Very often I’m asked how to come up with a paint design for a new airplane. I have touched this topic on another page already before. I’ll try to give a more detailed answer here, based on the design process for my latest creation.
Well - except for those rare moments when a divine inspiration enlightens our brain, we’ll have to apply some basic knowledge plus some intensive work at midnight hours to develop a pleasing design. And intensive work it is should the final outcome please more than a few blind eyes. Since I’m the (desparate) owner of a computer, I try to let this machine doing part of the work. A very helpful tool is Corel Draw, and since many people are using this software, many hints given in this story are based on it. For those lucky enough to have a picture enhancing software (like PhotoShop, Paint-net, etc.), even more options are available.
After having decided on a definite shape and an appropriate name, the actual design work begins. In most cases I choose a white background. White has the image of bright, clean, clear, fresh, pure, genuine, and other positive impressions. The other colors have to support the meaning of the name.
Now the basic layout of the color areas is laid out. There’s a wide choice of methods. Usually we run some long narrow areas spanwise and add some short but wide areas in other directions. I especially like the “arrow theme”; which means having lines from the center of the wing (close to the fuselage) running backwards AND outwards, thus forming an arrow shaped arrangement. For this new layout, I also wanted to add another    
element. This is a very dangerous decision since the design can easily end up in a chaotic layout. So this new element had to have a very simple shape. I decided on a “circle” which in itself had to bear some resemblance to the topic (name). Based on these considerations some rough sketches were drawn which already can visualize the overall impression. Before any “fine tuning” can take place we have to think about the details now.
I have mentioned before that finding a nice name for our latest creation is an easy task when we consider song titles. I really like the song “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” with its blue mood, and since I had decided on a mainly blue color layout, this was the appropriate name. Finding a suitable font for the name is an easy task - even WORD has an endless choice. We can simply try several fonts to find out what pleases our eyes. If we use Corel, we can stretch, compress, or deform the font in any way we want.
I wanted to go a little farther. Using one of these fonts and modifying it a little, I printed the name and
used this as a pattern to draw my own font. Considering the special character of a rose some “thorns” were added to the letters. The drawing was done with an outline only because the color filling is done much easier with Corel.
At this point I’d like to give some practical design hint. When laying one element “over” another, the look is immensely improved if there is a small edge = contour shown around the “upper” element. This means: the “overlaying” element MUST have a small gap ( = a wide edge/ contour) around its outline to separate it from the underlaying area. If we happen to have
PhotoShop or similar software, we have perfect help to care for this problem. We simply open the name file and put some contour around the font (about 3 to 5 pixels, depending on letter size). Printed on paper and cut out this is an excellent pattern for our spray mask (template) when we spray the (underlaying) color area. Another trick is to NOT position the motiv ( emblem/ font/ letters ) right in the middle of the underlaying colour area. Instead we let it (the motiv) overlap just by half its width and leave the rest reach into the base colour (in my case white). This method, combined with the “gap”, is a popular trick among graphic designers to create a strong illusion of “depth” in what basically is only a 2D design.
Developing the emblem is the next exciting task. I needed a rose - a red one at that! Searching “Google pictures” might be some help or we can try to shoot pictures in our own garden to at least get some idea about what a rose looks like. At some late midnight hour ( maybe supported by some excellent red wine) I tried some rough sketches . Many people are tempted to produce a more or less exact copy of the real thing. By all means: please try to resist this temptation. We’re not going to create a fine art painting. What we need is a graphic presentation of the idea “rose”. The more basic and
simple it is the better. The final sketch was scanned. Usually this emblem is not very precise ( it depends on how steady your drawing hand is). Therefore I have drawn a new sketch with Corel ( drawn over the scan). The huge advantage: you can scale up or down the emblem as much as you want, still have 100% sharpness, and line thickness will always be exactly what we have decided on; regardless of scale ( because it’s a vector file now). Also any desired color filling is possible in this mode.
                    If you like you can also produce your license number, with a surrounding line, the exhaust stack of your 12 cylinder engine, some layout details, or any other imaginable graphics. At the same time we can draw some cockpit details, if desired. Having prepared all these details, now it’s time to draw the final layout. I do this on a separate full size drawing.
This helps a lot when trying to position the edges of a color area ( can we place it on sheeted areas or has it to run over rib bays ?! ) and where to draw ink lines. On this drawing I measure the distance of lines and edges from the flap hinge gap and write down the figure on the drawing. These numbers will help tremendously when finally placing the masking tape stripes. Considering these aspects will not only make work much more easy. It may also improve our graphic layout when not too many lines (=directions) are applied.
Now we are talking about decals. Of course it makes sense to combine several of those particular elements (files) on one common sheet, printed on commercially available decal paper, and decals produced and applied. Now this leads us to a basic controvercy. Decals to be or not to be !? Honestly, I have to admit that I just couldn’t have produced the kind of font/ elements/ details - and the quality of it - in a way which I’ve used for this airplane. Doing it with spray work only wouldn’t have resulted in the same elegant image ( those fine and narrow black outlines - which look so elegant - are not possible with spray work only).
So we have the choice: pure traditional spray work or computer aided decals. I really can understand honest traditionalists with their clear and strict opinions. However, being a creative mind with somewhat limited skills - am I allowed to use decals to achieve a higher level of design finesse (which is not possible with traditional methods)? By the way - these decals are hardly visible, if at all ( to compose those fearful minds!). If covered by a solid clear coat - which is necessary anyway - you’ll have a hard time to discover the trick.
  On the forerunner of this airplane (my SERENADE design) the same methods were used, but not to the same extend. The name was a pixel file, and the sign shop charged me quite some money to transfer it into a vector file (which they need for cutting spray templates with a plotter). This time they simply refused to make a mask for me - the outline of the font “Blue Lady” is just too complicated. So I had no other choice.
I think the result will justify the method. At least I hope I could give some helpful advice to people who want to create nice control line aerobatic airplanes. In my opinion: whatever method is used - as long as it supports our high culture of aesthetics, it should be accepted.