Shop Talk

How to Create an Ugly Christmas Sweater Design

There’s no better way to ring in the holidays than with an ugly Christmas sweater. We refer to them as “rockin awesome joyous jumpers”, but either way they’re sure to make any party more festive and egg nog even noggier.

The great thing about ugly Christmas sweaters, is that they can feature a seemingly endless about of elements and combinations. This gives you, as an artist, the ability to make a unique sweater design that will appeal to those with your particular brand of style. Maybe you want to create a sweater design all about tacos, or heavy metal, or even sloths contemplating complex math equations. With that in mind, we have a few helpful files and a quick start tutorial to help bring your ugly sweater dreams to life.

Installing the Patterns

There are many methods to creating sweater patterns, from buying Photoshop actions that will help, to creating a pixel art design such as the one seen above by Hillary White. For the purposes of this tutorial, and to make it easier for those using a wide variety of image editors, we have a PSD file and a pattern set you can download here. Before opening the PSD, you’ll want to install the .pat file into Photoshop. You can easily do that by choosing the Paint Bucket tool > select ‘Pattern’ in the drop down > select arrow next to the pattern preview > click the gear icon. From there you can choose “Load Patterns…“. Once this is done you can open the supplied PSD file.

Using the PSD

Looking at the supplied PSD file, you’ll see three main layers. The first layer is to add your artwork, the second is a red background to help you visualize your design, and the third layer/folder contains two extra knit pattern layers. These can be used if your image editor can’t install the supplied .pat file, or you can also just use these two layers, duplicate them as needed, change colors, and work in a way that best fits your style.

Focusing on the first layer, this is where you’re going to place all of your shapes and illustrations. It’s easiest to add all of the elements using the same color, in this case white, as we’ll be merging this layer with a darker layer in order to prep for the next step.

Prepping the Art Layer

Now that we have all of the art added to a single layer, we’re going to add a layer underneath this > fill it with black > and then merge the two layers together. You should have something similar to the image on the right.

The reason we want to merge the white art layer with the solid black layer, is that we’re going to apply some filters and adjustments that’ll make it easier when we use the supplied patterns, or use the supplied knit layers.

Applying the Effects

The pattern file and extra knit layers come in two different sizes, 16px and 24px, which represent the pixel size of each single knit graphic. This will make more sense once we apply the effects. Select your merged art layer and choose Filter>Pixelate>Mosaic, for the  ‘Cell Size’ choose 16 for small knit or 24 for larger knit, in this case we are using 16px. Click ok, and you’ll notice your art layer is now pixelated.

Next, with this layer still selected, go to Image>Adjustments>Posterize, and choose ‘2’. This reduces the number of colors and will make the art layer look more like classic pixel art. This trick can be used to get you started on created a pixel sweater design, but we’re going to add one more layer with the knit effect.

Pro-tip: Depending on how your graphics look when pixelated, you may want to take some time to use a square pencil brush and do some touch ups. The better this layer looks, the better it will look once the knit pattern is applied.

Applying the Pattern

Now that your design layer is pixelated, we’re going to apply the pattern. Make sure the design layer is selected and choose Select > Color Range and then in the popup Select > Highlights and make sure you can see the pixel art. Click ok and all the white pixels should be selected. Now, click CMD+N (Control+N on PC) and a new layer will be created above your design layer. Now you can fill with the knit pattern.

Go to the Edit menu, then choose Fill > Pattern on the drop down. When you click the arrow next to the ‘Custom Pattern’ preview, you should see two knit patterns. Hover over them to see which one is 16px and 24px. We want to choose 16px, as that’s the mosaic setting we used. Click ‘OK’ and the new layer will be filled with the pattern.

Adding to Products

Since the new knit design was created on it’s own layer with transparency, you can easily hide all of the other layers and export your new sweater design as a transparent PNG file. The PSD is the exact recommended dimensions for standard apparel,  so it’ll fit shirts and lightweight sweatshirts perfectly.

These files are designed to get you started with making Ugly Sweater Designs, and hopefully make it easier as well. Of course the most striking designs are those that have a little something extra, like a unique vision, and some extra time spent making sure every pixel and detail is just right. Have fun!

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(Header Art: Most Meowgical Sweater by wytrab8)

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Art historian, burrito enthusiast, and Email Marketing Specialist here at Redbubble.