New ESPN column today — here’s the link.
Meanwhile: Got an interesting note the other day from reader Steve Shanabruch: “Check out these football and baseball patches that my digital illustration teacher designed for Upper Deck, the card company. According to his blog, ‘On this project they asked me to create a set of embroidered patch designs they could sew onto uniform swatches they would then use on a special set of trading cards.’ ”
Leaving aside the question of why anyone would want a uniform swatch with a patch that wasn’t originally part of the uniform, this project interests me because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role of digital media in patch design. Take, for example, the 30th-anniversary patch that the Mariners will be wearing this season: It looks really great as digital art, but a lot of the detail (especially the two stadiums in the foreground) is lost in the embroidered version.
I’ve noticed lots of similar examples in recent years. And it seems to me that one reason for this is that digital illustration programs allow a designer to include all sorts of small details that wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago — and maybe that was for the best, because many of those details don’t translate very well to the finished product. If you look at designs that Shanabruch’s instructor has created for Upper Deck, most of them seem to avoid this problem, because they’re fairly simple and don’t have many teeny-tiny elements. (Most of them are also much too cartoon-ish for my tastes, but that’s a separate issue.)
My go-to guy for patch design questions, as he is for so many other uni-related issues, is Todd Radom, who’s designed loads of MLB and NFL patches over the years. So I gave him a ring to pick his brain about patch design:
Uni Watch: What sorts of things do you have to think about when designing a patch?
Todd Radom: There are always going to be translations to be made between the art and the patch. You’re giving this piece of art to National Emblem, or whoever’s gonna embroider the thing, and the way they interpret it will determine what the final product looks like.
UW: So how can you ensure that the interpretation will be, y’know, accurate?
TR: One thing you always have to keep in mind is that Pantone flat colors do not seamlessly translate to thread colors. Also, I try to keep all of the line weights, if not necessarily simple, then practical. You want to have thick lines that will not disappear when they turn into thread. Also, I keep in mind that in a live environment, like if you go to a ballgame, these patches are tiny little things.
UW: Yeah, but they’re more visible on TV.
TR: And that was my next point. I think the ultimate determining factor is not how it feels in your hand or how it looks in person, but how it translates into broadcast. So you always have to think practically, and you have to think that when it gets translated into patch form, it’s going to take on some dimension that changes things. Now, I’m looking around my office here — you’ve been here, and as you’ll recall, I have a bunch of patches that I’ve created and I have them framed on the wall. And to me, some of them are just an absolute seamless transition from art to patch, and some are not. You constantly learn about the challenges of that transition. Also, keep in mind that, for the most part, sleeve patch designs are utilized in other applications — in print advertising, on little enamel pins, signage, whatever — so you need to think in a very versatile way.
UW: Do you think the flexibility and “You can do anything” factor of digital illustration make it easy to get carried away with things that might not translate as well?
TR: Absolutely. There has to be a certain amount of self-editing.
UW: Did you design any patches in the pre-digital era?
TR: That’s a good question. Hmmm — yes, I did.
UW: And was that a different process, because you didn’t have the technical flexibility or the wide range of options offered by the computer?
TR: Not really. Also, embroidery techniques have changed over the past 15 years, in lockstep with design capabilities.
UW: You mean the creative side and the production side have both gotten more sophisticated at roughly the same rates?
TR: Yeah, it’s sort of a parallel evolution.
It’s worth noting, incidentally, that the translation from art to patch isn’t always a downgrade. Case in point: the patch that the Brewers will be wearing this season. The digital version looks nice enough, but the actual patch is much better, thanks to all the texture and depth provided by the embroidery.
What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate: For reasons that we can’t quite figure out, I’m suddenly receiving a small avalanche of old e-mails, most of them dated in the March 5th-15th range. It’s not clear why I didn’t receive them when you originally sent them, but if you sent me a good photo contribution or asked a good question and I never wrote back or acknowledged your communiquÃ©, this is probably why. Now that I’m receiving them, I’ll try to deal with them as efficiently as I can.
Uni Watch News Ticker: The No Mas blog has a nice little bit here about Antero Nittymaki’s mask. … As an aside, No Mas has become my favorite sports commentary on the web. The blog, most of it written by Dave “Large” Larzelere, just oozes intelligence, plus it’s funny, caustic, and has a voice that’s completely its own. There’s occasionally coverage of stuff I don’t care about, like pro wrestling, but whatever — the rest of the material is as sharp as anything in sports media today. Essential reading. Check it out here. … Amazing archival find by Larry Cauley, who was going through some old family photos and found this. Man, there are so many things to love about this shot — the noseguards, the stripes, the varsity sweaters, the pennants, the coach with the stopwatch. One for the ages! … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: Good article here about Barry Zito’s glove, which might be ruled illegal because of the dark leather with contrasting white laces. … Are there any NHL players besides Ryan Smyth who wear blue blade holders? (Good catch by Matthew Guggenheimer.) … Remember Curtis Granderson’s “Don’t Think, Have Fun” underbill inscription from last year? He discusses it briefly in the third item of this Q&A page (with thanks to Laura Koenig). … Latest university to tell a high school team, “Hey, you kids, get off my lawn!”: Wyoming. … More news you may have missed from yesterday’s comments: The Tigers have a kid in camp who has an MLB logo tattoo. … And Tony LaRussa has a tattoo as well, which is sort of a frightening thought. … Score one for the anti-corporatization movement. … “Heres something odd (and, in my opinion, stupid),” writes Michael Alper. “Northern Illinois introduced a new men’s basketball head coach today. At the presser, they had him pose with a jersey. This coach never will wear a NIU jersey in a game. Lame.” … Good exhibit here on the history of ice skates and their impact on Canadian culture (with thanks to Stephen Tod). … Now that David Wells has been diagnosed with diabetes, will he end up wearing an insulin pump on his belt, like Jason Johnson? … At first I thought there was a missing letter, but it turns out that that’s the guy’s actual name (not unlike this).