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How to Create Distressed Designs in Photoshop

Vintage design and illustration often has an enduring quality. When created to have an authentic look, the nostalgia that surrounds this style can help the designs to stand out above others. One of the main components that gives a vintage design it’s authentic feel, is a little bit of wear and tear. While it would be truly authentic to allow your designs to become distressed over time, we’re going to speed up the process using some found textures and an image editor.

"Campfires & Tea" by cabinsupplyco

Step 1: Find a nice texture that you can use to distress your designs. Images of rust, worn wood, peeling paint, and scuffed surfaces are ideal for this. Make it a habit of taking photos of these types of textures when you are out and about. They not only work well for creating texture in your designs, but can also be used to create new brushes. In this example I am using Adobe Photoshop and an image of a rusted metal panel.

Step 2: The first thing you want to do is pull some texture out of the image, but only a select portion. In order to do this, go to the Select menu and choose Color Range. In the popup window you are given the choice to select by a variety of ways. One way to do this is select by Sampled Colors, and use the eyedropper and the Fuzziness to pull out some nice texture. In the example below, I use Shadows as a selection. Each image will be different and can be used to create many different types of distressed textures. Play around, have fun.

Step 3: After you make your selection, the next step is to extract and optimize your textures. While your selection is active, right-click and choose Layer Via Copy. This will put your selected texture onto a new layer. If your initial selection captured too much texture, invert the selection before copying to a new layer. Now that your texture is on a new layer, you can make some adjustments. The pixels in this layer may have some soft edges, but this is easily remedied using Unsharp Mask for example.

Step 4: Now that you have your texture layer sharpened and optimized, you can save this layer as a transparent PNG for later use or even turn it into a Photoshop brush. For the purposes of this tutorial, we are just going to copy this layer and paste it above our text design. In the video below, the texture layer pixels are selected (invert selection if needed), and then the text layer is select. From here you can create a new mask on the text layer. You will notice the selected pixels automatically mask out areas in the text. Hide your top layer, and see the new distressed design.


Finish: You’re new distressed design is ready to be added to products. Since we added the distressing to a mask, you can always change your design later. Non-destructive design at it’s best. If you want a different feel to your distressed textures, you can also incorporate halftones. For more on that check out our post on Using Halftones in T-Shirt Designs.

Did you find the tutorial helpful? Please let us know in the comments below, and share any tips you might have.

(Header image: A Spot in the Woods… by ndtank)

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