/80s mashup, but I’m having fun with it.

I didn’t like the way the outline didn’t connect on the “S” and the “g”, making them look like one merged shape rather than loops overlapping themselves, so I decided to create those divisions by hand.

I had to have a little conversation with myself as I did that, as if I were going faithfully by how the script had been handwritten, the last strokes should be on top, giving the squiggle after the body of the “S” priority.  But it just looked odd, so I went the conventional route and put the main body of the “S” in front, leaving the flourish at the back.

The blue of the waves was also far too subtle, so I needed to brighten those up.

Color Correction for the Sun and Ocean

Now we’re starting to look like a tee-shirt!

To finish it off, I added a grunge texture to distress the graphic a little and make it look more like it would on fabric after years of wear, or just for a stylish textured first printing.

San Diego Final Design

There’s more cleanup I could do, and would do if this were going to a shop, but for a quick project, It’s pretty fun.

Stay tuned for the next design!  Maybe your city will be next!