When I was 8 years old, my dad built our house. And I mean literally built it. Like, lifted-adobe-bricks-with-his-very-own-arms built our house. To this day, when I go home for a visit, we'll be hanging out in one of the brick-walled rooms, snacks in hand, and he'll say, mostly to himself, "I made this."
It feels good to work with your hands. It feels good to put something together, in the real world, especially if 1) it looks nice and 2) you can use it and 3) the thing you use it for is something you love.
Is customizing a skateboard deck as involved a process as building a house? No.
Can it be a super rewarding process for both you and the kid involved? Absolutely it can.
Here, loosely organized by difficulty and cost, are a passel of options for personalizing your kid's skateboard with custom design.
How To Make A Custom Skateboard Graphic With An Inkjet To Wood Transfer
You've probably seen similar tutorials all over Pinterest--how to make a cute photo keepsake on an old piece of driftwood, for example. Same process! Cooler result.
You should be able to get a matte gel medium (to attach the photo to the board) and a transparent varnish (i.e. Mod Podge, to protect the photo once it's transferred) for around $20-30 total, at any art supply store.
Important Note: Keep in mind that whatever photo or graphic you do this with will end up backwards, so factor that in when choosing something. Avoid text--or flip the text (or photo!) with a free photo editing software like Canva.
How To Make A Custom Skateboard Graphic With Vinyl
Cost: Vinyl cost varies widely--could be free (see below*), could be $30. You can pick up a heat gun for $22 on Amazon. Squeegees cost anywhere from $3-$10.
I know the video above looks complicated. But it doesn't have to be! In fact, vinyl is a fantastic option for people who look at the "cut your design out with X-Acto knives" tutorials and think "Uh, no? Maybe YOU can cut out a tiger and have it look perfect, but I'm lucky if I can cut a straight line."
What You Don't Really Need:
1. A working knowledge of vinyl-cutting software/to own a vinyl cutter
I don't know if you've noticed, but MakerSpaces are springing up all over the globe, and many of them provide A) vinyl cutters, B) helpful staff who will walk you through the process of plugging your design into the machine.
*Some schools have free vinyl AND free vinyl cutters for students/staff! This obviously depends on the area, but at Arizona State University, that's how I saved my Senior Art Show group a few bucks on our show title wall decals.
If that's not an option for you, there are also a billion and a half businesses that will happily cut and send you vinyl--they're kept in business by artists/galleries/etc. who put up wall text for new shows.
If you're still not convinced it's mainstream, FedEx will do this. For other options, Google "custom vinyl decal" or "cheap custom vinyl decal."
2. A super-complicated design
You can make a design that's all basically one piece of vinyl, which saves you hours of trying to perfectly place letter colors inside letter outlines. (Unless your kid really has their heart set on lettering, in which case...roll up your sleeves, put on a funny podcast, and call it family bonding time.)
Some possible designs that look cool, but are all in one easy piece:
What You Really Actually Need:
1. A design made in Adobe Illustrator (or another vector software)
Why? Vinyl softwares just won't work without it.
2. A heat gun
Why? Hair dryers won't work here--they don't get hot enough.
3. A squeegee
Why? You don't want your vinyl to have any air bubbles.
How To Make A Custom Skateboard Graphic With A Stencil And Painter's Tape
Cost: ~$7 per spray paint color, $4 per roll of painter's tape, ~$10 for spray adhesive
This blog article by Nubby Twiglet does a great job at explaining the process of this multi-step, fairly involved process. (Again: podcast, family bonding time.)
For the sake of keeping things simple, I'll also summarize here:
Step 1: Get a blank skateboard deck.
Step 2: Design (either on a computer or by hand) the stencil you're going to use to spray paint the deck. You might need to print out/draw on multiple sheets of paper and tape them together, like with the wood transfer process.
Step 2: Start with a base coat of spray paint (i.e. white). Let it dry for a full day.
Step 3: Cover the entire bottom of the deck in painter's tape.
Step 4: Cover the taped side of the deck with spray adhesive.
Step 5: Attach the back of the paper design to the spray adhesive. (The design should be facing up!) Remove the excess with an X-Acto knife.
Step 6: What's the first color you're going to spray? For example, if you have a design that's going to be blue and black, cut out all the parts of the stencil that are supposed to be blue. (Make sure you cut through the paper AND the layer of painter's tape.)
Step 7: Spray your first color! Let dry. (It should dry within 10 minutes or so.)
Step 8: Repeat steps 6-7 until you've gone through all the colors you plan to use. Remember--whenever you're spraying a new color, use painter's tape to cover up the parts of the board that are NOT supposed to be that color.
Step 9: Ride and enjoy!
How To Make Things Super Easy
Of course, the more complicated your kid's dream design is, the harder it's going to be to execute.
But, if they want to play around with spray paint or acrylic paint until they get something free-form and Jackson Pollock-y, or use the painter's tape process to cut out/tape/spray paint some simple triangles, that process will be fairly painless.
Finally, if you want to check out the process of a professional graphic designer, watch this video! (Plus, if you love the design, there's a link to it in the description.)
Photo credit: Benjamin Horn (photo was modified from its original form)
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