This is an section from a poster made back in the 1920s or 1930s, that was made using an airbrush:

image 2

What interests me most is that it has a rough, spattered quality. It's as if the airbrush didn't work very well and sprayed unevenly, resulting in varying dot sizes where the paint landed.

I've tried to get this kind of effect with the airbrush tool in Photoshop, by manipulating scattering levels and trying various brushes. However, I can't quite get it.

However, when I've searched for Photoshop tutorials, anything under the term "spatter" is way more exaggerated than I need, and anything with a "vintage" or "grunge" level is about the overall style, not specific brush settings. At least, not that I've found.

How can I set my airbrush to get a gradient quality like the example picture, or something similarly uneven in quality?


This is a section of a poster from the movie The Rocketeer, which has a similar effect:

enter image description here


2 Answers 2


Realize that anything created pre-1980/1985 was done by hand. So much of the texture you see is probably from the canvas or medium directly and often mimicking traditional elements can be a challenge with digital workflows.

For the second sample image......

I think you can get something similar by simply adding noise to areas after they are painted.


What I did was a brush set to have the Texture dynamic on and a basic distress patter as the texture:

(to see this image better, right-click/control-click and choose Open Image in New Tab/Window)

I then selected portion of the image and, on a new layer, brushed in the darker color. I then used Filter > Add Noise... to add noise to those painted sections:


In addition, I placed a texture layer above everything which uses a noise/distress texture in a ver subtle manner to add more "canvas" texture.


While this may not be perfect, and still take some tweaking to get more refined, I think this may be a good path to pursue. You simply can't get all that wonderful grain and texture with only brush settings.

When I was done with painting everything, I'd probably also try a new composite layer with a very subtle Lighting Effect filter to add just a touch of uniform lighting and depth to the entire piece as a whole.

  • 1
    Interesting question, excellent answer.
    – Yisela
    Commented Sep 13, 2012 at 20:41
  • 5
    Great answer, not least because it underscores the point that it often takes multiple layers and multiple steps to get an exact end result. The amazing tools we work with tend to create the idea that there is always a one-shot solution, when that is seldom the case in practice. Commented Sep 13, 2012 at 23:11

For the first example.....

I started with two solid color layers - beige and red.

On the red layer I added a layer mask, filled the mask with black and then choose Filter > Noise > Add Noise


Then, unlink the mask to its layer and use free transform (Command/Ctrl-T) to scale the mask up so the noise becomes clumps.

Repeat the Noise filter, then scale mask a few times (on the same layer mask) to create a basic splatter of the red.

splatter 1

I then duplicated the red layer with it's mask and set up a brush......

The Dual Brush and Scattering dynamics can create a very good "splattering" brush effect. Combined with a tablet and pen pressure used to alter opacity dynamically, you can then just brush on areas where you want more splatter.


Finally I selected the portion of the image I did not want any splattering and filled the area on the layer masks with black.

splatter 2

Again, this is just the path I would pursue. It still needs some refinement but overall you can get some interesting thick airbrush splatter type effects this way. Combine it with the a few techniques for the first sample image and you can get both canvas grain and paint splattering.

  • Possible and better to do similar in Illustrator?
    – Vikas
    Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 8:05
  • I suppose theoretically one could attempt something similar in Illustrator. But it would be a tedious undertaking. Illustrator is simply not geared towards creating random textures and when one does, you can find AI get terribly, terribly sloooooooooooooooow.
    – Scott
    Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 9:45
  • okay, so you think the type of illustrations (eventually the textures) in this question and the ones I included in my question yesterday are mostly done Photoshop? I don't know why I feel making shapes for illustration in Illustrator easy. But then texture problems comes into role.
    – Vikas
    Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 9:55
  • 1
    Just personal opinion....Theres often no shortcut to quality work. An artist who is overly concerned with how difficult or how tedious something they want to create is.. isn't really vested in the art. While for commercial purposes there needs to be some attention to the time something takes. Typically, the more familiar one becomes with a process, the faster the process is. In addition, individual shortcuts and methodologies are developed speeding things further for that artist.
    – Scott
    Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 10:46
  • 1
    For me.. the moment I think "I'd like to xxxxx, but it's too difficult." I know I'm not doing my best work. Which, to be honest, is absolutely fine at times. But it's not my go to process. Yes, some things are overly complex and take more time.. it's for you to judge if that time investment is worthwhile.
    – Scott
    Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 10:51

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