Introduction: Skateboard/Longboard Griptape Design
So you've got a new board and you need to grip it, but you want to jazz it up a bit you say? Something a bit more than a basic pinstripe or two? But you don't know where to begin, what kind of design you should do, or how to get your amazing idea onto your board?
In this instructable (my first!) I'm going to walk you through the process of creating your own custom grip design, right from planning out what will work best for your type of riding, to applying it onto your deck.
A bit about me - I'm a downhill skateboarder from New Zealand (have been travelling to compete in races/attend events for the past five or so years) but I do a bit of longboard dancing on the side too. I started skating about nine years ago and I like my boards to look good and be functional, so I tailor my grip designs to the type of riding I intend to use the board for.
Griptape (use standard street grip - Mob griptape is good, but whatever works)
Craftknife + spare blades (if you can get one with snap-off blades this is best - you will be chewing through blades, depending on how complex your design is)
Wheel (or other roller-like device)
File/rock/metal thing you're not gonna mind scratching up
Glue stick/sellotape/staples/paperclips (optional)
Step 1: What Kind of Skateboard Are You Gripping?
What type of board do you have? Think about the kind of riding you will be doing on it - dancing/freestyle, downhill, freeriding, street, or just cruising? Different types of skateboarding require grip (or a lack thereof) in different places, and this will affect what kind of design would best suit your board. Cutting away sections of the griptape will obviously create areas where you'll have less traction between your shoe and the deck.
For example, downhill (DH) boards require much more grip than most other boards, as you do not want your feet slipping around when predrifting a corner. DH grip is much coarser than normal street grip, and some skaters even drill screws through their boards from the bottom up to really lock their feet into place on the spikes.
Any cut out sections for a DH grip design should therefore not interfere with where you will be standing, especially since we'll be using regular griptape for this (it's much easier to cut, trust me). Think about how wide your stance is, and whether you are goofy (right foot forward) or regular (left foot forward). I have placed DH grip designs on the nose, tail (it wasn't a functional tail, but I probably wouldn't do this again anyhow), and middle of various boards. See the attached pictures for examples of this.
Dancing/freestyle boards on the other hand are quite the opposite. Many dancers these days only come with grip on the kicktails, and nothing on pretty much the whole standing platform. This reduces wear on your shoes as you'll be moving around a lot, and also helps you to pivot on a point.
You will have much more design space to work with on a dancer, however you must also consider the increased amount of foot movement. Delicate designs with lots of cut away detail and thin strips of grip will not stand up well to being kicked and twisted. This is part of the reason why most of my designs are influenced by lacework/doilies and mandala-like designs. I try to create as many connections between the shapes as possible, and I tend towards symmetrical (but still free-handed) and repetitive patterns.
For this instructable we will be working with a dancer - the Landyachtz Stratus. As you can see in the above photo, it came with just two bits of griptape slapped onto the kicks.
Do bear in mind though that it is a lot quicker to cut a few bigger, straighter edged holes than many smaller, more rounded ones.
Sharp points flick up easily - think like how the corners of a bandaid are rounded to help it stick.
Avoid the bolt-holes - poking hardware through a particularly delicate part of your design, then having it twist and settle as you skate is a good way to rip it.
Step 2: Sketching It Out
So you've decided where to place your design? Start by tracing the section of your board where the design will go. Make sure to take note of important features (e.g. boltholes) which will help you line it up later when applying the grip. You only need to mark where the edges of your board are for planning out the width of your design, as you will not be cutting the edges until after the grip is applied.
If you are planning a symmetrical design, make any folds or guidelines which will help you get proportions right. I don't like my designs to be perfectly symmetrical (this makes any errors in the symmetry more noticeable), so I tend to just eyeball it and sketch around these folds (a centre line in this case).
I start by sketching out the "skeleton" of my design first, then adding width to this, erasing bits of the skeleton where the shapes join. This helps me to visualise what my design will look like when cut out. It's really important to consider how much width your design can take - remember, narrow/fine strips will be more prone to tearing off with use.
Once you're happy with how your design is looking, make it permanent by outlining your cutting lines in sharpie/permanent marker. Make sure the outlines bleed through to the other side of the template - you'll be working in reverse later. I forgot to take this into account when I began sketching, so was using the back of some old letters - when I flipped the template over, it was too difficult to work with all the existing print on the back, so I ended up making an extra copy.
This is also where you can use your highlighter to colour in your design - this can be extremely useful in helping you see the contrast between negative space (the bits of your deck that you'll see underneath) and the bits that will eventually be covered in griptape. This can make the template quite damp with ink (make sure to let it dry after!), but it is extremely useful for more complex patterns. I didn't find it necessary for this design, but you can see the coloured template for my Good Rooster dancer in Step #1.
If necessary, you'll now need to trace any extra copies required - I needed at least two templates, one for each kick. Stapling/paper-clipping/taping the top tracing sheet to the original template can help you keep the two copies aligned. If you do this during the day you can use a window as a lightbox (I was smart and did this at night, so ended up using the TV...).
Step 3: Transferring to the Griptape
Use your gluestick to attach the design template to the griptape's backing paper. Take extra care to glue on top of all the lines you'll be cutting along, to prevent them peeling up when cutting. The most important thing here is to flip the paper your template is on over - stick the template face down to the backing paper!! We are applying the template to the underside of the griptape, but our tracing was of the top. This is why we wanted the template outline to bleed through to the back.
There are other methods you can use to trace your design directly onto the backing paper, but as most backing papers come with patterns printed on them, I find it easiest to stick a template directly on.
Make sure you wait for the glue to completely dry before cutting!
Step 4: Cutting the Griptape
Once the glue has dried, it's time to start the most labour-intensive part - cutting your grip! Lay down a cutting board or some old newspaper to protect your work surface.
Main points here are to make sure you're always using a sharp blade, and to try not to catch the blade on balled up bits of template paper/backing paper too much (keeping a sharp blade will help prevent this). If I'm cutting out a relatively bigger section, I tend to use several lighter, long strokes. If I'm cutting a small detail like a circle or mini teardrop shape, I tend to poke the blade all the way through in lots of little, deep movements.
You'll know it's time to change your blade when it starts snagging heaps on your template paper - the griptape will cause lots of little nicks to the edge, which get stuck. You might see fluff from the paper stuck to the top side of your grip, but don't worry too much about cleaning this unless it's stuck to the adhesive. These fluffy bits will come off when you're skating.
Notice that I've only cut out the design, I haven't cut the edges of the griptape out in the shape of the board. This is for two reasons - it's extremely hard to line the griptape up perfectly (you don't really want ungripped edges, right?) and because there is a better way of cutting these edges when you stick it down...
Step 5: Applying the Griptape
If you're not working with a brand spanking new deck, chances are you're going to have to remove the existing griptape before you can slap your new design on. You can apply heat with a hairdryer to soften the adhesive, making it easier to peel off. If you will be regripping over where your trucks are mounted, remember to remove these first.
To position your new design, start by lining up the most important features first - for me, this meant getting the pattern as centred as possible. It can be easier to manage if rather than removing all of the backing paper at once, you peel it off slowly as you go, working from the centre outwards. Once you've got it down, use a wheel (or other roller-like device) to help squish out any remaining air bubbles, rolling in the direction of your deck's concave, and outwards towards the kick.
Now to cut the edges! Prep for this by taking your file/rock/the trucks you've just removed, and running it along the edge of your board, scoring an outline. This serves two purposes - it removes some grit, making the grip easier to cut (you'll know all about this after step 3), and it helps to smoosh the edges of the grip tape into your board.
To trim the edges, hold your craft knife blade at a 45deg angle to the board, and SLOWLY slice along the scored line. Now normally, I would always tell you to cut AWAY from yourself... but from experience I have found it much more controllable to lean the board against me, and draw the blade up towards myself when trimming edges. If you are not comfortable with this, or you're having difficulty cutting through the grip, then definitely cut outwards and towards the ground.
Lastly, use one of the bolts to help you figure out where the mounting holes are and use your blade to poke a little "x" through them to help you re-mount the trucks back.
Step 6: All Done!
Stand back, admire your work, and take a few photos now before your fresh grip gets all dirty. Good job!
Check out this board (and all others pictured too!) in action on Instagram: @_hazecat :)
Runner Up in the