24 February 2018 · Brandon Seaber

Pixels to Paint: How a helmet gets its colour

It's well established that a driver's helmet is their on track identity. We explore the process of creating a helmet design, and how it moves from thousands of pixels on a screen to a showcase of their personality on track. Our partner Brandon Seaber describes his design process for the new helmet of Raffaele Marciello for the 2018 season, the world's first helmet finished with a diamond coating.

Race helmets mean different things to different drivers. Some take real pride over their design and others simply see it as purely head protection. Naturally this means the design process can be extremely different from driver to driver; a designer can be given complete freedom over the design or the driver can be really hands on.

With a driver that's been racing in cars for numerous years like Raffaele, they generally have well established design features and it's important as a designer that you recognise and keep those. Raffaele's helmets have always featured the halo that drops down the front of the helmet. Back at the start of 2015 we discussed how we could design in a new 'feature', and it's here that we designed the stylised M for the side of the helmet that seamlessly integrates with the halo and front lines. It's this combination that's now his 'design base'.

The real process with a new helmet for Raffaele starts with a discussion about what helmet brand he's going to be using for that year, how many he needs and then we will both bring our ideas to the table for the designs. Whether it's other helmets we've seen during the year or something totally unrelated to Motorsport, it all helps.

We decided on trying to use some heavy patterns for this helmet, something that we haven't done before. It's important during the initial design stage to make sure that the ideas you have in mind are something that the painter can actually achieve, so you always want to check with them. It's very easy to get caught up with overly complex patterns and tiny details that can't be realised by the painter.

It's very easy to get caught up with overly complex patterns and tiny details that can't be realised by the painter.

Before any design happens though, you have to ask about any new sponsor requirements for the helmet and add those to the base. In 2014 it was a whole roster of Scuderia Ferrari F1 team sponsors on all sides, which makes a helmet design a real challenge for any designer. This year for Raffaele it's the Stilo logo & a Mercedes star, a perfect base to design around.

With the canvas set, the fun part begins! It's here I start experimenting with the design, firstly focusing on the pattern and shapes, and then the colours to go with it. I will always focus on the main idea of the new helmet first, so if it's new colours I'll focus on the colours, if the important part's a new pattern or shape, it will be that.

Once that's complete, I'll send over some of my ideas to Raffaele and get some quick feedback. We keep it casual, using WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to discuss it and throw around thoughts and ideas on how to improve it. I really believe that keeping it casual helps build a better relationship and the work benefits because of that, you get to know them better as a person, not just another driver.

It will usually be no more than 2 or 3 ideas at first, sometimes just the 1. I'm not a fan of sending across loads of designs because I don't feel that produces a design that's for a driver's needs or personality, I'm designing the driver's helmet and not creating a video game style helmet design picker after all. The feedback loop continues until the side is as Raffaele wants it.

I'm designing the driver's helmet and not creating a video game style helmet design picker after all.

The next step is the creation of the other sides of the helmet – the front, rear, top and opposite side. This is the part that I feel can be the most tricky and it's not for everyone. You have to have a naturally good eye for detail to transfer each of the lines and shapes accurately. Usually I'll focus on picking out reference points, for instance the visor clip to correctly position a line that's on both the side and front of a helmet. It's here you see how accurate your helmet template is.

When I've sent these over to Raffaele and he's happy with the complete design, it's time to prep for the painter. Different painters can mean different things to how you prepare a helmet. Generally I will include colour codes for a painter, but with Iain (from the brilliant Liquid Colour Design) I can guarantee he will pick the right shade from the design provided and do the best job possible. What I will do though is supply the main shapes, text elements and logos in a vector file format, allowing Iain to accurately create masks for those elements.

As a designer at this stage, it's then a waiting game. Iain might be in touch with a question or a progress shot, but it's generally a pretty quiet period whilst a painter does their thing.

This time was a little different. Iain got in touch to inform me that the helmet would become the world's first diamond coated helmet, which gives a stunning finish and extra protection. 24ct gold leaf would also be applied to create a unique gold finish and give the helmet a truly special feel.

I'm sure I speak for all helmet designer's when I say that receiving the first shots of the finished helmet is like Christmas morning. There's a real sense of accomplishment as your design comes to life, you then start counting the days until you see it on track...

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About the author

Brandon Seaber is a designer specialising in web and motorsport, sometimes together!