Screenprint Masters – Scott Seibel

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Introducing the new Screenprint Masters series, aimed at giving an inside look into the minds of artists, printers and separators and how we work. For the inaugural entry, we talk to artist, Scott Seibel.

Scott Seibel - Illustration

It’s not often a Shelby Cobra 427 can rumble down the street without turning heads. It’s a thing of beauty, revered as an American icon for its classic lines and throaty grumble of its 7.0 liter engine to name a couple reasons, but who do you turn to when you need something so cherished recreated in all its glory? Scott Seibel, that’s who.

The hot rod tee is a fairly specialized category to which, Scott lends his expertise as an expert illustrator and, just as importantly, an expert separator. Here, we talk to Scott about how he got his start, some of his workflow habits and how he goes about handling certain aspects of the game, in this – the first installment of RSG’s Screenprint Masters Series. Enjoy!

Screenprint Masters – Scott Seibel

RSG: I’ve been doing this a long time now but as a traditional illustrator/artist, I didn’t get my start in screen-printing. How did you get your start professionally in the screen-printing world?

SS: My first screen shop job was in 1989 or so. I’d been working professionally as a designer and freelance illustrator for only a couple of years and I took a job in Tempe, AZ, not too far from my house. Those were good days for screeners, business was booming, but that would soon change. The art department was myself and six other production artists, a senior designer, and an art director and his assistant AD. Most everything was done by hand. We had a darkroom and a Macintosh computer used mostly for doing shapes and type, which would be shot onto clear film and spliced into the designs using clear tape. We did mostly collegiate licensed designs. I remember a huge filing cabinet with “slicks” – high-quality printed copies – of every college mascot. I learned the tools and methods of screen printing there and met people I would work with again later in my career.

RSG: In adding digital tools like Photoshop and Illustrator to your arsenal, how did it affect your work as an artist on a whole?

SS: It completely changed the way I worked. I was trained as an airbrush illustrator. Photoshop allows me to use the same techniques and style in a much more forgiving environment – no mess to clean up, no fumes and of course, the ability to erase mistakes with a keystroke. I came late to the digital world. I resisted… I hated computers throughout most of my early career and would only use them when I had to,usually for type. Once I finally mastered Photoshop, around the year 2000 or so, I saw the potential of being able to streamline my workflow. But the biggest revolution technology provided me was communication. The internet and email have allowed me to promote myself cheaply and easily and work with clients all over the world.

Scott Seibel

RSG: Amongst other things, you do quite a bit of work featuring cars and hot rods. How did you find yourself focusing in on that genre?

SS: Well, I come from an automotive family. My father owned an auto parts store when I was growing up and I’d sit in the shop and draw cars, auto parts, trucks as well as trains and planes. I developed a good sense of car anatomy. I love drawing all kinds of things, but I always came back to cars. A job I had in the early 2000’s had a lot of clients in the construction industry and I found myself drawing lots of heavy equipment, trucks, etc, as well as art for local car dealerships. As I developed a portfolio of vehicles done in digital media, I began promoting myself as an automotive artist and the response was positive, so my portfolio grew quickly. I love drawing cars, machines and chrome… all the different textures and the more detail the better.

RSG: There are a great deal of elements that make a great car design stand out from the crowd, e.g., perspective, layout, contrast, highlights, shadows, etc,. What do you find people often overlook when creating their own car designs?

SS: The car rendering itself is important, but there’s a certain look these designs have – the background graphics, the type treatments, the color schemes – that was the thing I had to really learn to do well. Racing designs especially, have a flashy, busy, loud look to them. That’s what I had trouble with when I started designing for this industry. Drawing cars was easy. Designing a great-looking t-shirt was the hard part. Making things fit and flow while still letting the cars be the focus. Greg Tedder, a mentor and friend I’ve come to know as I’ve been doing this, (truly, the originator of the screen-printed automotive look) once told me, “The cars are the stars.” Make a good design, but don’t overpower the cars with too much graphic treatment.

Scott Seibel

RSG: You’re obviously very skilled in Photoshop. If there were only one or two tips you could share with the screen-printers out there, what would they be?

SS: Photoshop is extremely powerful software. It does so much, it can be intimidating when you’re first trying to learn it. But I really only use a tiny part of what it can actually do. In fact, I remain ignorant to most of what it can do. I had some help from friends here and there, but I basically taught myself how to use it. I’m still learning it, really. The best way to learn is to just open it up and start using the tools. See what happens when you do this or that. Learn one or two new things every day, and before long, you’ll have enough knowledge to make art with it. I guess the best tip for screen printers, though, would be to learn about channels. That’s where the action is, that’s where the magic happens. Layers are important, but channels are vital to color separation.

RSG: When creating expressly for a tee shirt, what are some of the steps you take to ensure a better print?

SS: I always think of how the design will print. Colors, especially. I want the colors to be bright and the separation and printing process to be simple, so I try to keep in mind the number of colors with which the design will be printed and keep those colors balanced throughout the design. Knowing the shirt colors the design will be printed on is important as well, and that ends up being a huge part of the design itself. When I separate, I try to get good color coverage but I don’t want too much overlap of inks, so the design won’t print too thickly on the shirt, and thus be uncomfortable to wear.

RSG: Can you give us a run down of your workflow, i.e., start with a sketch, blackline, scan, color in PS, etc,?

SS: I usually start with a pencil sketch, but I’ll sometimes use photos and vector shapes and type made in Illustrator to get the basic layout designed. I’ll play with different layouts, moving things around till I’m satisfied. I’ll send this rough black and white layout to the client for approval. I like to get approval of the layout and spelling at this point. I typically allow one or two revisions to the sketch before I add charges. This helps keep things moving forward and it keeps the major revisions in the sketch stage where things are easy to change. Once layout, spelling and placement of elements are approved, I begin final rendering and adding color. Usually that starts in Illustrator, where I “draft” the outlines of the vehicle that I will use as selection areas (like cutting frisket in the old days) as well as set up the type and other graphic elements. I import the art in layers into Photoshop, then the real magic happens – digital painting and airbrushing, adding effects to type and other graphic treatments that give the design a more “finished” look than vector art alone. I send a color proof to the client where they have a chance to proof the colors and make any final, minor changes. Once that’s approved, I make the seps. Each job is different and I use a different workflow depending on the subject matter, time frame or complexity of the design. Sometimes, I sep after the design is done. Other times, I will render the art directly in the channels and the design is sepped and ready once I’m done. The big determining factors are design complexity, time frame and client pickiness. If we have a lot of time and the client isn’t sure what they want, a good layout sketch is important to get the design right before I spend time on final art. Changes made to final art are more time consuming and expensive to the client, so I try to work with the client early on, with sketches and layout proofs, to minimize surprises.

Scott Seibel

RSG: Do you use any specialized tools once in Photoshop like a tablet or the Cintiq?

SS: I have a Cintiq 21UX. It’s been a valuable tool for many years now. Yes, they’re expensive, but it was well worth it. For any traditionally-trained artist, it maximizes the ability to use traditional techniques in digital media. Many of my digital paintings look like they could have been done in analog media, because my “style” still shows through. I highly recommend biting the bullet and getting one if you make your living as a digital artist.

RSG: If there’s one tool or method within Photoshop or Illustrator you feel most screen-printers overlook the benefits of, what would it be?

SS: Good question, because there’s probably a lot of stuff that I overlook as well. I think a lot of people are intimidated by Photoshop itself and the idea of printing simulated process designs. There’s a learning curve, but it’s not as intimidating as it seems. If you have patience and skill as a printer to begin with, it opens a lot of doors. If a shop has an automatic press and a good set of screens, there’s no reason not to dive in. Another cool thing about Photoshop is that a color-sepped PSD design with spot channels can be placed into an open Illustrator page (or imported to a Corel Draw page) and the spot colors come with it and show up in the colors palette. Here, you can add vector elements using the same colors from the sepped PSD, add your registration marks and other job setup conventions, and print it out like you would a spot color vector design.

RSG: In preparing your images for color separations, do you add any specific alterations to the images to help with the separation process itself?

SS: Sometimes, when I’m hired to separate existing art, I like to brighten the colors a bit, make sure the blacks are truly black, things like that. When preparing my own art to separate, I keep each element in its own layer whenever possible. I’ll often sep each element in a design individually if I can, rather than the whole design at once. That way I have more control. While I’m working on a rendering, I will often save selections as alpha channels I can use later to help isolate certain colored areas.

RSG: Can you describe your separating workflow for us, i.e., prep the image, base first, select major colors, etc,?

SS: The first thing I do is start setting up the channels. One for the shirt color, then the white base, then the black, then the highlight white. Then yes, the primary colors first. Yellows and reds are the easiest to get with simple calculations. I usually have a copy or two of the design open so I can create channels in one copy and move them to the final copy. I approach each design differently, so its hard to stick to a routine. I have a few actions that I’ve automated, but mostly I like to do things longhand. I’ll use whatever sep technique is best for the job… everything from selecting color range to calculations to HSB, but most often I find myself just surgically selecting and inverting pieces of the RGB channels themselves. This is where having things in layers comes in handy, as well as making those alpha channels of my selections.

RSG: I love your gradations. Given any free space on press, do you usually separate them with light and a dark color only or do you employ a medium range color to help the transitions, i.e., using a yellow and a red only or employing an orange to help?

SS: I try to provide a gray plate to help keep the black under control. That helps with grayscale gradations. And yes, if I have space, I’ll provide a lighter or darker color to help with color gradients, especially blues. Having a cyan with a darker blue helps keep blues rich, rather than adding white. Yellow seems to play well with greens and reds, but sometimes a light green will be added to help out a darker green. A maroon to help shade red can add a richness to reds sometimes as well.. it all depends on what the dominant color is and as you mentioned, space on press.

And just for fun…

RSG: We’ve all had those clients from hell. Without naming names, tell us about one of yours.

SS: Nope. All of my clients are awesome! Okay, there are always the ones that want last-minute changes, the ones that make changes to already finished designs and such, but you learn ways to deal with them. Letting them know at the beginning that more changes mean higher fees helps, and getting paid for the extra work is never a problem for me. Sketches are important, as I mentioned, but you sometimes get the end clients that don’t fully understand the process. They look at a sketch and say, “The final design will be in color, right? The final art will have more detail than this, right?” I tend to weed out the ones I think are going to be difficult. The ones who want me to “work with them on price” on this first job, then promise more work in the future, or the ones who want me to copy someone else’s work or use unlicensed brands or characters… yeah, thanks, but I’m booked. Sorry.

RSG: What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever been asked to create?

SS: I don’t know, I’ve had some weird requests but I kind of like challenges. Some are kind of inappropriate to mention, sexual innuendos and such. But there’s not much I won’t do.

RSG: Do you still find yourself inspecting tee shirts and their print quality while out shopping?

SS: I do, especially automotive ones. I think everyone who works in this field does. Designers, especially, see the world in fonts and PMS colors. We pick them out and try to name them like birdwatchers do with birds. I often see shirts that were designed by people I know. I recognize different artists’ styles. And, of course, I occasionally see one that I did. What’s really awkward is studying a shirt that someone is wearing. People wonder why I’m staring at them, like they forget they’re wearing a print. My wife catches me looking at pretty girls. “It’s her shirt. Really, I swear.”

A big, “Thank you!” to Scott Seibel for his time and input! If you want to find out more about Scott or contract his services, please take a look at the following links.

Behance Profile: Scott Seibel
Facebook: Seibel Studio
Flickr: Scott Seibel
Linked In: Scott Seibel

Ben Lindsey
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Creative Director- Rising Sun Graphics

Ben Lindsey is a 15-year veteran of the apparel and licensing industry. He continues to educate, consult and produce high-end color separations for clients around the globe.

Ben Lindsey
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2 Responses

  1. Fluid
    | Reply

    Great Article. Scott is one hell of an artist. Have been friends for many years and always impressed with his work.

    • Ben Lindsey
      Ben Lindsey
      | Reply

      Thank you very much! I agree wholeheartedly with your enthusiasm for Scott’s work. Great artist and great guy!

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