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Stickers are SOOO cool: custom goalie masks for cheap

special thanks to James Demarco for his cartoon

If you’re anything like most members of the goalie nation, chances are that a big part of your fascination with playing the position has to do with the coolness factor of strapping on all that equipment.  At the very top of the coolness factor scale, the goalie mask surely comes in first place.  Old guys like me remember sticking black and white hockey tape over that Johnny Boweresque clear plexi mask for the zebra effect, or etching fake scars with magic marker a la Gerry Cheevers.  For others, the marque de commerce that evokes the best memories might be the Palmateer blue zig-zag or Dryden’s CH bullseye, Eddie Belfour’s screaming eagle head or Stephane Fiset’s impregnable ice cube wall, Felix Potvin’s stylized cat or Grant Fuhr’s gushing oil well.  The bottom line is that almost all of us love the way the mask gives its wearer a particular character and mystique.

Moreover, the proof that this notion has carried over into the current era is the literal explosion of high-end mask painters.  Today Atom and Pee-Wee kids are getting custom lids.  Pro goalies now have taken to wearing different masks for special games or to support charities.  inGoalMag.com has featured many of the talented artists who have turned the humble brain bucket into a literal canvas for the most varied and evocative of designs.

Of course, as in all things, excellence has a price.  In the case of the custom air-brushed paint job with a favourite rendition of your-late-Aunt-Mildred-flexing-her-tattooed-biceps-as-she-wields-a-pointy-Sher-Wood-and-flashes-a-toothless-hockey-grin, the final bill can easily run into the $500+ range.  No small amount, especially for a dad on a budget or a beer leaguer (I’m both of these) who fixes his goalie sticks with duct tape to make them last longer (or is that to make them heavier when used as a club…?)

James Demarco poked fun at those of us financially challenged goalies with the cartoon featured above. For me, a guy who had for 20 years been wearing a garage-sale Jofa birdcage combo, it was a provocation to find out whether there was a way to have my cake and eat it too:  get a cool mask and a cool graphic without having to take out a second mortgage.

As it turns out, one of the hockey dads I know happens to own a company that does giant size industrial vinyl graphics, banners and publicity.  His company, Groupe Tetu, started out with his dad doing handpainted signs, just like everyone else did years ago.  Since that time, the business has evolved into a high tech service that, among other things, is able to make computer cut vinyl stickers that can cover 100% of the surface of any taxi or panel truck, or can produce 4 story high posters of Roberto Luongo for the world championships at the Colisée de Québec.

If you need BIG, Groupe Tetu has you covered!

For somewhere between $100-150 bucks, Jean François Tetu can take a Photoshopped design, submitted in jpeg format on a cd, and print them on a high tech 3M vinyl sticker that comes with a protective gloss finish layer bonded to the full colour graphic underneath.

Here’s the amazing part of the process.  I had always thought that stickers were cheap and fragile compared to a real paint job.  My scepticism was won over when we applied them in Jean-François’ kitchen.  First of all, he stretched a white decal over the entire surface of my black helmet so I wouldn’t have to paint it.  I honestly couldn’t tell that it wasn’t painted in an auto body shop.  Next, we spent an hour (!) getting the middle stripe correctly adjusted without folds, bumps or air bubbles.  What amazed me was how much he abused the sticker, stretching it, peeling it off at least a dozen times, heating it with a hair dryer, placing it again and again until it looked right.  Every time we pulled too hard and overstretched the decal, all we had to do was pull it off, lay it flat and heat it.  It would instantly shrink back to its original shape and size.  Remember, this is the same quality of decal used to decorate panel trucks and taxis that run outdoors in the mud, rain and snow year round.

Take a look at the final result and decide for yourself.  While it must be pointed out that the stickers are not dollar-store cheap, and that they are quite tricky to apply without screwing the job up (especially on the top of the helmet where the curve is most pronounced), they provide an option that is worth consideration.  Moreover, you could make a sticker of anything that can be photographed, from the Mona Lisa to a Mandinka Warrior to your late Aunt Mildred.  There are artists out there who can air-brush with accuracy that is photo-real, but that kind of skill comes at a premium (as it should, since these guys don’t come a dime a dozen).

Hasta la victoria siempre! (Forever onwards until victory!)

Groupe Tetu’s specialty is certainly not goalie masks, but if you wish to contact Jean François, he is open to inquiries (www.groupetetu.com).  If your French isn’t up to speed (though I do believe they do business in English as well) then try contacting me through inGoalMag.com and I can inquire on your behalf.  Or try leblancdesigns.com, signspecialist.com or check on Ebay for Troy Lee sticker packages.

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23 Comments

  1. Hutch

    Thanks Paul for this great piece.

    Two questions – 1. how would stickers work on a beat up old mask….would the base white sticker cover up nicks, scratches etc.? and 2. Am I right in understanding that there is no clear coat over them?

  2. paul szabo

    Hi Hutch;
    What I did was use fibreglass filler on the knicks and sand it all down with a fine emery cloth before we put the white cover sticker on. About an hour of work max if you’ve used this stuff before. It is true that any gouges will show up through the sticker. But the knicks would still show if you had painted it in your garage with no prep.

    A buddy of mine and I did our masks together to reduce the set-up charge. He used a water based clearcoat and a brush (spray can clear-coat has acetone and will damage the sticker). I think it looks better without (no brush marks). I did my son’s mask with a sticker three years ago and I was surprised how well it stood up. That vinyl, esp. with the clearcoat bonded right onto it, seems pretty tough.

  3. Chris

    Any chance you could put a picture of what your .jpg you sent them looked like? I’d be curious to see the orientation required to make it turn out that nice.

  4. Chris Agaom

    Sorry to liter the comment page, but just ordered a Warwick and very interested in possibly trying this out instead. So are the lines an individually cut sticker, then the two Che pictures as well as the bottom chin piece are all separate stickers?

    Originally I was thinking that was one big overlay on the mask…

  5. paul szabo

    Hi Chris and Chris A.;
    I posted copies of my graphic to flickr.com.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/?saved=1

    The graphic of Che Guevara is known pretty mcuh everywhere, and in fact is the most reproduced image in history, apparently. I worked in Latin America as a volunteer on several projects and el Che is a hero amongst heroes to the people down there (though this does not mean I think Cuba today is a particularly just country for its citizens).
    As for the flag, I just used google to find a Cuban flag and stretched it using Photoshop.

    Personally I prefer mask designs that are more bold, less busy and which can be recognized from a distance (like Ed Belfour’s or Felix Potvin’s).

    The white background layer was a single sheet stretched over the whole mask (and a separate one for the backplate). The Che face (left and right mirror images) were each separate, as was the flag, all three of which we stuck on top of the white cover layer.

    The hard part of applying the picture stickers is that if you pull and stretch them too much trying to get the folds and bubbles out, then your picture gets deformed or ends up being in the wrong place on the mask. That’s why it took us so long to get it right. Best to spend a bit more get two sets made in case you ruin one. Also, you could change your mask as often as you like for a lot less $$…

  6. Nick Hein

    Paul,

    Great article! I think if Groupe Tetu really marketed this aspect of their business (not entirely knowing how ‘big’ they are) and devoted a couple of folks to it, they could keep themselves busy with the prospect of many goalie customers if they could be competitive with mask painters. Have they considered making some stock designs? Even a template that could be customized would be cool to match jersey or gear colors?

    I am possibly interested in some stickers, however I’d prefer to know that the application process would be performed at their business. It sounds like you had the benefit of some very personalized service. I’m not so sure I would be as confident in my own abilities to apply the stickers myself at home based on the description in your story.

    Maybe Hutch can forward you my personal email or we can trade somehow to discuss further?

    Thanks!

  7. paul szabo

    Hi Nick;
    I think you are correct that Groupe Tetu could easily start a division of their business just for goalie masks. I know they have done motorcycle helments in the past, but it seems like on more of a one-off basis. In fact they are quite a huge company- they have these giant machines that can make 20 foot tall stickers like the one on the Colisée. So most of their business is for signage, shopping malls, panel trucks etc.

    It is true that I got special service from the president because he was a friend, but as it turned out he felt a bit guilty because he was not nearly as good at applying the stickers as his employees. So I think that you could work something out to send him your mask and have it done on site, though there would probably be a charge for their time.

    I would be happy to make direct inquiries on your behalf. My wife already rolls her eyes that hockey seems to be my 12 month a year (pre)occupation…

  8. D

    So are there photoshop templates that one can use to help design stickers for goalie helmets?

  9. D

    – So are there photoshop templates that one can use to help design stickers for goalie helmets?

  10. paul szabo

    Hello D;
    There are no photoshop templates that I have ever heard of, but just about any type of graphic you wish can be put on a goalie helmet. It only gets tricky if the design has to fit into a specific area on the mask. Once you begin to heat and stretch the vinyl it can become distorted (although it is easy to peel it off, reheat it and let it return to its original size to start all over)

    I have seen a sort of template of Carey Price’s mask on the web i.e. his entire mask graphic laid flat. This could easily be copied. Here are links to a couple of templates that could be used as a means of designing your own custom graphic. They come from the hockey video games where I believe you can actually design your own mask which will appear in the video game
    http://img206.imageshack.us/img206/1912/preview7uf9.jpg
    http://www.fhr.fi/lurkins/fantasy_cbj.jpg

  11. Todd O

    Paul, it says you’d be willing to contact on my behalf; I don’t speak a lick of English, and to even try to somehow translate I feel would be completely inappropriate. What I REALLY would love is a simple black on white Felix Potvin sticker to spread on my helmet. Awesome article; I’ve been wondering how to do this inexpensively for ages now. Let me know if this would be possible! Thank you

  12. Todd O

    Err.. I meant to say, I don’t speak a lick of French.

  13. burkanuck

    I know this isn’t really on topic but why on earth would anyone want a murderer like Che Guevara on their mask. Only people who are totally ignorant of what a heartless murderer he was think this guy was “cool”.

  14. My2cents

    I agree with burkanuck. Che was a murderer. What a poor choice to use as an illustration. A great article, but
    a terrible tribute to an unworthy person for any goalie to admire.

  15. paul szabo

    We obviously have studied from different history books. While Che may have been a revolutionary, he got his start travelling around Latin America as a young med student who was disgusted by the endemic poverty and corruption of dictators, many of whom were backed by the US and their corporations (like United Foods, Del Monte etc.) Che was also a political theorist, writer, economist, doctor. If he was despised by the US, it was for trying to change the terrible state of people’s lives in places like Cuba. If one uses the term murderer in his case, what term can be used for the CIA officials who planned and executed so many assassinations, coups, disappearances and imprisonments in Latin America, just to keep their friends in power?? Che is an icon in those countries for a reason- he may have taken up arms but he also did it in the best interest of the poor.

  16. Kevin K

    Is there anyway you could do a felix potvin template but with the florida panther colour?

  17. Mike

    Too bad you chose to put a racist murderous thug on your helmet.

  18. D

    So, why did you put that communist revolutionary fcuk on your lid? Couldn’t think of a real hero?

  19. David S

    I was wondering if you could inquire on my behalf about a solid black skin. I currently have a blue helmet and my team colors are green and yellow and I don’t want to spend $350 to get a new helmet. I have an Itech Nv7 which is the same as the Bauer NME 7. Thanks!

  20. Gabe D

    Find a local graphic supplies store and you can purchase vinyl in whatever colour you want – hard part will be applying a new skin with one sheet. Lots of patience will be needed.

  21. Sean Agnew

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the great artical. I’m a goalie and graphic artist who for years has done my own mask with vinyl. You will see two of my designs on my website. Love the cartoon at the top of the page. It’s the subject of the cartoon I wanted to ask you about. I would like to expand my talents to include minor hockey goalies. Does Group Tetu do all ages of masks or just adults. I’m just looking for info on how to start my own business. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read this. Hopefully we can talk more on the subject. Have a great weekend I look forward to your reply.
    Sean

  22. Josh Waldron

    I use the old cooper sk 2000. I needed it blue for the season. I use paint for plastic, put a sticker over it, then clear coated it. I’m amazed it has lasted 4 years

  23. Frank

    Hi, I’m looking for somewhone who can make me a Potvin design on a new helmet for a good price. I live in Quebec City – senior goalie mask thanx