Thursday, August 18, 2016

2016 Spirit Team MVP

One of the first inserts I created was the 2012 Spirit Team MVP set, featuring the best player from every club that included a relic swatch in every single card. Here's the 2016 version which follows the footsteps of the original entry 4 years ago. Design-wise, this is an extension of the 2016 Spirit base design, much like the 2012 version mirrored the base set as well.

The team color bars come in from opposite sides to house the player and team names with the logo tucked in the corner. Big block MVP letters on the left are filled with the relic swatch, leaving a big chunk of card real estate for the player image. The background fades from a tech-y looking texture to some background stadium action, both parts washed in a gradient from one team color to the other.

On the back, the elements shift a little bit as the logo moves from the right side to the left and the MVP letters take a hike to make room for a brief write up. The player photos are a little more candid/casual instead of action shots like the front.

I really like the balance of these cards, which are probably the best looking of all four Team MVP designs over the years. Let's see if I have any other ideas for the MVP-relic box next year.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

2016 Pennant Throwbacks

Time to throw it back to an insert from my first year of blogging, Pennant Throwbacks. Being the "retro" product of the Spirit line makes it a no-brainer.

Like the 2016 Pennant base design, these are more "modern retro" and don't call back to the reeeeeally old eras like Allen & Ginter and Gypsy Queen do. The design is simple with just a grainy solid color background and player cutouts with them in their throwback duds. The team logos are of the era captured by the uniforms. The Choo is an example of the relic parallel, here featuring the Rangers' baby blues.

The back keeps the elements from the front with a brief write-up of the throwback game depicted. I tried to replicate the toothy feel that the printed cards would have, diluting the colors a bit and making them less vibrant than a modern glossy card would show.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

2016 Clubhouse All-Stars

Voting for the 2016 All-Star is in full swing with early results pouring in. To nobody's surprise, there are lots of Cubs towards the top of tally on the NL side. Conversely, the Royals are either in first or second at every position on the AL ballot, despite some of those names being Omar Infante and Kendrys Morales. (Good job, Royals fans.) Luckily the squads will end up numbering 30+ so hopefully there won't be many snubs for next year's Clubhouse All-Stars set. But first, lets look at 2016.

I decided to keep the red/blue divide a little more ambiguous this year instead of overtly assigning one color or the other to a particular squad. Blue outer space/red metal on one and red outer space/blue metal on the other. Incorporating the star shape into the design elements was a good way for me to call back to the 2016 Clubhouse base design. Plus, having the players busting out of the shapes is kinda fun and fits the Clubhouse brand.

The back incorporates the same elements with some slight rearranging. Adding the team logos and a small (jibberish) write-up finishes things off.

Design On Deck

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Around the Horn Review: 2016 Early Releases

In case you didn't happen to notice, I skipped my usual full-release review of Topps Series I earlier this spring. I'd like to say it was planned but, honestly, I just never found the time for it. After a few more releases came before I got around to it, I decided to try out a new format, which you'll see here. I'm sacrificing timeliness for brevity, with the added benefit of avoiding rash judgments.

HOME RUN - All-around success. Asking for more would be greedy.

Donruss Power Alley: I was pretty impressed with this design as soon as Panini released the preview images. This is probably the best argument to be made for them to just relaunch the Donruss brand as Panini's flagship instead of all the zombie Donruss stuff they usually do with retched results. It's modern without being too modern, well-balanced and interesting with just enough interesting stuff going on.

Gypsy Queen base design: This is by far the best Gypsy Design the hobby has seen. Topps was finally able to hit that sweet spot between clean and ornate that fits the GQ brand perfectly. The wordmark has the right amount of personality without being over-the-top. The border color is neutral yet has just enough of a hue to not look boring or garish. And my favorite detail is probably the faux embossing for the elements in the corners. I can't think of a single element here that I'd change. Good job, Topps.

TRIPLE - Didn't quite get all of it but standing on third is a pretty good spot to be.

Gypsy Queen Power Alley: I'm curious what my perception of this would be if I wasn't so enthralled with the Donruss Power Alley design. Obviously the feel of GQ is quite a bit different, but it's still a pretty good design. The color scheme of blue, red and gold is really appealing on the lighter border and helps add some nice contrast to all the elements, especially the home run number total front and center. The wood grain on the bats is another nice detail. The only knock I have is the style of the blue flourishes along the top and bottom of the photo frame. They look a little too '70s-mellow-mushroom for my tastes.

Topps 100 Years at Wrigley Field: The design here benefits from having all the iconic features of Wrigley to drawn upon —red brick, ivy, Wrigley marquee. I like how all of these elements are creeping up from the bottom of the card, just like the ivy creeps up the outfield walls. My only suggestion here would be to maybe have the player name in white running just over the marquee graphic to avoid the dreaded foil-on-dark-background gambit.

DOUBLE - On target for a solid knock. 

Diamond Kings Expressionists: The design here benefits from its simplicity. Playing off the whole expressionism angle, the animated player images are all paint-rendered with the gold, green and red swaths repeating on every card. This is a rare example of them not overcrowding the card with unneeded elements.

Diamond King Aficionado: The best combination of portrait and action shot I've seen in a while. The canvas-colored strips at the top and bottom do a good job of setting the smaller action shot and adding just the right amount of depth. The oil paint look would make a bigger impact here if it was used a little more sparingly in the rest of the Diamond King set.

SINGLE - Success... but just barely.

Opening Day Striking Distance: Even though they don't really have anything to do with the theme of the set, the colorful aura and light beams make for interesting design elements. The "150 WINS" text is a little hard to make out in spots. It also seems like they could move the Opening Day logo down to the actual corner and have the name/goal left aligned next to it since the format of everything else is asymmetrical.

Topps MLB Debut: These came in bronze, silver and gold variations but I honestly can't tell which foil is on the Darvish card here. I probably would have moved this up to the "double" level but the photographs are all especially dark, like their HDR action missed the brightness step in Photoshop. The banner also looks  little hokey when paired with the background texture. Compositionally, it's pretty solid, though.

Topps Walk Off Wins: Kinda like the Striking Distance cards, these have some nice, colorful but irrelevant graphics. I do appreciate that they're team-color based, but there's no real connection to the theme. It would be nice if "Walk Off Wins" appeared in full somewhere on the design. As is, the full line either runs off the edge or it's obscured by something.

Diamond Kinds Heritage Collection: The ornamented circle frame is a nicely rendered element. I like the added depth of having the player cutout overlap it in spots. Another instance of less is more with the background, though, again, the foil on black has some issues as you can see from the scan. The team location at the bottom of circle looks nice in that same gold as the frame. Unfortunately, the player name and position flanking the DK logo towards the tops looks funky since the two lines have such varying lengths on the Frank Robinson here.

Opening Day Alternate Reality: It's very reminiscent of the Striking Distance design. Honestly, they could easily flip the designs for each set and it wouldn't make a difference either way. The "Alternate Reality" text is a little too cliché sci-fi for my tastes. The composition is a little better than its sibling though the elements aren't as nice.

Diamond Kings DK Originals: Give Panini credit for some nicely deployed irony here. This is the Diamond King set's answer to the Donruss Diamond Kings subset. And they named it "Originals" lol. Whatever you say, Panini. It has the same portrait/smaller action cutout set up you'll see in the Donruss version, though executed better here. Making the whole thing full color is a nice distinction. I'm not a fan of the text treatment up top or the "DK Originals" stamped on the bottom. Switching the image order from the Aficionado design is good move to help differentiate them a bit.

Heritage Then & Now: With the constraints of the 1967 base design, this is about as good of a solution as you could ask for. The little details like having the flags split the photos and then wrap around are well done.

Gypsy Queen Walk-Off Winners: Wait, this again? I will say the photo choices here are a lot better than the regular Topps WOW cards. But the horizontal layout means there's less room the image itself since they have to allow for all the typical GQ flourishes to circle in from the borders. My biggest gripes are how the text is handled for both. The "Walk-Off Winners" text up top looks a little to groovy for the rest of the design. And the way Gypsy Queen wordmark arches down along the top really bothers me with the player/team name running above it on a straight baseline. That's a gnarly negative space.

WALK - Mostly good but left a little power in the bat.

Topps base: I'm a fan of the basic look and layout here but it's littered with things I'd change. The "smoke" on the edges, the fake shininess, cut off logos. Has anybody noticed how the colors on the diagonal bars are different? Look at the Eickhoff card. The one on top matches the red from the Phillies logo but the bottom one is on its way to purple. And why is blue the predominant color for the Phillies cards instead of red? Or why are the Pirates cards mostly red with just a smidgen of yellow and zero black? There are too many little things like that for me to be complete sold.

Bowman base: If you saw my previous post, you know exactly where I think the Bowman design can be improved. To sum it up, make the border solid and get rid of all the shiny textures and this would really round the bases.

REACHED ON ERROR - Somehow standing on first despite your best efforts to make an out.

Donruss base: I don't know why Panini is still doing what they're doing with Donruss. Take a few different elements from different Donruss designs of the past, throw lock yourself in a cell with a laptop and see if you can earn your parole (or something). As an evolution from the 2015 design, it's actually an improvement. But they seemed to have incorporated one Topps' least popular design elements into the Frankenstein design here, for some reason. Somehow, though, I don't hate it. Objectively, it's not a bad design per sé. I just can't endorse the way it came to exist.

Donruss Rated Rookie: Hello, halftone gradient. Not so nice to see you again. Having it run across the bottom unencumbered like that is not a good decision. It's teetering on obnoxious. The only saving grace for the rest of the design is the absence of anything else. Just a solid white border and plain white text with the iconic Rated Rookie logo in the corner. So congrats for knowing how to not make things worse (for this design at least).

GROUND OUT - A trip to the plate with nothing to show for it.

Bowman Prospects: While this is almost completely interchangeable with the Bowman base design, it takes a few extra dings here. The issues with border and texture still appear. Without the player name running vertically, it loses some of the dynamism that Bowman has. Also, the team logo sitting in the circle, there's a little too much negative space on the left border that throws things off balance.

Bowman Sophomore Standouts: All the leftover diagonals converge here into...nothing really. The text is boring and too similar for anything to standout. The absence of a primary element other than the player image drags this to snoozeville.

Bowman International Ink: These were doomed once they decided to feature players wearing jerseys over dress shirts in front of the busiest backdrop ever. The team and Bowman logos would be better off if they switched places, letting the team logo be a little bigger. All the fades and shines could stand be toned down as well. The design isn't beyond salvaging but it's probably a more effort than it looks like they were willing to put in.

INFIELD FLY - Took a big cut but ended up not making a positive difference.

Topps Perspectives: I know I'm in the minority here but I'm not a fan of this insert. And it's all because it's completely based off the opening credits of a 14-year old movie. It seems like Topps was attempting to inject some Stadium Club-ness into the flagship set here but it just comes across as a little limp.

Bowman Family Tree: I've never been a fan of when Topps designs insert sets around the auto or relic parallels included. This is a pretty egregious example. All of that wasted space next to the logos just so they can accommodate the autographs. While, the autographed cards are pretty cool, there's no reason to saddle the non-auto versions with such a design obstacle.

STRIKEOUT - Walk back to the dugout in shame.

Donruss Diamond Kings: Why are the "paintings" gray? Why couldn't they edit out the background noise like the NetSuite logo? Why is the player name/team location so prominent? This whole thing screams minimal effort and thought. I can't think of a single positive to mention.

Topps Pressed Into Service: With such a novel concept for an insert, it's a shame the execution is so poorly done. You'd think they would use a picture of the players' pitching, no? The ball stitching is pretty cheesy in the background and I'm not sure why there's a little blip of the photograph fading around the cutout. The swooshes look pretty dated as well. My overall sense is this was a design they've had sitting in the cabinet for a few years now and finally got around to using it to clear out space.

Donruss The Prospects & Donruss The Rookies: Ooh boy. Of all the elements for Panini to pick from the Donruss carcasses, I think the tubes from the 1988 set is very, very far down the list of desirability. Mix in the grungy white texture and it's a match made in hell.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

THIS IS THE REMIX: 2016 Bowman

I thought I'd take the occasion of 2016 Bowman hitting the shelves to post a remix I did a few months ago. My overall impression of Topps' design is mostly positive. I like the angular elements and appreciate that everything is (mostly) readable The biggest issue I have is just the overall busy-ness, with all the shines and fades and bevels. The lack of a solid border was the first thing I changed while keeping a few of the overlaps along the top. Next, I changed the name so both the first and last are aligned on the left and just made the tab a solid transparent tab. The Bowman and RC logos are in the same spot. I decided to make the shape holding the player position into an actual home plate instead of just the "sorta" home plate they used. The little tab thing between that and the logo has the team name repeating over and over like a ticker, like the original design. (The Schwarber here says "ROOKIE" over and over.) Then I added the drop shadow to the player cutout and faded the background image a bit to help the player stand out.

You can see here how the solid border looks with the parallels in comparison to the Topps' design. It's definitely easier to spot on your initial view. The fade on the borderless right side of the card in the original really bugs me. The solid border fixes that. I did a few more below though I don't know if these are included in 2016.

The changes aren't too drastic but they definitely fit my own personal style more than all the over-texturing that Topps is so smitten with currently. In my mind, they're about 5-7 years behind design trends with all of the beveling and whatnot. The remix would definitely age a lot better down the line than the original design.

Monday, April 25, 2016

2016 Spirit Deluxe

The flagship, "low-end" and retro base designs have been in the books for a while now, so it's time to finish up the Spirit quartet with Deluxe, the "high-end" set.

I tried to keep the elements to a minimum and keep the cards from getting too busy. The player names are along the bottom left, stamped in silver foil. Additionally, there's a silver line below and the Deluxe "D" in the upper right corner, all three elements stamped with a bit of an embossed effect. The look is mimicked by the team cap logo in the bottom right corner, though the embossing there is strictly a design effect and not physically embossed. You can see why in the autograph parallels below.

With the white feather coming up from below to help ensure the autographs are visible, the fake embossed look for the logo is a necessity so the players don't have any issues when actually signing.

The backs probably look pretty similar to previous years of Deluxe cards with a good sized photo up top with the rest of space devoted for stats/write-up/other info. Here we have full-size team logos as well as a single stat line encompassing the players's whole career. Also, I actually took the time to do the "write-up" instead of using lorem ipsum text like I usually do, so enjoy more of my meandering writing if you'd like.

The next design post will probably be the Clubhouse All-Stars insert I've done every year but I may do a "review" post with an exciting new format! (Mostly because I've been reeeeeally bad at keeping up with reviewing the 2016 releases from Topps and Panini thus far.)

Monday, March 21, 2016

2016 Pennant

I've posted the flagship and the "low-end" sets, so now it's time for the retro set. The Pennant designs of the past haven't necessarily tried to emulate a particular era. Basically what I try to do is keep them simple while incorporating design elements and trends that are decidedly un-modern. I think it's a good strategy for me so I don't run into a situation like Topps has with Allen & Ginter and Gypsy Queen designs that are hard to differentiate year after year.

The 2016 version harkens back to the late-'60s, with simple colors and a no-frills typeface (Franklin Gothic Condensed). As I tend to do, the color palette is dictated by the team logos instead of some arbitrary system like you would have found back then. The whites are dulled to represent the old uncoated stock and I added grain to the photos and the color boxes to imitate the look of cards from the era as well.

On the back, I went with a horizontal format for the first time with Pennant. All elements are black & white. The little corner tabs which housed the team and Pennant logos on the front are used for card number and a small player portrait on the back. These are definitely my favorite card backs I've designed for the Pennant brand.

Last year I had a "sepia" parallel but this year's design didn't really lend itself to it. If Spirit ever decided to go the "Chrome/Prizm" route, though, this would definitely be a candidate for it. The autograph parallels are still in existence, as well as the addition of a "jumbo" relic. There probably wouldn't be a parallel of each for every card in the set but the design changes so minimally that calling them parallels works for me.

Of all the designs I've posted here, this is probably the one I'd be most tempted to actually print samples of, especially for in-person autograph purposes. If anybody feels so inclined to do the legwork, I'd be up for the designing.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

2016 Clubhouse

I seem to be going every-other-year with the orientation of the Clubhouse set. Last year, they were vertical. So I guess it's time for horizontal again.

Once again, the design is filled with bold colors and simplicity, with the card cut in half by diagonal color boxes. The player cutout is surrounded by a white outline to keep them offset from the background. Diagonal bars come in from opposite sides for the player name and position with a team logo in a circle in the bottom right corner. It helps tie Clubhouse to the main Spirit base set without being such a overt copy. These simple elements keep the design from feeling overdone or cluttered while also keeping with the "fun" feel this low-end product strives for.

The back has plenty room for career stats while still following the elements and look of the front. Even the stat box is able to keep the angled format. If not for having to cut out every player, I'd consider doing a card for each of the 30 MLB teams just because the designing was so fun for me. To me, it strikes a good balance of modern and fun, without being too ornate like some designs are these days.

We still have the Pennant and Deluxe designs to finish/post and then I'll probably start on some new inserts for all four Spirit sets.

Friday, February 26, 2016

2016 Spirit Award Winners

Now that the base design has been unveiled, I'm keeping with tradition and presenting the Spirit Award Winners as the first insert design of the season. You know the drill by now — 18 Gold Glovers (9 AL/9 NL) with gold foil and 18 Silver Sluggers (9 AL/9 NL) with shiny, shiny silver. After starting out super gaudy like disco balls and gold bars, the foil has been a little more subdued in the past couple years. That's also meant a little bit more actual designing on my part.

The gold and silver is mostly found in the four corners with a little bit of deckled texture added in. These make for a nice way to frame the player cutouts. The backgrounds are once again blue and red, respective to each league. The texture is just stormy/grungy enough to keep things interesting without going overboard. It's a good match for all the clean, modernistic lines everywhere else.

The backs are basically the same design as the front, only flipped vertically with text replacing the cutouts. The small mug shot along the top gives you another chance to see these superstar honorees up close. Overall it's a pretty efficient design with just enough ornamentation to add interest without overwhelming you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

2016 Spirit Base

With pitchers and catchers reporting today, what better time to unveil the look for the 2016 Spirit flagship set. Just like last year, I've designed a card for every team. You can see a roundup of them all below but to get a better look, you can check them out on my Instagram page. Without further ado, let's breakdown this year's design.

For the fifth straight year, the flagship set is borderless. (Just wanted to point that out since Topps seems to be getting a lot of credit for going borderless in 2016...) These diagonal bars in team colors coming from the edges converge to add a little bit of dynamism that you don't get from just plain old rectangles. I guess diagonals are all the rage in 2016. The team logos are back to full-color after I went with gold foil last year. The last element is a small accolades strip extending just above the bars. For any award-winning or all-star player, there's a designation to help them stand out a bit from the rest of the league. You can really tell below even at these small sizes.

Though he's kinda cut off, I had to go with the Cal pic for Machado's card. And that A-Rod photo is so trolltastic I love it.

The Donaldson photo seemed like a good emblem of his 2015 season.

Solid trio of cards here. I like how you can see Kinsler's bat in the bottom left corner, peeking out.

Check out the flow on Keuchel's beard there. Also, I was just barely able to get the ball in frame on the Santiago card without the whole thing getting imbalanced. Just barely.

All three batting cards featuring different parts of the swing. God I love Nelly's fly ball pose.

Good balance of photos here. A candid on-field, a candid dugout and a statue-esque action shot.

The look of concern on Joey Walks face is something you'll probably be seeing a lot of this season.

Piscotty gets the RC logo in the bottom right corner. It's a little tight but fits. I decided to go with red and teal for the Diamondbacks even though they don't actually feature it much in their new identity. Anything to add some unique colors to the set.

Glad the Padres added yellow to their team colors. The sand was always so drab. Maybe next year they'll add brown in there as well.

The back are a progression from the 2015 design, updated with the 2016 design elements. Everything fits pretty coherently. For veterans with years and years of service, the stat box will get a little crowded but that's always been the case with any base design. I think my favorite part is how the logo fits perfectly below the card number and to the left of the vitals, filling the negative space from the diagonal photo.

Well this is the fifth Spirit base set I've designed. If I find the time I may do a retrospective post comparing them all across the years. Maybe even a poll for everyone to vote for their favorites. Stay tuned for that....