For my first project in my Spiritwear series, I want to teach you how to create a knockout design. This is a fun way to combine a school mascot with the team name or another phrase.
I promise it will be easier than any other knockout method you’ve heard about. I think someone figured out way to do it once, then everyone just copied that same set of steps. But my method is, honestly, just better.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you click the link and purchase something, I may receive a small commission. This helps me to be able to keep my business going and provide more tutorials. All opinions expressed are my own and are not tied to any compensation.
What is a knockout design?
Let’s first define what a knockout design is and is not. This…
…is not a knockout. That’s just putting a hole in a design, although this is the way some folks use the term. You don’t have to do anything special to create that type of design — just cut it and remove the letters from the wolf head. You can use the Subtract feature if you want, but you don’t have to.
…is not a true knockout. That’s simply layering 2 colors. Again, you can use a Modify option, Subtract All, to cut holes in the wolf head…
…so that you can cut the red and the blue separately and not have to layer 2 colors on top of one another. But you’re not having to take too many unique steps.
A knockout I’m talking about is more complex, but also more cool. It’s taking 2 designs, usually a phrase and a solid design like I’ve been showing you here, and combining them in a unique way. As with the previous example, you use 2 colors of material. All you are using is the letters, but you break them up in such a way that you can see the shape embedded within the words. THIS…
…is a true knockout. See how it’s only the words on the page and you can easily read them, but you can still see the shape of the wolf head made up by the blue pieces?
How to Create a Knockout Design
So, are you ready to learn how to do this? I’ll just mention that the “traditional” way of doing it involves more steps, tricky aligning, and the need to change fill colors. With my way, you avoid all that.
Step 1: Type your Phrase
Type your phrase, using a font with very thick letters. Because we want to be able to discern what the shape is, we want the letters to have the smallest possible amount of blank space between them and the smallest inner pieces. I’ve used the font Impact, which comes preloaded on most computers.
I also prefer to use Center Justification, but I’ll show you in a bit how to align perfectly.
Step 2: Make a copy for safekeeping
We’re going to be using the Modify tools to create the knock out. Any time you use Modify options on text, it changes it to an image. That means you can’t go back and change the words or font, figure out the font, or change the spacing. So, we make a copy of the text box and pull it off to the side of the mat so we can start over if needed.
Step 3: Adjust the spacing
Remember, we want our words having the least amount of empty space possible. So we adjust the line spacing and character spacing. Move them as close together as you can without the letters overlapping one another. It’s a good idea to again make a copy of the text at this point because in the next step we’re going to change it to a regular image.
Step 4: Ungroup and adjust more
I had to stop by character spacing at 96 because the “Y” began running into the “M.” But there’s still some letters that can go closer together. When you type text, you are creating a grouping of letters. So you can Ungroup to separate the phrase into the individual letters. Then you can adjust the spacing more.
I do recommend that you make sure to leave adequate and equal space between the words so you can still read them. For my phrase, I’ve got 2 words on each line. So I left the letters on either side of the gap in place, and moved the other letters inward.
Once I’ve adjusted the spacing more, I have this:
Step 5: Group each line
Select all the letters in each line and group them. I’ll tell you why in the next step.
Step 6: Align the centers
Because we were moving the letters around, the lines are no longer aligned down the center. If you didn’t start with Center Justification, they weren’t anyway. But for my design, I want them centered. So, I select all 3 lines and, in either the Quick Access Toolbar or Transform panel, I align along the central axis.
Step 7: Create a compound path
Okay, this is the critical step! If you miss this, it could take way longer to process in the next steps or even crash the software. That’s because we are going to use the Modify option Divide, which has a limited number of pieces it can work with at once. By combining all the words into a single path, they are one piece.
It’s not supposed to happen, but sometimes the fill on the phrase goes away. So you may need to fill it again with the color of the material you’re going to use.
Step 8: Add the shape
Now you can put your shape on the page. If it’s already been there, make sure it’s at the front of the order.
Step 9: Alter the transparency
This is a super trick to use any time you are using the Modify tools, because it allows you to see the outcome ahead of time. Change the transparency on both the phrase and the shape to around 35%. See how I can now see through the wolf head to the words?
Step 10: Resize and align the pieces
You want your phrase to be larger than the shape so that the shape will be more easily distinguished. So resize your pieces accordingly.
You also want to pay careful attention to where you place your shape. See the nose, ears, neck tip and mane tips? They are all in the letters, not the blank space between. That will help the shape be more clear.
Also watch out for areas where you might wind up with tiny pieces that make your work harder. After the next step, the only pieces that will be left are the ones outside the shape that you see in red, and the ones where you see blue and red mixed (those will be the blue pieces in my project). If I look closely at the upper left of the letter K, I see that I might wind up with a really small piece.
Keep moving your shape around until you have workable pieces. This part takes some experience, so don’t worry if you have to experiment some. That’s why we love the Undo button.
When you have the pieces the way you like, make a copy and pull it off to the side. That’s just in case.
Step 11: Divide
Here’s where the magic happens when we knockout some pieces! We’re going to use the Modify option called Divide. What that does is break apart the pieces like a puzzle. Any place where part of one shape overlaps another shape, you get separate pieces. Look at these simple shapes:
Notice that I’ve filled them with different colors and raised the transparency. Every place you see a different color mix will become a different piece when I divide. Here I’ve done that and separated the pieces slightly.
The new shapes have just the 3 original colors. Where the simple shapes overlapped, the piece takes the color of the shape at the top (front) of the order.
Now that you understand what Divide is, select both pieces — the phrase and the shape — and then Divide them. Here’s what mine looks like:
Step 12: Remove what you don’t need
Okay, all we want in our final knockout design is the words in 2 colors. So you’re going to delete every blue piece that is not part of a letter. That includes pieces that are in the holes in the middle of the letters, such as my “A.”
Step 13: Combine like pieces
You want to keep your pieces together, so before you do anything else you need to group or, my preference, make a compound path with the pieces of each color. If you have Designer Edition and up, it’s simple to use the Select by Color icon.
If you don’t, just select the pieces carefully. You now have the 2 colors you can cut from different materials and combine on your project. That, my friends, is a knockout design.
PRO TIP: If you’re using HTV for this, be careful as you align the 2 parts. Flash press the first piece (press only 2 seconds, just long enough to be able to remove the carrier) so that the heat transfer vinyl doesn’t shrink. For more HTV tips, see this post and this one.
Step 14: Amaze your friends and cheer on your team!
There you have it — a knockout knockout design! Here’s my finished shirt for my son’s team — the Colorado State University-Pueblo Pack football team!
- Here I’ve added a 3rd level in white for more detail on the design. The gray represents the shirt. As long as each separate color is a single compound path before you divide, it works.
- Stay tuned for more projects in my Spiritwear series.