The 7th Engineer Support Battalion, a Motor Transportation unit out of Camp Pendleton, CA was one of my first Unit T-shirt Division jobs. One of the NCOs in 7th ESB met me when I was a vendor at a show in Southern California, and impressed by the quality of our products and the attention to detail in my designs, he invited me to fulfill a unit t-shirt order for their unit.
7th ESB already had an idea in mind for a design, drawn up in a pencil sketch by a member of the unit (shown below.) While it was very rudimentary, it did help to us a great starting point to create a custom design.
The core elements of the design were:
- A skull wearing a Marine Corps helmet, with the MOS code for Motor-T across it, biting an automotive wrench
- Crossed pistons behind the skull
- A flying banner across the bottom of the design with the unit's name
- The words "My only prayer is that, when I die, all of hell rejoices that I am out of the fight," a quotation commonly attributed to C.S. Lewis, a British author and theologian
One of the things about Unit T-shirt Division that I take the most pride in is the level of artistry that we incorporate into our custom designs. The t-shirt business is overrun with two-bit designs hacked together with clip art or outright stolen designs from other companies, but we don't play that game - when it comes to unit t-shirts, we are commissioned artists, creating something exclusive to truly capture the essence of the unit we are working with.
From the beginning, I wanted 7th ESB's design to be completely hand-drawn, with the symmetrical precision of the wrench and pistons contrasting with the aggressive, tattoo-styled skull and illustrated banner. Out of appreciation for the Marine who remembered me from the show circuit and contacted me months later to do this job, I also wanted to tackle this project personally.
I began work on a concept sketch, laying down geometric guidelines to create the symmetry I wanted and to make sure we ended up with a design that was balanced and precise. While hand-drawn, the pistons have a shiny, chrome look, while the skull is illustrated in more of a free-form tattoo-style, creating a nice contrast. The banner with "7th ESB" is also hand-drawn. Finally, we added a distressing texture to the entire design, to make it look a little more rough and give it a "battle-worn" look.
Because we offer both black and uniform-color garments in Unit T-shirt Division, it is also imperative that we create designs that will look good printed on both light and dark garments (in this case, Black and O.D. Green.) The t-shirt business is notorious for cost-cutting in this area, which is why many brands won't take the time to carefully design prints that don't look like "negative images" when colors are reversed.
But because this design was going to be a single-color print, the only way to get it to look right on both colors was to create a second print that was a "negative image" itself. It was double the work - two separate pieces of artwork and two separate print setups, as seen in the image below - but it's little touches like this that make our designs truly top-notch in our industry. If it doesn't look 100% right, it's simply not good enough for Unit T-shirt Division. The finished print can be seen below.
For the rest of the t-shirt, we added a simple silhouette of a Spartan helmet with a red "7" for the front left chest, and the American flag on the sleeve (at no additional cost for Unit T-shirt Division customers.)
Finally, the quotation, which I felt was too wordy to look good on the main design without crowding it, was incorporated on the custom-printed neck label - a unique, customized feature we also include on every Unit T-shirt division job. This is a nice "hidden touch" that only the wearer will ever see, making these shirts even more special and personal to our customers.
The best part about the 7th ESB t-shirts wasn't designing or printing them - it was delivering them! Whenever possible, I will deliver a Unit T-shirt Division job personally, as I consider it an honor to do such meaningful work for the military and law enforcement officers of our nation. I got to hand-deliver these t-shirts to the men and women of 7th ESB in Camp Pendleton, which was a ton of fun - but also a lot of work, since each order had to be pulled individually from stacks of boxed t-shirts, hoodies, and hats.
I realized that day what a headache it actually is for the unit to distribute orders when they finally get shipped to their location, and how easy it is for products to get mixed up - resulting in incorrect orders, and unhappy customers. This was unacceptable to me, and I knew we needed a solution.
The very next week, we rolled out our Individual Order Packing System, where we package orders for each unit member in-house at our facility. That means that what the unit receives is one big box of smaller, individually wrapped packages, labeled by name for each unit member, which makes order distribution for the unit a breeze (not to mention, a lot of fun.)
This design will always be near and dear to me as one of the first we ever did, and I'm still proud of it. In addition, it has been a popular portfolio design, and has served as an inspirational starting point for several other units we've worked with, including skulls with crossed rifles, crossed wrenches, and more.A special thanks to the men and women of 7th Engineer Support Battalion for allowing Reloaded Gear Co. to be a part of your legacy!