DIY Subway Art Tutorial

Few things make my eyes happier than some good ol’ subway art.  Perhaps what I love the most about subway art is that it requires little to no artistic skills and can be done for free on your computer using any kind of image editing software.  Now, for those of you who are all “but I don’t have Photoshop!” — worry not!  There are some great, FREE programs available, and they require no downloading.

I’ve always used Picnik, but tragically, it went away about two weeks ago (I shed a few tears).  However, before departing from the cyber world, Picnik gave a few recommendations, including Aviary, Picmonkey, and the Google+ Creative Kit.

The latter I’ve steered clear of simply because you have to have Google+ to use the program.  While I do have a Google+ account (why, I don’t know), it’s not something I’m not feeling particularly warm towards (I get about a dozen “so-and-so has added you on Google+” notifications a day and considering that I don’t know any of these folks, I have been sufficiently creeped out).

However, I am digging some Picmonkey.  It’s silly-easy to use, it’s free (download-free, too), and its structured almost exactly like Picnik — the only noticeable exceptions being that it doesn’t have some of the fonts that I desperately miss from Picnik (talk about first world problems).


So, with this tutorial, I’ll address how to make subway art with Picmonkey, though feel free to use your own preferred program.  (Heck, you can even use Paintbrush on your computer like I did for our Christmas postcards.  Just know that in a simpler program like Paintbrush, once you place text, you can’t move it without taking a piece of the background with you.  This works fine if your background is white, but otherwise, it won’t really work.)

Because Picmonkey is technically a photo editing program, you have to upload a photo first — before you can access any of its fab features.  I’m sure there are more complicated ways to do this, but here’s what I do:

I open Paintbrush, resize my canvas so it covers the screen (in case it isn’t that big already), then I use the bucket tool to fill the canvas with whatever color I want for the background.

You can find more choices if you go to colors, then edit colors, then define custom colors:

As far as I know, you can’t look up a specific color by its HTML color code, so that’s one downside of Paintbrush.  If you’re dead set on a particular shade of whatever, then I recommend just saving the white canvas as an image (later I’ll show you how to color it in once it’s uploaded into Picmonkey).

This is usually what I end up doing — I’ve got a saved image on my computer called “white bg” that I can resize and reuse all I want.  Whether you go the white canvas or some-other-color route, you can save the colored canvas once you’re done and upload that one to Picmonkey.

So, let’s say you’ve gone the way of the white canvas.  Of course, you can stick with the white, but if you’re feeling less vanilla, you can make a colored rectangle to cover the entire image.

Go to the left hand toolbar, click on the icon with the different shapes, and select the black rectangle.

Create a rectangle by pulling the shape across the screen until it covers all of the white.  Another toolbar window will pop up, and from here you can change the color of the rectangle.  You can also type an HTML color code in the upper right hand corner and hit enter if you’re feelin’ fancy.

Next, you need to decide how big you want the final product to be.  I always prefer 8 x 10 (think how you’re going to print it and then frame it), so I use the resize tool in the left hand toolbar and resize it to 720 X 900 pixels (make sure to deselect “keep proportions”).

From here, you can move on to adding text, or you can save and reopen the new colored background.  It takes an extra minute, but I recommend the latter.  If you don’t save it, you’ll encounter a lot of trouble once you start adding more layers (the text will be one of these layers).

After you reopen Picmonkey and upload your new colored background, it’s subway art time!  (This is where you say “Oh boy! Oh boy!”)

When doing subway art, it’s ideal to go one line at a time, making sure the text space is full all the way across.  Typically, three or four fonts are used– preferably the boxier, less curlicue ones, and about three of four colors are used.  Fortunately, there is no subway art police as of yet, so do whatever you want — knock yourself out.

You can add text by going to the left hand toolbar, clicking on the capital letter P, and typing in the text box a the top.  Once you’ve typed what you want for the top line, click “add.”  The same toolbar window will pop up (as it did before with the rectangle).  Pick your colors and size, then pick your font in the left hand tool bar.  It certainly takes a little playing around, but once you get the hang of it, it’s downright fun!  (Anyone else get excited about fonts and colors like I do?)

Like I said, I recommend going line by line.  If you want to achieve the unique look of subway art, you should fill all of the text space horizontally and vertically.  So, if you get to the end of a quote or series of words (or whatever you’ve typed) and you still have empty space, go back, make some words bigger, isolate just one operative word in a sentence and fill an entire line with just that (like I did with “love” in the Corinthians verse), add a bit of clip art (like the hearts I used), get creative.

Once you’re happy with your image, you can save it by going to the bottom left hand side of the screen, click on — just try to guess — “save,” and you’re done.  If you’re like me and you’re wanting to frame the final product, you can print it off on your printer (boo), or send it to Staples via their Copy Center website.

I highly recommend this last one; it’s always my go-to since I hate buying color ink and prefer the quality I can get from Staples’ slightly fancier machines.  I mentioned it before in this post, so you can go there for the whole scoop, but basically for a mere fifty cents you can send it to their website and pick it up in the store.

Then plop it in a frame and gaze at it with adoration.  Obviously.


So, if you’ve read through this whole post (that’s commitment) and you want to join the cool kids subway art club, but don’t have any ideas for your text, here are a few suggestions:

  • Quotations (“I think therefore I am”)
  • Verses from scripture (like above)
  • Poetry (rhymey poetry words)
  • Names of family members (Susie Johnny Eugene Alouicious)
  • Old adages and sayings (Haste makes waste)
  • Daily reminders (Floss your teeth and take your vitamins)
  • Related words within a theme (chocolate caramel marshmallows)
  • Song lyrics (You are my sunshine, my only sunshine)
  • Names of places you’ve lived (Mobile Atlanta Lancaster New York)
  • Favorite things (white copper kettles and warm woolen mittens)    :)
Here’s another one I did recently that is sort of a combination of sayings:
and here it is framed:

Your turn!  Go make some subway art, then send it to me as an attached image:

…then we can play show and tell (no pet Komodo dragons required)!!!

P.S. — The blog got a facelift!  If you get my posts through a Reader or by e-mail, swing on over to the website and tell me what you think!  (It’s a work in progress for sure!)


27 thoughts on “DIY Subway Art Tutorial

  1. This is so super helpful!!!! Thanks so much. As a note, for those of us who don’t have “Paint” on our computers (we have a Mac, I didn’t see it on here), I just googled “blank page” and found one under google images.

  2. Pingback: My Gallery Wall (Reveal) | The Ginger Penny Pincher

  3. Pingback: A Mini Makeover Plus a Really Long Preface | The Ginger Penny Pincher

  4. Pingback: Bouncy Balls and Pantyhose | The Ginger Penny Pincher

  5. You can go into PicMonkey, go to the cropping section, and click the drop down box where it says “no fixed proportions.” You can select different sizes from there (though I’m not sure if they have 15 X 24) — I haven’t made anything that big, so I’m not exactly sure. Good luck!

  6. I am so excited about this and tried it out! I love it! Any suggestions though on why it prints quite a bit lighter than it should (or atleast than the way it looks on the screen?) I had chosen some bold pinks and purples for a little girl’s room but it came out in pastel colors. Any advice you have would be appreciated!

  7. Honestly I couldn’t tell you why it would do that. I haven’t experienced that, but I’ve always printed things off at Staples, and their printers actually tend to go a bit darker.

    Are you using your home printer?

  8. Pingback: DIY Subway Art Print | Jordan & Dillan

  9. @Clare Halstead.. I had the same question until I played with it a little. When you type in the little box there is a circle at each corner and right in the middle of the top there is a line going up to a circle. That circle allows you to rotate words to any angle you want, but you would actually read the word sideways. If you want each letter straight and to read from top to bottom you can type a letter, click enter, type, click, etc. I don’t know if there is a better way to do it.

    I am wondering how you get little designs in there like the circles or hearts in the ones on this blog or even more complicated swirls or flourishes for under words, in spaces or corners????

  10. Pingback: Man Candles | The Ginger Penny Pincher

  11. thank you thank you thank you!!! i have been googeling how to make subway art in picmoneky forever and i randomly stumbled upon your tutorial. you made it so simple that even a computer dummy like myself could make my own fancy pants subway art! now i’ll i need to figure out it the dimensions for other sizes of prints. seriously am super excited and happy i found your post!

  12. Great post! Of course it would be this simple to create subway art :P I was using PicMonkey the other day and wanted to use specific colours but only had the RBC code. After some Googling, I came across this super handy web tool that converts RBC colour codes into Hex code for HTML:

    Hope this is helpful!

Comments are closed.