Textures are an absolute necessity for every graphic designer. Learn how to make and apply your own custom textures with this in-depth tutorial.
If you’ve dipped your toes into the world of graphic design, you may have come across stunning compositions with a true grit quality. Ranging from subtle and speckled to gritty and destructive, textures are a great way to incorporate that handmade or worn-in factor to any piece. Graphic designers typically use textures to add authentic character to shapes, photographs, illustrations, backgrounds, and typography.
If you’ve always wondered how designers add that perfect destructive quality to their designs, the wait is over. Check out the video below to see how simple it is to create custom textures. Keep reading to get a breakdown of the full process.
What You’ll Need to Get Started
The art of creating textures requires only a few versatile materials to get started. The key essentials for creating your own textures is paper, acrylic paint, any textured surface, and a high quality scanner. If you work with crafty items, the items listed below are things you might already have in your toolkit.
Thick PaperBlack Acrylic PaintTextured Surfaces and ObjectsPaint RollersPaint TrayHigh Resolution Photo Copier or Scanner
Step 1: Create Texture
This is where the fun experimentation takes place. While there isn’t an exact science to creating unique textures, creativity and repetition yields distinct results.
There are various techniques to applying or creating texture on a piece of paper. Some methods I swear by for creating one-of-a-kind textures include using a paint roller, block printing, or crumpling paper.
Technique 1: Paint Roller and Brush
Start off by squeezing a sizable amount of acrylic paint to the paint tray. Apply the acrylic paint to the roller or brush by moving it back and forth until you’ve achieved an even layer. The key to a seamless texture is to ensure the acrylic paint is distributed evenly. Any pools of paint left on the roller or brush will result in an unequal application.
First, apply paint to the paint try.
Once you’ve applied the paint, roll or brush it onto the piece of paper, alternating between one smooth application, a back-and-forth application, or a zigzag application. Apply more paint (as needed) for an even result. The more paint applied to the brush, the less subtle the texture will be.
Apply more paint as needed.
As with any texture technique, you may not get the result you’re looking for every time. Have fun with the process and accept the imperfections.
Technique 2: Block Print
Our next technique is the block print method. This is one of my favorite techniques to use when creating custom textures because you can use almost any surface or object, making it extremely versatile. You can choose from sponges, fabric, foam, shelf liners, and more. Find objects with a unique textured surface and get to stamping!
Apply paint directly to a textured surface.
Use the paint roller or paint brush to apply paint to your textured surface, then turn over and stamp on the paper. Apply heavy-handed pressure to the object with your hands, or a clean paint roller, to ensure the texture shows through on the paper. Remove the object to see your custom texture in all its glory. If you’re unsatisfied with the result, try again and apply more paint, or opt for another type of object to use.
If the first application of paint isn’t enough, add more!
Technique 3: Crumpled Paper
This last technique is the easiest of the three. Simply take a clean sheet of paper and crumple or fold it in your hands. Flatten out the crumpled paper and repeat the process once again. Add to the distressed look by tearing away pieces of paper. Try out different methods of folding and crumpling, then flatten them out to be digitized.
Crumpled paper is a versatile texture that can add depth to any design.
Step 2: Digitize Texture
Let your piece of paper completely dry (if using paint) before continuing onto this step. Take your paper and place it face down on a photo scanner. For textures, always scan at 300 PPI to ensure the highest resolution. Save your scanned image as a JPG or PDF and place it in a folder or on your computer’s desktop for easy access.
Always scan your textures at 300 dpi.
Step 3: Edit Texture in Photoshop
Import your scanned image into Adobe Photoshop by dragging the file on top of the Photoshop icon, or by right-clicking on the file and selecting Open with Photoshop. Save the imported image as a Photoshop Document by hitting Shift + Command + S and choosing PSD from the file format dropdown.
The layers panel in Photoshop is where you’ll make most of your adjustments.
Next, pull up the Layers panel. The Layers panel houses most of the adjustments that we’ll be using to edit the textured image. Click on the half-shaded circle icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Levels. The Levels adjustment contains sliders where you can manipulate the appearance of highlights, shadows, and midtones. We’re simply going to edit the texture here and there, making the white portions brighter and the black portions darker by moving around the outer two sliders.
The Spot Healing Brush can help you smooth out any problem areas.
If you have any problem areas that need fixing, don’t worry! Just click on the original texture layer, head over to the Spot Healing Brush (J), and click on the necessary areas with the highlighted cursor. Change the cursor size by using the keyboard shortcut [ and ] to decrease and increase, respectively.
Once you’ve finished editing the texture, save the file as a JPG by going to File > Export > Export As. Your texture is now ready to be used in any digital design.
Step 4: Incorporate Textures to Design
Now that you’ve digitized your custom textures, let’s start incorporating them into a design. For this step, I typically use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop as my two softwares of choice. Illustrator is best for vector designs, while Photoshop is best reserved for raster designs.
There are many methods of applying textures to designs, but these three techniques are extremely versatile and can be used for more than textures: Opacity Mask, Roughen Effect, and Blend Modes.
One of my favorite ways to incorporate textures into vector elements is to use opacity masks in Adobe Illustrator. While they seem similar to clipping masks, opacity masks behave quite differently. Instead of using solid shapes to “clip” an image or pattern, opacity masks use black and white elements to take away or add to the vector shape. Texture files that are black and white only work extremely well in opacity masks. This is why we edited the texture file earlier to ensure it translates when applied to an opacity mask.
Start off by importing a vector design — such as this concert poster — or open up a current design in Illustrator. Before diving into a texture frenzy, first analyze which portions of your composition should have textures. They should be applied sparingly but thoughtfully. Too much texture can obstruct a design’s tone and message.
Opacity masks are a great way to blend your textures with your design.
Instead of using the same texture on every element of a composition, find portions that stand out and add some character to those elements with the help of textures. This can be backgrounds, typography, or prominent illustrations.
Adjust the transparency settings until you get the depth and texture you’re looking for.
Click on the vector shape with the Selection Tool (V), then bring up the Transparency menu (Window > Transparency). Click on Make Mask, select the black square, hit Shift + Command + P, then import the texture of your choice. Drop the texture over the vector path, resizing as needed. Utilize the Invert Mask option to revert the black and white portions of your texture. Rinse and repeat to the remaining vector paths.
When working in Illustrator, many vector paths can appear “too perfect,” especially when using textures. Straight edges and geometric shapes mixed in with distressed textures can make a design composition feel unrealistic. This is where the Roughen Effect technique comes in. It roughens up the edges of any selected vector path, making the design feel a bit more authentic. While this effect can be used on its own, it’s best paired with the Opacity Mask technique.
Activate the Selection Tool (V) and click on an individual vector path. Head up to the Effect tab at the top of the program and scroll over Distort & Transform to bring out the dropdown containing Roughen.
Roughening your textures requires very minute adjustments.
Roughening your vectors can either go terribly wrong or beautifully right. The key to this effect is to be subtle and use it sparingly. Keep the Size as Relative at one percent or less, and the Detail around 40/in. I frequently set the Points to Corner. If applying to a more rounded shape, set your Points as Smooth. Any values greater than specified might make your shapes look haphazard and spiky. Hit the Preview check box to see if you need to make any further adjustments.
Once you’re satisfied, select OK. To quickly apply the Roughen Effect to other vector shapes, hit Shift + Command + E.
Be sure to preview your changes as you work.
In addition to incorporating textures to vectors, you can also do the same for raster elements in Adobe Photoshop. Blend modes are one of the most versatile tools in Photoshop, and they’re also great for adding and manipulating texture files.
Blend modes are another versatile tool.
To further add a more worn look to my concert poster from earlier, I’m going to import the file into Photoshop and find a paper texture to layer on top. Drag and drop the paper texture onto the design, then resize to fit the dimensions of your composition with the help of Command + T.
Resize the texture layer to make sure it covers your design.
Head over to the Layers panel and click on the second dropdown menu, where it says Normal at the top of the panel. This is where the powerful blend modes lie in Photoshop. Some of my most-used blend modes consist of Multiply, Overlay, Screen, and Lighten. In the instance of using paper textures, we’ll use the Multiply blend mode. This gives your design that crumpled paper feel and the illusion of depth. You can manipulate the opacity settings of the paper texture by moving the opacity sliders in the Layer menu.
In the end, textures can really make your designs come to life!
Ta-da! That’s all there is to creating textures from scratch, and applying them to any design. Being armed with this knowledge, you’re now ready to take on any texture challenge.
Interested in the tracks we used to make this video?
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