I've been a New York Rangers hockey fan for more than 20 years. When watching NHL-level goalies, I'm always amazed at their reflex speed, flexibility, and eagle-eyed vision when tracking a slap shot heading toward the goal.
I enjoy checking out the custom goalie helmets, too! Most professional helmets are essentially works of art designed to prevent devastating injuries. NHL goalie helmets have been referred to in this article as "the last bastion of individuality in pro sports." Holograms, glitter, tributes to other players or pop culture now cover the headgear of nearly every professional goalie in the NHL. (Check out The Mask series with Henrik Lundqvist for lots of goalie mask eye-candy!)
I was so excited when my friend, Wendy, asked me to design her goalie mask. We decided we'd try a helmet wrapping company. The company would literally shrink-wrap the mask with heated vinyl, similar to the wraps you see on corporate automobiles or city buses.
Wendy is a huge fan of the Carolina Hurricanes, so red and black were our go-to color scheme and we designed the rest of the mask from that inspiration point.
Despite living on opposite sides of the country, we were able to work closely together to make sure we incorporated her personality into the design. We communicated via text message, email and instant messenger to discuss ideas and exchange inspiration images.
The final design included a target on the left side and a brick wall on the chin area with graffiti-style "Be Big, Be Ready" wording. On either side of the chin, a silhouette of the Statue of Liberty and of the Space Needle offer a nod to two places she's called home.
We incorporated a stylized version of a hurricane nautical flag signal and dark patches of 'bruising' within the textured red background. The back panel reads "Fear Less" which is a play on words, also referring to "Fearless" as it passes on either side of the back strap.
Her last name, Thomas, is emblazoned on the crown of the mask in a bold font with a brushed stainless steel effect, and the back edge of the mask was bordered with a matching, jagged-edged stainless effect.
Before installation, the design was updated slightly, including changing the font color, and updating the stainless steel edging to diamond-plate steel, which is generally associated with more toughness and durability than stainless steel.
Turn-around for the installation was only about 3 weeks. While she loved the overall look of the helmet, after a few games Wendy suffered a concussion from a strong slap shot.
She decided to upgrade the protection quality of her helmet, and reached out to me to design her second helmet. She planned to have the second helmet painted, rather than wrapped, to ensure durability in the long run. The replacement helmet design would have a black base, but would still feature the red and black color scheme.
The new mask would display the Albany, NY skyline on the left jawline, and the Seattle, WA skyline on the right. A giant Space Needle would raise up from the chin to the crown. The graphics would be painted in crisp white with a red soft glow to pop from the black background.
Bent nails would be scattered across the crown, referring to her teammate's sentiments that she was "tough as nails". The phrases "Try Hard" and "Fear Less" finished out the design.
The helmet and design were sent out for painting, and we waited anxiously for an agonizing 8 months for it to be completed.
What we learned together about designing helmets:
1) If durability of the design matters in the long run, painting is the way to go. The wrapped mask would have difficulty standing up to the abuse of repeated slap-shots from college or professional level players.
2) Youth players may find the wrapping technique a relatively quick and economical way to express themselves through their equipment design.
3) If time is of the essence, wrapping the mask is a fast solution.
4) Painting the mask is a lot like custom painting a car or motorcycle. There are professionals out there who are amazingly skilled artists, and they have long wait lists for their services. If you can wait it out, you'll get to take advantage of their skills and expertise, and they'll be able to seal the artwork properly to ensure its long life.