Photoshop tutorial: How to design stickers in Photoshop ready to be printed on vinyl and die-cut

Fuse an astoundingly unique creative style with die-cut stickers, and you have your very own slap-and-go graffiti playset. Waste shows you how to stick up for yourself.

In this masterclass, Leicester-based duo Waste – the combined talents of Daniel Lowe and Norman Hayes – have drawn inspiration from the likes of Ed Roth and Jim Phillips to create an astounding sticker collection.

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Mention stickers to professional designers, and the inspirational styles of the likes of Jim Phillips and Ed Roth spring to mind. Roth, who was part of the 60s ‘Kustom Kulture’ in Southern California, kickstarted a whole generation of grotesque characters that have since formed the basis of sticker and card art. It was a mantle taken up in the mid-70s to late 90s by Phillips, who transformed the art style into detailed skateboard deck art that came to dominate the scene.

Roth, who was born in 1932, was an artist and cartoonist who was behind the hot-rod icon Rat Fink, and other extreme characters. His passion was custom car building, but his staggering array of outsized, imaginative monstrosities that appeared as cartoon characters sealed his fame. It’s reported that Roth’s hatred for Disney’s Mickey Mouse led him to draw the original Rat Fink. After he placed Rat Fink on an airbrushed monster shirt, the character soon came to symbolize the entire hot-rod/Kustom Kulture scene of the 1950s and 1960s.

Fast-forward to the mid-70s, and the other great inspiration for Waste’s style – Jim Phillips – stepped into the limelight. Best known for his rock posters – his second poster was for the first East Coast appearance of The Doors – from 1975 to 1990, Phillips was art director for Santa Cruz Skateboards, where he created hundreds of skateboard deck, T-shirt, sticker, and ad art designs. His stickers became so popular that his designs chalked up sales of eight million over a two-year period.

These two sticker-design giants were responsible for a cultural phenomenon. You can find out more about Jim Phillips at, and more about Ed Roth at


Adobe Photoshop

Time to complete

3 hours


We’re going design a sticker sheet that will be printed on self-adhesive vinyl and die-cut. To start, launch Photoshop, and create an A5 landscape document, setting the resolution to 300dpi, and colour mode to CMYK. Name it Sticker Sheet Layout.

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You’ll need to decide on a few informational elements before you start the design proper. Things to consider include company name, Web address, contact details, and any extra branding.

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You should also look back at some sticker art from the 60s to early 90s – when the likes of Jim Phillips and Ed Roth produced some amazing examples – for inspiration, as it’s from here we’ll be taking our lead.

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Before further work in Photoshop, grab yourself a pencil and paper, and start producing some rough sketches of possible layouts and sticker ideas.

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Once the layout and sticker designs have been chosen, you then need to map it out onto an A5 sheet, and transfer those positions roughly to the layout in Photoshop (you can use a separate layer to block out sticker areas, using the box and polygon tools to create a map of your sticker sheet). Save this document as Sticker Sheet Layout.psd.


For this masterclass, the stickers themselves are going to be pen and ink graphics that will later be coloured in Photoshop. There are many ways to draw pen and ink graphics, but the method in the following steps best suits our own style of illustration.

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We’ve a good idea of what our sticker art will be, so it’s time to sketch them. Key tip here – always ensure you use a jet-black, ultra-sharp pencil so you produce clean, sharp edges. Smudgy designs don’t translate to stickers that well.

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Once your sticker art is sketched in pencil, it’s time to ink them up. Our personal preference is to use tracing paper to re-trace our pencil drawings in pen, improving the drawings where possible.

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Heavy up the outlines, especially on the underside of the character forms, and add texture and shading where needed.


The next step is to bring the inked work into Photoshop. To do this, you’ll need access to a scanner, which will scan each piece of artwork. Alternatively, you can always work in digital form in the pen-&-ink stage, bypassing the need to scan anything in.

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Once scanned, open each sticker illustration into Photoshop and choose Image > Mode > Greyscale. Next, choose Image > Adjustments > Brightness and Contrast, and adjust each image to get a nice crisp line.


Next, copy-&-paste each of your sticker designs onto the Sticker Sheet Layout document, and arrange them in your desired layout. You can toggle the position layer on and off as you work for accurate placement.

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Because the stickers will be die-cut, it’s important to allow space all the way around each of the stickers to prevent any details being cropped. No design should butt up against any other design.

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The next step is to colour up your stickers on the sticker sheet layout document but, before you do, you need to decide on the colours you are going to use.

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We want the colours to be vibrant and, because we don’t have the luxury of using spot colours, we have decided to use CMYK. But, how you handle it is different to  the standard CMYK working. For this sticker style we are sticking to pure CMY and K values – and avoiding any shades.


First, you need to organise your layers. On the Layer panel, highlight all layers that contain your sticker art and sticker sheet info, and choose Layer > Merge Layers (Cmd/Ctrl+E). Rename the layer 'Black', and set its blending mode to Multiply from the drop-down menu on the Layers panel.

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You need to keep the layer top-most and, if you haven’t already, delete your positioning layer as suggested in step 3.


Next, create a new layer and name it 'Cyan'. Set the fill colour to 100% Cyan and 0% Magenta, Yellow and Black. Using the Brush tool (B) colour up the areas that will be cyan.

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Repeat for the Magenta and Yellow colours – keep to 100 per cent values for each. Once your sticker sheet is coloured, save the document as a PSD file. It’s handy to keep an unflattened version of your sheet in case you decide to change the colours.

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However, for printing, we need a flattened TIFF, so flatten the layered image by choosing Layer > Flatten image, then save as Sticker sheet.tif.


With the artwork for the sticker sheet finished, you have one more document to create before it goes to print – a die-cut line template, which we’re going to create in Adobe Illustrator.

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Load up Illustrator, create a new A5 landscape document, and choose File > Place to place our artwork. Next, lock this layer by choosing Object > Lock > Selection.


Now we need to draw our die-cut lines around each of the areas that will be cut. Set the fill colour to empty and the stroke colour to red and, using the Pen tool (P), draw your cut marks as shown.

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Finally, unlock the sticker sheet by choosing Object > Unlock All, then delete it. You’re left with a die-cut template, which needs to be saved as diecut.pdf.

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Job done!