Tutorial – Vector Texture

vector texture tutorial preview

What’s so great about dirtying up pristine looking vector art? Well, for starters it makes vector artwork look a lot less … sterile. Adding some texture is a great way to add some visual interest and give your art a worn, aged effect.

I’ll show you how I go about creating my textures and vectorizing them and then go on to explain some of the trick to using vectorized textures in Illustrator. I’ll also provide sample files so you can follow along with me. Click the link after this sample of texture usage to read the full tutorial.

You can download the files to work along with me here if you like.

The first thing you’ll need is a photograph to work from. Your own photographs work much better for this than ones you’ll find on the internet. The reason being that the resolution and overall size is going to determine how much detail your texture will contain. As far as what should you take pictures of, well anything that looks cool and has a lot of contrast. I just took a walk around my block and snapped a couple of these shots with my Kodak Z812 IS, about a 2 or 3 hundred dollar camera at Costco or Best buy. You don’t need a Canon Mark III for this, which means anyone can get into this.

Here are some shots I snapped of a deteriorating wall in the nearby park and of a very large palm tree:




Let’s use the third one for this tutorial. It has some nice cracks running through it and the angle of the shot will give the resulting texture a lot more substance in the close areas and taper off in the distant areas.

Photo-Manipulating in Photoshop

Step 1

Open the included “Texture-Photo.JPG” in photoshop.


One major benefit of using Photoshop CS3 is its ability to treat JPEG images as Camera RAW data which makes color correction very fast and simple. Photoshop CS3’s Camera RAW editor is similar to Adobe Lightroom’s and pretty straight forward. If you’re not using CS3 you can make similar adjustments to this image using layer adjustments.


As with all my tutorials you can click on any image to see it larger, which would be good in this case so you can use the same adjustments as I’ve used here. I’ve really just upped the contrast of this photo and heavied up the black a bit so we get some nice clear definition on our cracks. If you’re not using CS3 then you might add a curves adjustment layer and crank up the contrast on a brightness/contrast adjustment layer. Click “Open Image” to begin editing the image in Photoshop.

Step 2

Let’s up the threshold here a bit and darken our blacks even more and blow our some of our whites.


Now flatten everything.

Step 3

Now go Image>Adjustments>Black and White for CS3 users and for this image you can select the High Contrast Blue Filter preset and click OK. Otherwise go Image>Adjustments>Channel Mixer, select “Monochrome” frm the bottom and you can tweak the sliders until you get a very contrasty black and white image.


Step 4

Now we need a new Threshold adjustment layer. Click the New Adjustment layer icon in the Layers Panel and finesse the slider until there’s a lot of really good detail and the blacks aren’t too overbearing. Looks like I used around 138.


Now you can see our texture emerging.

Step 5

This texture could be good to go as is, but I don’t like how we clipped out some of the really interesting torn fleshy kinda detail from the middle area, so we’re going to go back in and get it.

To do this we’ll have to select all of the areas that are white in this image and use another threshold layer to pull that detail out. First you’ll have to unlock the background layer which is as simple as double-clicking on it.

Now go to Select>Color Range


Choose Highlights and click OK. Since our threshold adjustment layer left us with nothing in between black and white, you’ll have just selected everything white in the image.

Step 6

With all the white selected we’re going to duplicate “Layer 0” and move it above the threshold layer. If you’re using CS3 it’s best to group the original “Layer 0” and its threshold adjustment layer so it doesn’t get confusing.

Hide the original group or “Layer 0” and its Threshold layer if you’re not using CS3.


Invert the image by pressing [Command or Ctrl] + I, or going Image>Adjustment>Invert. You should now have an image that looks like this. We’ll need another adjustment layer or two to make the cracks and what not as dark as possible and lighten up everything else.

Step 7

Add a Curves Adjustment layer. Crank the white point and pull the curve down a little bit to darken some of the darker values.


The cool fleshy looking part is starting to emerge and the part in the middle that looks like its dripping is getting much darker.

Now add a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment layer. I’ve upped both the brightness and contrast to create some more separation between the light parts which will get trashed and the dark parts that we’ll add to our original texture.


And finally another Threshold Adjustment. I went down around 80 to accentuate the drips.

Step 8

Now to combine the two. Group Layer 1 and all of its adjustment layers so now there’s only group 1 and group 2.

Here’s what our texture looked like before:


And now that we’ve filled in some of the white areas it should look like this:


See how we added back in the fleshy, drippy bits. Now to make this a usable texture file in Illustrator.

Step 9

Convert the image to Grayscale so we can turn it into a Bitmap and use it in Illustrator. Go Image>Mode>Grayscale. If prompted to Merge or Flatten all layers, go ahead and do so.

Now go Image>Mode>Bitmap


A window will pop up and here’s where things can get really interesting. This bitmap translation process can entirely change the outcome of all of the work we’ve done up to this point. Some experimentation here is well worth the time invested. Let’s go ahead and keep the resolution output the same as it is and use 50% Threshold for our translation method. Cool effects can be achieved by using a Halftone or some of the other methods, but they won’t look as much like our original texture as a 50% Threshold or Diffuse Dither will.

Click OK and now you have a flat, bitmap image. A bitmap image only contains black or white information. There are no shades in between now. Areas that look like they’re lighter are merely black pixels spaced less densely.


Bitmaps are great to use in conjunction with Illustrator because since the only information contained in a bitmap document is whether a pixel is colored or not, Illustrator can take that information and apply different colors to our bitmap image without converting it to vector. More on that in a minute.

Step 9

Save. But wait, what file type should we use here? I find that a .TIFF works best. It’ll retain the editability we need from it to be compatible in Illustrator, though it will net larger file than a JPEG or similar.

Almost as important as the process that’s led up to this point is the name you give your file. I called this one “Tearing Flesh” because of what looks like it could be a big, gaping, open wound running through the middle.

Before we head over to Illustrator, take a look at this version that was created similarl, but yielded a different result just by changing some of the settings in the aforementioned steps.


There’s no right or wrong way to do any of this, it’ll just yield different results. The process I’ve used worked pretty well for this image, but may not work well with a different one. It’s all about experimenting. The idea is to build up as much contrast as possible and really define the areas you want to stand out. This can be done with dodging and burning as well as adjustment layers or even filters (like Find Edges).

Let’s move over to Illustrator.

Vector Utilization in Illustrator

Step 1

Open our bitmap .TIFF in Illustrator.


Right off the bat you can see that you’re able to change the color by selecting the placed .TIFF and picking a color other than black from the color picker. You can use our new texture with your illustrations this way, but it may be slightly more cumbersome in some regards, however it won’t increase file size as drastically as creating thousands of vector points as we’re going to be doing.


Step 2

Live Trace. If you’re not using Illustrator CS2 or greater, you can vectorize your texture by using the free service, vector magic as I explained how to during the tutorial on skate deck art. I’d even wager to say that you might get a little better result using vector magic than you do here in Illustrator, but then you have to go back and get rid of the white after the fact.


The default settings for lettering usually work just fine. The only tweak that I sometimes make is dropping down the Minimum Area to 1 or 2 px. And always make sure that Ignore White is checked. That’ll save us the extra step of getting rid of the white that you’d have to if you use vector magic instead.

Converting large images such as this to vector is VERY exhaustive on your RAM and you’ll be prompted by a window that says something to that affect when you attempt to Live trace it. This is where if you’re using a computer with less than 1 gig of RAM you either walk away for a couple minutes or resign to using the placed .TIFF instead of proceeding.

Vectorization complete. Now you can do all the things to your texture that Illustrator has to offer for vector objects. One reason I like having vector versions of my textures is for masking and erasing. Being able to use the eraser tool on textures like this saves a ton of time if you’re getting intricate with your textures.

Step 3

Open the file called, Texture_Text.ai.


We’ll be adding some texture to the background and the lettering itself.

Step 4

Either copy or drag the vectorized texture from the texture file into Texture_Text.ai. Move it to the background layer if it’s not already there by selecting it and dragging the colored dot in the Layers Panel down to the Background Layer.


Step 5

Let’s change the color of the texture to something just a bit darker than the background. Let’s use #161410.

Now arrange the texture so it has some nice detailed areas around the text.

Once it’s where you want it we need to mask it off. To do this let’s make a copy of the background with [Command/Ctrl] + C and then do a Paste In Front with [Command/Ctrl] + F. Now make sure it’s the top-most object on the Background layer and push the Make/Release Clipping Mask Button on the bottom left of the Layers Panel.


It should look like this:


Step 6

Now for the lettering. Bring another instance of the texture back over and arrange it around the lettering and shrink it down some so there’s a lot of grunge in the letter area. After you place the texture where you want it you’ll need to pick a color for it that’s a little darker than the off-white letters.

Step 7

Because of the complexity of the lettering and all of the compound shapes, using a layer mask isn’t going to work, which is really unfortunate because the next step is quite tedious. It’s also a bit confusing so follow closely.

Select all of the letters and the swashes and give them another color that you won’t be able to miss, like bright red. Copy and Paste them In Front. Now using the Pathfinder, hold down [Option] and click the Add button.


This is going to be the shape of our texture that goes on the lettering. Problem is if we were to mask the texture now, or even use the Crop command, Illustrator loses track when you try to use a grouped object as any sort of mask. Sometimes it’ll work for less complex shapes, but here we need to use a workaround.

You could ungroup all of the objects and crop the texture with all of them repeatedly which definitely works and takes a good amount of time, or you can use this method:

Step 7

Using the same color red, draw incredibly thin lines with the Rectangle Tool (M) connecting all of the letters and swashes together. This is kind like the quick and ghetto way to do this, but takes a lot less time than cropping the texture out of each letter.


Now select everything red. You can click on a red object and go Select>Same>Fill Color or click the Select Similar Objects Button at the top of your screen while using the Selection Tool (Black Arrow) in CS3.

[Option] + Add (in the Pathfinder Panel). Now we have just one object.

Step 8

Select the red object and your texture and click Crop in the Pathfinder.


If parts of the lines drawn to connect the letters are left over, use the Eraser Tool or the Knife to get rid of them.

Also, you’ll need to get rid of all the scrap that the Crop Tool leaves behind. Along with all of the cropped texture, there’s going to be lots of unfilled, unstroked shapes left that you’ll need to quickly delete.

Draw a box with no fill or stroke and go Select>Same>Fill & Stroke. Or use the Select Similar Objects button. Now delete all of these objects.

Step 9

Change the Blending Mode to Multiply.


That’s it!


You could take it a step further and add some texture to the the shadowing and the inset text as well to give the whole thing a more grungy, rocky feel. Something Like this:


Or like this logo design.

Image & Exit Logo

Hope that was helpful. If you have any questions or suggestions or anything, you can email me at dave@track6designs.com

~ by tracksix on January 23, 2008.

24 Responses to “Tutorial – Vector Texture”

  1. Very nice. I like your little work around for masking all the letters together. This way you don’t have to mask them in sections, which can be time consuming for you and your RAM. Nice job.

    Just an FYI. I added a link from my small blog (http://www.blog.uneekgrafix.com) to your site, hope you don’t mind. I try to share as much knowledge as I can to the design community in hope that it helps or inspires.
    Keep it up.

  2. […] 6 Design has published a tutorial on how to create textures in Vector images using […]

  3. hey i was wondering what font that is that you used here on this tutorial… killer design

  4. The fonts used in the “BLOG” graphic can be found at http://www.letterheadfonts.com. Great resource for high-quality, very unique typefaces. I think the two used here are “Lakeside” and “Old Stock”, but there are tons of awesome fonts for sale over there. I highly recommend checking them out.

    Thanks for the nice words.

  5. Thanks a ton for taking the time to do this. Very clear, well laid out, and ultimately helpful. Much appreciated.

  6. […] Title: Vector Texture Tutorial. URL:https://tracksix.wordpress.com… […]

  7. Thanks Bro, very details & wonderful tuts!!

  8. Nice tutorial dude. This saved my life. Keep it up.

  9. Never thought of myself or my work as much of a lifesaver, but that’s pretty awesomely enthusiastic!


  10. This is awesome, exactly what I was looking for.

  11. Excellent work. As a person who is somewhat new to vector art & design, the knowledge you’re sharing is greatly valued and appreciated.

    much thanks!

  12. […] out this tut on creating vector textures. This one seems like it would work and doesn’t look difficult to follow […]

  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You just opened up my world to so many new possibilities! Very cool!

  14. This is GREAT.. thanks a bunch, and thanks for offering a download package too.> Soo many people do not offer that with their tutorials and it makes things so much more difficult. I would love to add your blog to my blogroll.. my site is in my comment link

    I have started a graphics section on my blog because there are SOO many web designers out there who know NOTHING about graphics.. and visa versa.

  15. great tutorial…thanks a lot..this article has open up my mind to ultimate texture designing proccess

  16. Hi, that’s really a wonderful post.

  17. That’s great, thanks

  18. Been a while… haven’t been to TrackSix in so long.
    Nice Tut!

  19. Nice work..!! It’s a small peace of work and you did it very nicely, different effects.

  20. Your Vector texture tutorial include with the very easy steps to do it. It looks like it’s that difficult to apple masking effects on it.

  21. Great tutorial,thanks for sharing this.

  22. Your blogs has lots of information, thank you.

  23. I haven’t tried that last part with the “ghetto fix” in which you connect all the letters BUT I believe that nowadays with CS4 and CS5 (haven’t tried with older versions) you can select any amount of vectors and then go to Object -> Compound Path -> Make. When you do that it’ll treat all the vectors as one big object even though there’s spaces dividing the pieces of it. After doing this you’ll be able to crop textures with no problem 🙂 I hope this made some sense, english isn’t my first language!

  24. Fabulous work ! Your blog site has provided me most of the know-how I desired .
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