How To Use Adobe Illustrator To Design Distressing Graphics

Distressing or grunge graphics are useful for designing a worn out look which is why it is an essential part of designing t-shirts.

This tutorial will show you three detailed techniques that are easy to understand and apply when adding a distressed look to a graphic design using Adobe Illustrator.

The Grunge Brush

Adobe Illustrator comes with brush tools so in this first technique you would learn how to take advantage of these brush tools and the brushes in them.

Step 1: Open your vector file

Step 2: Expand your vector object or group. You can do this by selecting all ( CTRL + A or CMD +A for a laptop or Macbook ), go to menu “object” then “expand”.

You may be asked to select what you want to expand, check all boxes.

Step 3: De-select your vector art then pick a brush tool that interests you. You can open the brush panel with F5 or from the left toolbar.You click on the left toolbar then click on the menu icon, this is at the lower left corner.

Scroll through the menu to pick the “Artistic – Chalk / Charcoal / Pencil” brush set. Pick the first brush and brush tool.

Step 4: Pick a random color that is not used in the design element you’re planning to distress out. This is because you don’t want anything but the brush strokes to be selected when you’re making use of the magic wand tool to select the brush strokes.

Use the brush tool to make a few brush strokes that cover your vector element. Cover your vector element but don’t overdo it.

It’s okay to dabble with how you draw the paths with the brush tool but when it comes to stroke thickness it’s best to use one that won’t cause you to worry when you’re editing the paths later with a direction select tool.

To easily turn the brush stroke on/off, switch the brush stroke to your background color by tapping on the X key repeatedly.

Step 5: Select your vector object and your brush stroke then go to Object > Expand to expand.

This is so you can merge the brush stroke with the design using the pathfinder tool.

Step 6: Go to the pathfinder and click on merge.

Step 7 : Use the magic wand tool to get rid of the color you won’t need in your final design.

Click anywhere on the strokes to select all of them, press DEL key and it’s distressed.

But sometimes Adobe Illustrator leaves some transparent elements that need to be cleaned up too.

Select everything (CTRL/CMD + A) then use a magic wand(Y) to click on these leftovers. Select all of them and delete.

Using A Texture; Find a grunge texture and ensure it is high resolution.

Step 1: Open the file

Step 2: Place the grunge texture in your document

Step 3: Place and select the texture, this action brings up the live trace button. It appears on the top toolbar of the illustrator. You could use the presets or click on the tracing options at the bottom.

To get the most details from the object you’re using as input you can set Path Fitting, Minimum Area and Corner Angle to 1. Also if you want to mainly see the grunge texture you can click on ignore white. Increase Threshold to get a darker texture.

Click on preview to see how the design is turning out.

If you’re satisfied with the result, click Trace and Expand.

Step 4: Change color, place and size.

Step 5: Expand

Step 6: Merge

Step 7: Clean out the colors.

Grunge Vector Element

Natural distressed design needs to look spontaneous and not repeat itself. While the grunge brush technique is really easy as it comes with the illustrator it might not look natural which is why you might need to use resources specifically made for distressing.

Step 1: Open the vector file and grunge vector( Special resource for distressing)

Step 2: Select a color to use for the grunge vector, the color used in the grunge vector should be one that has not been used in the element about to be distressed.

Step 3: Sizing and placement. Center the vector and then increase it to cover the vector. If the texture doesn’t look distressed enough for you then move to the next step.

Step 4: Copy the texture and paste it in front of the element about to be distressed. (CTRL/CMD + F)

Step 5: Expand (Object > Expand)

Step 6: Go to pathfinder and click on merge

Step 7: Use the magic wand tool to clean out the colors you won’t be needing in the final design.