Creating Your Own Art From Scratch

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How to be a good designer

Good design is a mix of both science and art. If you have any question about what great art can do for a for a cabinet just take a look at the classics: Defender, Joust, Ms Pac Man etc all have themes that are very cohesive, creative and have an extremely polished appearance. Some of the later conversion cabinet kits were not themed as well and they look pale in comparison. To make sure that your cabinet theme looks like it was created by a professional try to take some lessons from those classic designs. There are no hard and fast rules but the following are good things to keep in mind when it comes to cabinet artwork.

  • Keep each piece cohesive with the rest. The marquee, control panel, side art, and cabinet paint job should look like they belong together.
  • Use matching colors. A tool like Easy RGB can give you suggestions of matching colors.
  • Repeat the same logo or characters across each of your pieces.
  • Use similar stylistic elements on each piece. If you use a blue border with a drop shadow, use that on another piece.
  • People tend to consider images/elements presented together in groups of three or more as themes. It's hard to make an association with just two or less items. If you put red on a marquee, blue on your side art, green on your bezel, and purple on your CPO, your cab is going to look a bit disjointed. A red CPO with a blue marquee, blue sideart, and blue bezel might look striking, however.
  • Limit your font choices to 1 or 2
  • Use a display font for titles or logos, and regular fonts like Helvetica, Universe, Futura, Garamond, or even Arial and Times (if you must) for any instructional copy. Make instructional copy easy to read. It doesn't have to be big, but clear enough to read. If it's not clear enough to read, then just leave it off.
  • On Marquees, your marquee title should use up the majority of space in most instances. Filling up a marquee with a bunch of characters and some tiny, wispy text is going to look really weak, and un-arcade like. Most cabinet titles you'll see on real machines take up the majority of space with characters forming around the borders, in the background, or snaking through the lettering. Bombastic... make the text part of the design, make it larger than life, make it speak for the cabinet in more ways than simple words can convey.
  • Feel free to overlay boxes, lines, shapes, little symbols, onto any photos or images you might be using. Integrate the image into the rest of your theme.
  • Don't feel that you need to fill all of the space. Smart use of whitespace can do wonders.
  • Keep things balanced. If you add images to the left side of the marquee, you may want to put some stylistic elements or another image on the right to hold everything together. Not a hard and fast rule, but something to try out.
  • Keep your buttons, joysticks, and accessories in mind. Before buying bright green t-molding, make sure it will make sense with your theme.

When you're done with your design, you may want to take some time before rushing out to get it printed.

  • Print out a full size, low-res mockup (even on multiple pieces of paper) and live with it on your cab for a few days.
  • Ask others for their honest opinion and expect some harsh comments. Request criticism.
  • Press for real opinions, tell them you are asking for criticism to make it better. You can always ignore the comments, but the information you glean may be priceless.
  • Don't be hurt by honest criticism. Everyone has differences of opinion. Hearing criticism can help you firm up your own opinions, you can discover how you really feel.
  • A simple "I like it" does not mean your design is great. It means you have nice friends. When pressed, even your dear old grandmother may have some criticism stored up.
  • When you are done with your design, look at it in a mirror. You'll be amazed at the new perspective you can get from looking at a reversed image... it can help you step back from your own ideas.
  • ALWAYS, always, always, use spell check, check the spelling yourself, and and ask someone else to check it. You don't want to spend $40 on a marquee with a typo.

Tools of the trade

There are many software programs you can use to create graphics. See the graphics software page for a list. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Use software that you are confortable with. You might get better gradients in Adobe Illustrator than in Microsoft Visio, but if you are struggling with the way the software works there is nothing to apply those prettty gradients to.
  • See if your computer has the right specs. If you plan to create raster artwork, make sure your computer has enough ram/memory to handle the large images.

The graphics software page has a few more hints and tips when selecting your software.

Do some homework

When designing a cabinet from scratch, you might already have a clear picture of what you want. If you're not sure, check the real thing™, visit an arcade or take a look at the Arcade Flyer Archive or KLOV to see what arcade cabinet artwork looks like.

The BYOAC artwork forum also has tons of idea's for artwork. It is also a good place to discuss designs.

Then there is the golden rule of artwork: Experiment! Your first design does not have to be the final design!

See also