Many people who own a dirt bike look for ways to creatively customise their bike. When simple aftermarket stickers aren't enough, riders look for more involved ways to stand out from the pack. A custom graphics kit is an effective way to really change the look of your bike, but custom kits can be very expensive. The main component behind the high price tag is the template. The decal templates are costly, yet are somewhat simple to reproduce, given the advances in today's graphic design software and tools. With some creativity and patience, you can design your own custom dirt bike graphics to submit to a print shop for production.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Challenging
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Things you need
- Tracing paper
- Masking tape
- X-Acto knife
- Cutting mat
- Computer with vector design software (Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw)
- Image scanner
- Colour printer (inkjet or laser)
Determine the year, make and model of your bike, which can be found in the registration paperwork. Once you have that information, you can decide whether to buy the templates or create your own.
Buy a template. Go online and search for that specific template to purchase.
Contact a custom graphics printer to see if they have that template available. The amount you'll pay for the template files varies, depending on the resource used; be aware that template files can be very costly.
Open the files. Typically you'll receive the template files in a vector-based format, such as an .eps file, that you should be able to open in your vector design software.
Buy a Graphics Kit Template
Make your own. The other option--which can save you money but takes some time and patience--is to create your own template files. There are two ways to accomplish this.
Remove existing factory decals by heating them up with a blow dryer and slowly peeling them off of the plastics. Once you have them removed, just trace the outer edge of each decal on a sheet of paper and set aside.
Create your own decal templates if your bike no longer has any factory decals. Simply mask tape tracing paper in the area that you want your decal to go and trace the outline of the plastic piece. Make sure to allow for an inset edge of minimum 1/8 inch for optimal final product fit.
Scan the tracings into your computer using your flatbed image scanner. Make sure you scan them at 100 per cent actual size, in order for the finished decal to be the correct size and fit. For pieces that are larger than the scanner, you'll need to scan in sections, then use software on the computer to combine the sections together at 100 per cent size to create a digital template.
You'll need to import these scans into your vector design software, then trace them so that you end up with a digital version of all of the template files.
Create Your Own Graphics Template
Once you have your template files, you can begin designing your graphics. Depending on whether you just want nice graphics, or graphics with function (which means containing race numbers, names, other identifying information, etc.) the time you invest in creating your design is time very well spent. Keep in mind these graphics should last you at least a couple seasons, so whatever theme or colours you use you will have on your bike until they wither wear out, or you're ready to redesign the graphics.
If you decide to design your own graphics, make sure you keep the perspective of the decal shapes in mind, and keep in mind how the design will flow once printed and installed on your bike.
You should plan to print proofs at size and trim them out and stick them to your plastics with masking tape to get an idea of how they'll look as finished pieces, to help you make any necessary design adjustments.
Keep any rules or restrictions pertaining to colours, fonts, etc. in mind when designing your graphics if you race your bike in any large MX series.
Design Your Own Graphics
Find a designer. If, after several hours of work, you decide that art isn't your strong suit, have no fear: there are plenty of talented designers out there who love the challenge of creating custom, one-of-a-kind artwork.
Decide what you want. You'll need to have a general idea of what you are looking for in terms of content and colour, whether you want to incorporate race numbers or particular fonts.
Be prepared to pay. A talented designer can work with you to nail down the perfect custom graphics, but keep in mind that custom illustration work comes at a cost.
Source a designer through referrals from fellow riders, your local phone directory or online searches. Be sure to look for a designer with specific experience in designing custom motocross graphics.
Outsourcing the Graphics Kit Design Work
Use a graphics printer that has specific prior experience printing graphics for plastics, preferably in motocross applications, to ensure you get someone that understands the variables in adhesion, vinyl thickness and overall durability that is inherent with decals in a motocross environment.
Choose to source your printer by referrals from your local bike shops, online or from your designer.
Know that the costs will vary, depending on your choices. Pricing will vary depending on the overall number of decals you're looking to have printed, number of proofing revisions, shipping to your location, and any necessary production adjustments.
Getting Your Graphics Printed
Tips and warnings
- Make sure your bike plastics are neutral temperature and very clean and free of any cleaners, film, grease, oil or other sediment before installing graphics.
- Graphics are easier to apply and much more pliable when they are warm--do not stick cold stickers to extreme temp plastic.
- Look at the final graphics and understand where they go and how they fit before peeling off the backing and positioning on the plastic.
- When installing graphics, be sure to force out any air bubbles to avoid cracks developing in the graphics down the road. There are many schools of thought when it comes to how to properly install large graphics, whether utilising the "float" method or dry stick. Take the time to test these methods with junk decals on a junk piece of plastic before using these methods on your bike with your new decals.
- Take your time, both during the design process and when installing the printed graphics. Taking the time to do it right will save you from having to pay to have them reprinted, or do any emergency cutting to get them right.
- Be aware that you may need to make minor tweaks with an X-acto knife once the graphics are installed, to get a solid fit.
- Do not forget to check the fit of your design by printing mock-ups, cutting them out to the trim lines and positioning on your bike. Nothing is worse than paying to have them printed and having the fit be wrong.
- Do not expose the printed graphics to extreme temperatures while they are on the sheets, as it can cause issues with the adhesive and/or distort the shapes of the graphics.
- Once the graphics are correctly installed on your bike, be sure to take care when washing your bike to ensure the graphics last. Try to avoid using harsh chemicals, soaps or high pressure water spray, all of which will shorten the life of your graphics considerably.
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