How to design a funny Monkey T-Shirt illustration

How to design a funny Monkey T-Shirt illustration

A few days ago we published a set of tee shirts mock-up templates. Today I gonna show you how to create a nice monkey illustration and how to apply it on a t-shirt of the set. We will use Photoshop tools to modify stock images and work with shadows and color contrasts. Then we will switch to Illustrator to create the vector monkey. Even if the result can appear easy to achieve, I’m sure you will learn some new tricks with this tutorial.

T-shirt design world is one of my favourite source of inspiration. Every time I walk in my city shopping streets, I spend most of the time observing appeal design and graphics. This is the classical obsession of the graphic designer: to see everywhere patterns and inspirational forms! On the web side, there are sites like DesignByHumans and Threadless that I regularly visit.

There are nice tutorials on the web about how to create a graphic tee in Photoshop and how to prepare files for screen-printing. Recently James Davies has written a tutorial on this specific matter on PSDTuts. I suggest you to take a look at this video-tutorial published by Jimmy Heartcore too.

Today I’m not talking about printing technique. This tutorial deals with how to create a funny vector image that can be easily applied on a shirt. At the end of the process we will use the live trace tool in Illustrator to achieve the final result, but it requires a process in Photoshop to make the image ready for live tracing. Let’s start!

Final Result:

final result


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Step 1

We will start making a composition in Photoshop with these three images:

three images

Open the monkey image in Photoshop, zoom on the animal face, grab the pen tool and start tracing the head. We are going to extract it, which is the only part we need. You don’t have to be too much accurate with the pen tool.

tracing monkey's head

Once the path is closed, press ctrl+enter to create a selection. Then press the “add layer mask” button to isolate the selection from the background.

Note: If you’re a newby and don’t know how to extract objects in Photoshop, take a look at our tutorial about Photoshop extraction techniques

extract the monkey

Step 2

Open the glasses image in Photoshop, and use the same technique of step 1 to extract them. In the glasses document ctrl+click on the mask in the layer window to select glasses, then ctrl+C to copy. Open monkey document and press ctrl+V to paste in.

paste in glasses

Step 3

Glasses need to be re-sized and rotated to match monkey’s face. Press ctrl+T to activate transform tool and decrease glasses size and rotate them a little bit.

resize glasses

Step 4

Monkey’s left ear is too high positioned. Remove the mask: right-click on the mask in the layers window and select “Apply layer mask”. Then go to filter>liquify. The image will appear in a new window. In case you want to visualize glasses position, check “show backdrop”. Grab the forward warp tool (W) and move the ear lower down. If you want, you can modify other face details. For example, I’ve played with monkey’s lips to give the impression it is smiling.

modify monkey's ear

After made glasses layer visible, the ear is still too high. Here is the solution: select the glasses layer and go to Edit>transform>warp. Move anchor points to modify glasses form.

warp tool

We have to eliminate some parts of glasses. Reduce layer opacity: this will help understand better where to work. Then select the mask in the layer window, grab a black brush and paint over the parts you want to remove

Note: With the mask selected, black brushes are used to remove image areas, while white brushes to restore them.

use mask to eliminate some parts

remove some parts

Step 5

Now that glasses perfectly match monkey’s face, we can extract the cigarette and paste it into the canvas:


Step 6

Hide for the moment glasses and cigarette layers. We need to modify a little bit monkey’s head. Take in mind: we will use Illustrator live trace tool to recognize and trace black and white areas of the image. To obtain a good result, we need to increase image contrasts and darken image edges. Let’s start from desaturating the image. With the monkey layer selected, go to image>adjustments>desaturate or press shift+ctrl+U. Then press ctrl+M to open curves and make a “S” as shown in the screenshot below.


Grab the burn tool (O) and start painting at the top of monkey’s head to darken these areas. Continue using the burn tool to darken all the parts you want to be sure will be black in the vector format. Also you can use the dodge tool to lighten those parts you want to be white.

burn and dodge tool

The last retouch to this nice face: create a new blank layer above the monkey’s one. Ctrl+click on monkey’s layer to select its pixels. Grab a black soft (hardness 0%) brush and start painting over the edges. The aim of this step is to highlight the edges with a black brush so that the final vector will have black edges. This will be really useful if you’d like, for example, to color the vector in Illustrator using the live paint tool.

A little summary:

  • create a new blank layer above the monkey’s one
  • ctrl+click on monkey layer (in the layer window) to select its pixels
  • grab a black soft (hardness 0%) brush
  • paint over the edges of selection to highlight head edges

highlight face edges

Step 7

Make visible glasses’ layer and desaturate it (shift+ctrl+U). Pres ctrl+L to open levels window and move the black arrow to the right to darken the image.


Press ctrl+I to invert image colors. Then right-click on glasses’ layer and select blending options. Add a 3px black stroke effect:

stroke effect

Step 8

We now have to replace glasses lens. Grab the pen tool in “paths” mode and create a path that traces one of the lens

trace the lens

Create a new blank layer. Press ctrl+enter to activate the selection and alt+delete to fill selection with foreground color. The color used is not important. We will replace it later using blending options.

fill lens

Right-click on the lens layer just created and select “blending options”. Add a gradient overlay going from white to black and a 3px black stroke effect.

gradient overlay

stroke effect

Do the same with the other lens:

other lens

Step 9

Make visible the cigarette layer, grab the eraser tool (E) and eliminate the top part as shown in the screenshot below. A reduction of layer opacity can helps you achieve a better result

eliminate top of cigarette

As we made with monkey’s head in step 6, highlight cigarette edges using a black soft brush.

highlight cigarette edges

Step 10

The image is now ready for live tracing. Save as a jpg and open it in Illustrator

open image in Illustrator

Go to object>Live trace>make and expand. Then grab the magic wand tool (Y), select the white area and hit delete. Now you have your ready-to-use vector monkey!

monkey vector format

Step 11

Let’s apply the illustration on the t-shirt mockup. Open the mock-up psd and choose one from 5 available t-shirt templates. In Illustrator copy the illustration (ctrl+C) and paste it in Photoshop as a smart object.

tee mockup

Using blending options, switch monkey’s color to white. Now duplicate the t-shirt (layer>duplicate layer) and move the duplicated layer above theĀ  monkey’s one. Switch the layer blending mode to multiply and reduce opacity to 35%. You can notice that some shadow effects of the shirt affect now also the illustration, thus giving realism to the image.

White is now too faded. Go to layer>new adjustment layer>levels and use them to increase image contrasts:

Ok the image is ready to be showed to our friends or clients. Place a nice background and a soft shadow below the t-shirt. Finished! Try using different t-shirts templates and other colors for your illustration. This is my result:

final result


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(+add yours)
  1. awesomeness

    • Thanks Elan;-)

    • love those sock monkey\’s. Yours tuenrd out very Cute!Our Cousin made all the kiddos in the family (6) different sock monkey\’s. We all travel to GA for Thanksgiving. Its a big to do. After Thanksgiving dinner, we decorate the Christmas tree together. It was so wonderful to see the kiddo\’s and their hand made sock monkeys to go along with our traditional sock monkey pj attire (Nick and Nora PJ\’s) while we decorated the tree. We are Def big monkey fans!

  2. Nik

    Hey buddy, I was just wondering how you changed the monkeys colour from white to yellow?

    • Nik,
      You can right-click on the monkey’s layer thumbnail and select blending options. Here select “color overlay” and set the color you prefer

      • Seth

        Hey Sebastiano

        Awesome work! I had a question though. When I place my smart object (with its color being white) and place it on my mockup of a kelly green tshirt and try to use “multiply” command the smart object disappears fro some reason. Conversely if my smart object is in black and I go to do a color overlay I cannot convert to white. I am using RGB mode. Can you help me out with this. Not sure why my image disappears when trying to use “Multiply” or why I can’t convert a black “smart object” to white using “color overlay”?

        Thanks in advance. I know this thread is old but hopefully you can respond.

        Best regards


  3. Newbie

    Thanks for the t-shirt share and tut too :D
    Love the monkey design. So cool :D

  4. Dawid

    So cool man!

  5. Very nice tutorial… enjoying it:)

  6. O man it was long (I am a noob in Photoshop :]) but I made it, great tutorial and great design, thanks again!!!

  7. Ahhhh the magic of photoshop. Funny design. love it.

  8. Great tutorial! Really teaches users how to merge images and create a nice big mind-mess up. Did you get these shirts printed by chance? ;]

  9. thank your for sharing..
    i learn a lot on this blog..
    great post..
    keep up the good work..

  10. Joshua

    Hey man!
    Great work! I saw this a while back and I set the awesome image as my Youtube profile picture. However, I was just wondering if I was always able to do so, as I am using it for non-profit purposes. What I’m asking is – “Is the image Copyright?”

  11. Haggard

    Looks like your Monkey has been stolen:

    I doubt that they have the permission to put their logo on the shirt and sell it as their own… as much as I doubt they have permission to sell all the other stuff they stole from all around the world.

  12. This is really well presented and easy to follow illustration to design funny monkey t shirt .Really monkey is seeing very funny & cool , while smoking. and i get some new ideas after seeing this .

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