Today’s tutorial is helpful for those of us, me definitely included, who have trouble lining things up perfectly. By creating an intentional spacing gap between different elements, you give yourself some wiggle room. This is helpful for any material, but I find it especially useful for vinyl or HTV. HTV shrinks slightly as it’s heated (or the fabric does — it’s a debate), so unless you flash press or add small offsets, you end up with a tiny gap between colors anyway. I also like to use it for text so that it’s easily legible, or when I’m using patterned material, as the spacing gap creates a nice outline.
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Spacing Gap or Knockout?
Just to clarify, some people call this a Knockout. I use that term for something else, which I taught about in this post.
Let me show some examples of this spacing gap, then I’ll teach you how I made them. These aren’t separate pieces outlines the central design — they are spaces that allow the background to show through. I’ve included some general tips for using some Modify options as well.
Step 1: Check your design
To do this, we are going to be using a Modify option. With ANY modify tool you need to be working with compound paths. All modify options respond differently to groupings than to compound paths.
There’s a very simple way to figure out if your design is in a compound path or not — just fill it with color. Take these 2 designs for example. When all I have is the outline, they look very similar.
But when I fill them with color, you see the difference. My doily holes; the snowflake doesn’t.
If it has holes, it’s a compound path, like my doily. That means I’m good to go. If it doesn’t, you won’t see holes, as in my snowflake. All I need to do is select that design, right click and choose Make Compound Path. (You can also do it in the Object drop down menu or with the keyboard shortcut CTRL+E on a Windows computer or CMD+E on a Mac).
ALWAYS check it yourself. Sometimes a designer will fill pieces with white and group everything so that it looks like a compound path. If you choose a fill color yourself, you’ll be sure. You can also see the front to back order much more easily on filled shapes, and that order is going to make a difference in what we’re doing.
Step 2: Create an offset
HINT: It helps to have a light color for your outer piece, as that makes the offset easier to see as you make it.
I select my butterflies, open my Offset panel, and create a small offset. How much you do is a matter of personal preference. The red outline you see now around the butterflies is my offset.
If you’re adding an offset around text, don’t worry if it looks like the offsets for each letter overlap.
Once you’ve applied the offset, they will be all one piece, as if those separate letter overlaps weld together.
Step 3: Subtract
The last step is to take your offset and subtract it from your outer piece to create the spacing gap. This Modify option takes whatever is in the top of the order and uses it to cut holes of that shape through any pieces behind it. When you’re done, only the piece at the bottom of the order remains. To learn more about it, check out this post.
Let’s go back to my doily and butterflies. I’ve filled the offset with light blue so you can see it more easily.
I select that and my doily and in the Modify panel choose Subtract. Now the doily has butterfly-shaped holes in it that are just slightly larger than the butterflies themselves. I’ve moved the butterflies to the side so it’s easier to see.
And here I’ve put the purple butterflies back and zoomed in so you can see that spacing gap.
My butterflies are all solid shapes and so is the center of the doily where I placed them. That won’t always be the case. So, you should know that after you finish subtracting, any pieces that aren’t touching will be separate.
Take the Thunderbirds text as an example, since this happens frequently on text. Here are my pieces before I’ve done anything. Again, I filled the offset I made with a different color.
I’m going to move my original white text out of the way for a moment and take away the blue background so you can see the offset still better.
Notice that several letters have internal pieces (holes). This will almost always be the case on text. Once I take the green offset and subtract it from the Timpview text for the spacing gap, those internal bits of orange will be separate from the parts outside the offset. See all the different bounding boxes now?
I want to immediately make all the orange pieces into a single compound path so they stay together. Notice now how it’s very easy to read the text since it has that outline compared to just having the white on top of the orange. To me, it also gives it a bit more visual depth to have that spacing gap.
Sometimes you have a design with multiple layers and therefore need to subtract multiple times. Let’s look at that with my gnome. Here are my pieces before the Subtract. I’ve filled the text with a darker color for now.
HINT: To see how your design will look on a t-shirt or other colored base of your project, put a rectangle behind it filled with that color. Just remember to delete it before you cut, or use it as a weeding box.
When I put this design onto my Design area from my Library, it already had these colors and this arrangement of pieces. Sometimes you have to do the arranging and filling yourself.
You need to check the pieces to see if parts of any pieces are hiding behind any others. In other words, is there anything behind the beard where I’m going to put my text?
I’m going to use quick trick to check. I raise the transparency on my gnome. That keeps everything together but I can see all the pieces.
Yep, part of the body is behind the beard. I will need to either get rid of the part of the body that’s behind the beard, or cut my offset through both the beard and body. Let’s look at both scenarios.
Using Subtract All
With a material like vinyl on this design, I would get a ridge in areas where a piece is half on, half off another piece. If I were using glitter HTV for the body, I couldn’t put the beard piece on top of it because you typically can’t layer anything over a textured HTV like that. That would happen where the beard is on the body, or the hat is on the beard.
To eliminate those, use Subtract All. It’s the same as Subtract, but the upper pieces stay instead of going away. In other words, the beard would remove the part of the arms and body behind it, the hat would remove the part of the beard behind it, etc. All parts of all pieces that you see (without the raised transparency) will be kept. Any part of any piece that’s hiding behind another piece will be eliminated. I haven’t changed the transparency on the left set below, but notice you don’t see the body behind the beard any longer. Subtract All took that portion away.
After you do it, move all your pieces as I have here to make sure all the portions behind are gone. Sometimes either you don’t layer it up just right, or the designer didn’t design it perfectly, and you wind up with leftover bits. For example, my gnome has a part of the body the arms lay on, but those front arms don’t quite cover the back ones. The band on the hat doesn’t go all the way to the edge at the left. I’ve circled those in black. You can use point editing or other Modify options to get rid of those.
Now only my beard is behind my text, so I can follow the same steps described above to create my spacing gap.
Using multiple offsets
Now, if you are using something where you don’t mind the overlaps, such as if you’re using multiple colors of smooth HTV you can put on top of one another, you may not need to do the Subtract All. But since both the beard and the body are behind my text, I need to do something a bit different to cut holes in both. I’m going to give you a couple of different options.
Option 1: 2 offsets
The first option is to create 2 identical offsets (or as many as you need) and use each separately.
You’ll follow all the steps for creating your offset. Then, select it and use the keyboard shortcut CTRL/CMD+c to copy it and then CTRL/CMD+f to paste it right in front. What that does is put your copy right on top of your original offset so that everything is lined up nicely. Now you 1 offset and subtract it from one piece (such as my gnome’s beard), another to subtract it from the next piece down (my gnome’s body), etc., until you can see the background.
Option 2: Use Subtract All differently
The other option is to create just one offset. For all pieces except the last one, you can just it with Subtract All. Then, on the last piece, you can use Subtract so that it goes away after you’re finished.
One letter at a time
Let’s look back at one of my samples above, because I used a slightly different technique on it. I wanted the letters to have the look of overlapping, but still have the space between them so they had that outline effect.
For this one, you want to create an offset of each letter individually. If you do it all together, don’t forget that the offsets for the different letters will look like they are separate as you adjust the amount of the offset. But once you’re done any overlapping pieces become one as they did on my “Molly” above.
Here’s what I did for this look:
- Adjusted my character spacing so that my letters overlapped.
- Made a copy of my text box and pulled it off to the side so that I could start over or identify the font later. That’s because once I do the next step, my text will become image so I can no longer edit it.
- Selected the text box and ungrouped it to separate the letters.
- Manually moved my letters around until I liked the look of them.
- Created an offset of the second letter, noting the amount of offset I used.
- Used that offset with Subtract on the first letter.
- Made an offset of the third letter and used that to Subtract from the second letter.
- Repeated those steps for all the letters.
Spacing Gap: DONE!
Well, that’s it — all about how to create that spacing gap. Not too hard once you understand the principles.