The National Poster Example http://www.dkngstudios.com/images/national.gif

Can anyone give me some tips or point me to a tutorial that can help me learn how to add details like grit and texture to vector graphics like in the above image by DKNG Studios? I assume it involves a lot of photoshop brushes and/or textures but I've been unsuccessful in finding any go-to methods.

Often with textures I find it hard to achieve the exact results I'm looking for and they can really increase my file size and make the artwork convoluted.

Brushes can be useful but I find them to work better in photoshop and it can become difficult to constantly switch between the programs, especially when trying to keep the layers straight.

I've found tutorials explaining vector halftones but still have a lot of trouble implementing them well.

Any help is greatly appreciated.




3 Answers 3


Many images which use textures or "grunge" appearances in Illustrator take advantage of Opacity Masks and embedded raster images. Even though Illustrator is vector at its core, there are times where utilizing the subtle variations in a raster image can be helpful. Trying to create distressed or mottled backgrounds is certainly one such case.

First, find a raster image with a texture you like. It's easiest if it's a greyscale image (but color images work). Greyscale simply allows the raster image to adjust values rather than possibly also altering the color of (what will be) underlying objects.

So a grey scale texture image:

enter image description here

Open the Illustrator artwork:

enter image description here

Now, if I want to add the texture to the light brown background area:

  • Import the raster texture image
  • Position it above the object I want to apply it to
  • Select the texture image and the object below it
  • Click the Make Mask button on the Transparency Panel

You can then click the mask thumbnail on the Transparency Panel and move the raster image around to see how it effects the object it is applied to.

Large animated gif attached. It may take a moment to load

animated gif

What the Opacity Mask does is hide portions of the light brown rectangle allowing the dark brown rectangle to show through it. Like all masks, the dark areas of the raster image hide content and the white areas show content.

You could apply an Opacity Mask to the artwork as a whole or use several varying textures and apply them to separate objects.

This is often how "grudge" appearances are achieved with Illustrator.

Be aware: This does use raster images. And with that in mind the raster mask is just as susceptible to "broken pixels" as any raster image should to overly enlarge the artwork. Unlike most vector creation, you need to pay attention to the PPI and any scaling you do if using this technique.

You could also auto-trace the raster texture and then use a standard clipping mask in Illustrator. However, often auto-tracing raster texture images results in unwieldy large files which can quickly become unworkable. Illustrator tends to get slower and slower with each new complex vector object. In addition, some subtle texture variations simply aren't possible using vector paths.

The following existing questions also refer to how to "distress" vector graphics:

Add imperfections to vector graphics / drawings

How to get a construction paper look in photoshop or illustrator

  • Hey thanks a lot! This is helpful. Sweet gif btw! Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 0:11

Similar to Photoshop, Illustrator also has blending modes. Placing a texture over a vector and then setting the Blending mode, located on the Transparency panel, to something like Overlay may help achieve the look you are hoping for.


You can also place a bitmap TIFF file into your Illustrator document. This allows you to colorize it in Illustrator. Here's a tutorial on how to create a bitmap TIFF in Photoshop: http://knowledgejam.org/home/2014/7/31/creating-textures-with-bitmap-tiffs

enter image description here

  • This is something I never knew about. Thanks! Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 0:08

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