September 16, 2014

If you look closely at helmets with graphics, you’ll notice that most helmet makers choose designs that are simple, often even childish, and cover only a small portion of the helmet.

But over the years (7, to be exact) that Nutcase has been designing helmets, we’ve gone deeper and deeper into the complex world of creating great all-over helmet graphics, and then translating them onto spheres.

It’s a fine art, as unless helmet graphics are individually hand painted (as they are on the City Series) they consist of decals that must be painstakingly hand applied to a helmet’s shell during manufacture, and then sealed under tough plastic coating.

Thus the larger and more detailed the design and the decals are, the more difficult it is to successfully apply them (and align them) on a helmet’s round shape.

The reason it is difficult is basic: most artists and designers create their designs in two dimensions – pencil, paintbrush, charcoal, acrylic pen or mouse strokes are lovingly placed onto a flat screen or canvas.

But helmets, and especially our organically round, ‘brain bucket’ style, are spherical, and not even evenly spherical. When you try to wrap a flat 2D design onto this irregular 3D form, you can lose important pieces of the visual, due to the wraparound effect.

One way to avoid this is to work with designs that can be fairly easily divided into multiple simple decals – a strip of design, let’s say stripes, running from the front of the helmet to the back, flanked by two further design pieces on either side of the helmet. Fly Boy Gloss is a great example of this – clean, crisp front-to-back stripes, and variously-sized stars on the helmet’s sides.

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 8.25.02 PM

The Fly Boy Gloss

But even designs that may look simple, like our popular Mini Dots helmet, in reality can present great challenges. With the Mini Dots helmet, placement is everything, as the human eye will notice if the dots are not equally spaced over the entire round surface of the helmet. Mini Dots requires multiple decals precisely placed to make the dots look good and achieve equal-spacing placement.

In order to successfully visualize how a particular graphic will lay on a helmet in the design phase, Nutcase graphics and design master David Kruger has developed a special template that is used for prototyping.

Kruger developed the template using a helmet form, a simple laser, and plastic sandwich wrap. By wrapping the form in the stretchy clear plastic, he could employ Sharpie markers and laser lights to create a grid. Kruger then scanned the sandwich-wrap grid and imported it into Adobe Illustrator.

“It’s not perfect. The wrap still wrinkles a bit. It’s something we have tweaked and will continue to tweak,” Kruger said.

But the template helps us visualize how decals must divide a particular design, and makes the prototyping process shorter. That’s good, for as Nutcase has evolved, our graphic designs have gotten richer, more colorful, and more complex.

For our team, the holy grail of helmet graphics is photo-realistic designs. As we’ve worked with artists on the Artists’ Series, and will continue to add new helmet shapes – such as Metroride and Baby Nutty – we have to keep perfecting the transference of 2D art to 3D shapes.

“The ultimate goal, from a graphics perspective, is to produce a full-coverage design with something like a continuous photograph over the entire helmet, knowing that the decal is in pieces, but that visually it is so convincing that you’d never notice.” Kruger said.

Coming up in Part II: Helmets and Art: the Sky Is the Limit