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Designing Retro Shirts in Omaha

Finding design inspiration for shirts in Omaha

Retro Shirts hometown of Omaha, Nebraska has deep historical roots in its downtown area. This district, called the Old Market, is full of old buildings with iconic vintage and retro advertising.

downtown Omaha ghost signs

Our city is fortunate to have a chamber of commerce that takes an active role in preserving and protecting our historic architecture in the Old Market area.

It should come as no surprise, that when our store needs design inspiration for custom shirts Omaha has new ideas right around the corner.

These ideas come in the form of building embellishments, the downtown Old Market’s many antique stores, and hundreds of vintage ghost signs.

Many times a second hand store, old bookstore, or an antique shop is just waiting to show a designer a whole new way to design.

Retro shirt design starts with a basic understanding of historical marketing and promotional styles and mediums. To create a truly great retro shirt, a designer must truly be familiar with the style of the era.

Retro Shirt Design Theory

In the most basic sense, a modern-day retro design conveys feelings of vintage and nostalgia to the viewer. These feelings are imparted whether-or-not the viewer ever actually experienced that era.

Omaha Broncos Marquee Sign

Through modern day entertainment and marketing, the average person has experienced countless examples of retro and vintage art, both in modern recreations and original source materials. Over time, certain expectations have evolved about the look of a retro design.

The most common modern-day retro design styles began in the early-to-middle 19th century. These retro styles have survived in the form of physical marketing materials from that time period.

Omaha ghost signs from coffee shop

Common printed mediums included paper ads, such as newspaper, posters, flyers, magazines, and handouts, and good old paint, such as the iconic ghost signs.

This was also the age of large bright signs with flashing lights, large bulbs, and even larger replaceable text.

One must remember, the marketing and graphic design in the early-to-mid 19th century was in many ways more limited than today. There was no internet, let alone graphic design programs of today such as photoshop and illustrator.

A designer had only their experience, their imagination, and the their own first hand experience with other artists work. The most common tools of the trade were pens, pencils, charcoal, paint, stencils, blades, wood blocks, wax, paper, and canvas. If you wanted a retro font - better create one from scratch!

At Retro Shirtz, we have found our favorite approach to modern retro design is to find great resources of old marketing, and incorporate aspect of the historical design into our t-shirt designs.

Historical Retro Design - Marquee Signs

One of our favorite historical advertising mediums are marquee boards.

Marquees are still used in modern movie theaters for movie listings, hotels for vacancy statuses, and concert halls for upcoming acts.

Omaha Orpheum Theater Main Marquee Sign Omaha Orpheum Theater Secondary Marquee Sign

Most marquees state the name of the establishment and important information.

This information acts as a resource to potential customers, listing times, dates, and services offered.

Marquees developed from the turn of the century along with electricity and automobiles.

As cars became faster, lettering became larger to accommodate viewing words at a glance. Flashing lights were added to draw the attention of potential customers. Iconic marquee examples include the classic Welcome to Las Vegas sign, the main entry sign at Wrigley Field, and the Chicago Theater.

The city of Omaha has many modern day examples of marquees. Even outside of the historical area, there are modern businesses that have adopted the retro era style.. When a graphic designer really starts to look, finding inspiration for retro custom Omaha shirts is pretty easy.

T-shirt Graphic Design - Marquee Signs

Marquee boards are excellent graphic design tools, because they provide a ready made blank template for words. Good marquee image assets can be found on many stock image sites.

T-shirt graphic designers can simply plug a sans-serif block font into the main portion of the marquee and the design is finished.

Higher end t-shirt designs include custom marquee heading letters, and can even include glowing bulbs and and shadows.

marquee sign graphic design

Marquee Sign Fonts

  • Block Fonts, Neon Fonts, Bulb Fonts

Marquee Board Design Assets

  • Light Bulbs, Stars, Marquee Boards

Marquee Sign Graphic Design Tools

  • Outer Glow, Drop Shadow, 3D Extrude & Bevel
  • Line Segment, Rectangle

Historical Retro Design - Ghost Signs

Another fantastic example of retro marketing comes from Ghost Signs. Ghost signs typically come in the form of old painted advertisements on the sides of buildings.

Omaha Shirts original ghost sign

These ads were painted freehand by artists on mediums such as brick walls, barn board, and plaster.

Our design studio often takes inspiration from these signs to make Omaha shirts reflecting ghost sign’s vintage style.

The name, ghost sign, originates from the look of old advertisements in their present condition. Most of the remaining ghost signs have been heavily faded by weather and the elements.

Many current day ghost signs look almost transparent agains their original backdrops. This faded appearance was compared to the translucent or clear appearance of ghosts.

Ghost signs are also sometimes called fading ads or brick ads, due to their popularity on the side of brick buildings. Some can even be found on the side of old barns in rural areas.

Omaha ghost signs from coffee shop

Preservation work on historical ghost signs has recently began to get more attention. In the past, many building owners did not appreciate the significance of the artwork, while others believed that a fresh coat of paint would brighten the old image.

At Retro Shirtz, we prefer the original ghost signs in their original faded condition.

In most cases the best preserved original ghost signs were inadvertently protected. Some were covered by semi-temporary construction, and then later uncovered. Others were fortunate enough to be facing a direction where nearby architecture protected the sign from the elements.

To find ghost signs yourself, just look for historical areas with brick buildings from the late 1800’s to the mid 1900’s.

There is a great example of a modern ghost sign reconstruction over at the Omaha Shirts website. They have actually taken the iconic Omaha ghost sign from the Old Market pictured above and are selling it as a t-shirt. It is an awesome example of custom Omaha shirts in action.

T-shirt Graphic Design - Ghost Signs

Ghost signs are often straight forward and simple. They were the billboards of their time. A business using ghost signs only had a few moments of a potential customer’s attention to get their message across. This simplicity makes for great t-shirt inspiration.

T-shirt designers will usually want to start with rectangle, which contrasts from their surface color. If a darker colored t-shirt is being used, then a lighter colored box would be incorporated. Then the internal lettering should contrast with the color of the box.

Many historical ghost signs used a white exterior box with black lettering. The lettering should contain a central message, that occupies 1/3 to 1/2 of the overall design. This message should be no more than 2-3 words. If a single word can be used, all the better.

In our instance as an store with custom shirts in Omaha, we would have the central word be “Custom T-Shirts”.

Omaha shirts ghost sign recreation

Ghost Sign Fonts

  • Block Fonts, Filagree Fonts, Blackletter Fonts, Script Fonts

Ghost Sign Graphic Design Assets

  • Brick backdrops, wood backdrops, distress textures

Ghost Sign Graphic Design Tools

  • Masks, Blend, Shear, Envelope Distort

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402-614-0888

10000 California St (Inside Westroads Mall)

Omaha, NE 68114

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