Create Grainy Textures

Grain Texture Illustrator Tutorial

Creating grainy textures are great for retro illustrations, typography, and logos. Alternatively, you can incorporate these effects into compelling new styles. You can always scan in similar textures and Live Trace them in Illustrator, but you can pretty easily create this type of effect all inside Illustrator!

Final Image

Here is a sample image of what these techniques can do. Further down in the tutorial, I give a quick breakdown of the process.

Final Image

Tutorial Details

  • Program: Adobe Illustrator CS5 (You should be able to create this tutorial in CS4 and CS3 but some of the tutorial images might look different.)
  • Difficulty: Beginner / Intermediate
  • Topics Covered: Grain Effect, Gradient, Gradient Meshes, Blends
  • Estimated Completion Time: 15-20 minutes

Grainy Textures

In the following sections I’ll show you how to create these grainy textures from a couple of different elements within Illustrator. Basically you can create these textures from any element that contains a graded value of color (like a gradient). I’m sure some of you have already figured out this technique by creating some of the past Vectips texture tutorials or on your own, but for those of you that haven’t, you should have fun.

Gradients

Basic

First up is gradients. Gradient are good for creating grainy textures that don’t require any complex contours to the texture. To start, create a simple linear gradient with the default white and black color stops in a rectangle. With the gradient selected, go Effect > Texture > Grain. In the Grain Effects dialog, change the Intensity to 74 (you can experiment with this number to get the grain you desire), Contrast 50, and Grain Type to Sprinkles. That’s really all! The real magic comes when you apply color and blending modes to the texture.

Gradient Grain

Color

You can change the color stops in your gradient, but I like to place an object or new fill below the grain effect and set the grain’s blending mode to Multiply because of the white space the Grain effect creates. Let’s take a look at doing this with the Appearance panel.

Take your same rectangle and fill it with a solid color. From the pop-up menu of the Appearance panel, select New Fill. Select the top copy and fill it with a linear gradient. Change the first color stop to white and the second to a darker color than your original. With the gradient fill still selected, apply your Grain effect and set the Blending Mode to Multiply from the Opacity item under the gradient fill.

Gradient Grain Color

Gradient Mesh

Basic

Gradient Meshes are great for creating more complex shapes with grainy textures. To start, draw an abstract shape with a tool of your choosing and fill it with black. You can either go Object > Create Gradient Mesh and set a specific numbers of points or use the Mesh tool (U) to click on your artwork to add mesh point. I’m using the Mesh tool (U), so deselect the artwork, select white from my swatches, and with the Mesh tool (U) click on the artwork to add points. Now, apply the grain effect like before.

Gradient Mesh Grain

Color

Like with the Gradient technique, meshes work great with a color underneath and the grain’s blending mode to Multiply. Start the original shape a solid color and Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (F). Change the fill of the copy to a darker color of the original shape, apply the white mesh points, apply grain, and set to Multiply.

Gradient Mesh Grain Color

Blend

Basic

Blends tend to work great for either simple grainy textures or complex ones. It really just comes down to how you work and which is more comfortable, but the principle is pretty much the same. For the example, created a shape, go Object > Path > Offset, fill the offset with white, select both copies, and go Object >Blend > Make. Finally, apply your grain effect.

Blend Grain

Color

Like both the Gradient and Gradient Mesh, it’s good to have an underlying color. Also like gradient meshes, you will need a copy of the original shape above the color with a darker color, grain, and blending mode set to Multiply.

Blend Grain Color

Quick Tutorial

Here is a quick tutorial utilizing some of the techniques. I won’t go into much depth, it’s just to get an idea of how to use these techniques in an illustration.

First, I created a sketch, scanned it, and traced it with the Pen tool (P). Next, I filled the trace with color, and added stroked paths set with one of Illustrator new Stroke Profiles (Width Profile 1). To add more depth with the grain textures, I started with the linear gradients in the skin and hair. I used a blend for the outline grain texture face shape and used a gradient mesh for the collar of the character’s shirt. For the background I used a big radial gradient grain texture. I also used a radial gradient with the first color stop white, the second white with 0 Opacity, grain, and set the Blending Mode to Overlay.

Grain Process

Experiment

This is a great technique to experiment with! Experiment with different colors, shapes, blending modes, and layering of textures. Try these techniques on graphical elements other than illustrations. They work great on text, logos, UI elements, and more! You can even incorporate these effects with some of the other texture techniques I have written about.

Experiment

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71 thoughts on “Create Grainy Textures

  1. Thanks for these nice tips !
    Love the blend tip, perfect for complex shape.

    By the way, one problem I have with the noise filter :
    You cannot resize the noise, not a problem if you make illustration (you can resize it), but a problem for web design (usually you stay at 100% to be pixel precise).
    As I create some effects for buttons to apply for layouts, the grain effect is too large and not detailled.
    Any ideas of workaround ?

    Thanks,

    • What are your Document Raster Effect Setting at? Try setting them at 300 ppi. I don’t seem to have any trouble with this setting creating pixel precise graphics. If it set at 72 ppi the raster effect don’t export and render well. To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure why.

      • Also, if you apply the grain to a 10 x 10 px rectangle, then scale it up, it will scale the effect as well, making it look pixelated. In your General Preferences you can switch Illustrator on/off to “Scale Strokes and Effects”

      • It works !
        This is great and you’re my hero of the day ;-)

        I tought I knew Illustrator as I use it for years, but every time I’m reading your tutorials I’m learning something new.

        Thanks !

  2. Great tutorial!

    Adding texture is one of the things that frustrated me before, because I would have to go through photoshop and thus lose some of the flexibility of working in Illustrator. I think I’ll use this feature a lot!

  3. I always stare at the Starbucks art work on the signage and cups for the winter 2010 season. It’s grainy and vector looking. Do you think this is a good way to get that look? Is there anything else we can add to mimic this effect Starbucks is doing? PS-I found this site through dribbble.com, glad I could find this…thanks for all the tips!

    • Yeah, I think you can take these techniques and apply them to similar look. I would suggest just experiment a play around until you get something similar.

  4. This is great tutorial! Very clear and easy to follow. I’ve been looking for this techniques for ages and then randomly stumbled on this tutorial :) yay. Thanks a lot again!

  5. Thank you for this tut. I have been trying to figure vectored noise and grain for awhile now. I hadn’t even thought about going about it this way. I had previously tried using pre-made vectors and pulled patterns from PS and tried to import them into AI.

  6. Besides the grainy effect which is awesome by the way, I am more gravitated towards the illustration of the lady. It looks fantastic and it fits with the overall look perfectly. The color scheme is spot-on as it brings out the best of the character design. Truth be told, your character design was the main inspiration for my logo design and I had the designing team over at http://www.mascotdesigncorner.com to whip a mascot design having a similar overall design aesthetic to yours. It came out fantastic and I have to thank you for the inspiration. Your site rocks, btw. And your design skills are beyond commendable.

  7. i was wondering is there any way to turn the grainy effect into normal vector objects? I was thinking to “expand” it but it ended up giving me a a flat format which i can’t do any modification to it..

    English is not my native language, i hope i do make my questions clear..=)

  8. nice tutorial although I find it hard to apply the exact same grainy texture as you get. On my screen the grain effect isn’t as smooth as yours. grain dots are big and even by playing with the scale in the grain dialogue box I couldn’t get something satifying. Any advice?

  9. I’m a newbie to Illustrator so I found it difficult to follow. It would be great to show all the steps instead of missing some. Nice finish product however.

  10. You’re my hero!!!! I didn’t know how to do this in Illustrator and opted to use Corel Painter’s airbrush to achieve the effect!! Thanks a lot!!

  11. Yeah, I tried this and the grain didn’t come out as fine as your tut shows. It was more blotchy than anything and I played around with the settings but nothing produced the same effect as yours. (Using CS4)

    Any recommendations?

  12. Hi,

    Great tutorial! I have some difficulties though … I tried to apply this effect to a drawn logo, but the edges get all fuzzy. When I try doing the same with, for example, a rectangle, the edges stay sharp.
    Also, I can’t seem to apply the gradient mesh on every part of my design. I get a little warning sign on the cursor when hovering above the selected part.
    Any ideas on what I might be doing wrong?

    Thanks!

  13. you are a life saver…. the technique is absolutely fabulous, and much easier than I would have ever dreamt of.
    Thank you!

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