You can add a texture in Adobe Illustrator and add depth and character to your artwork from those textures.
To create a texture that you can use in Illustrator, first you need to obtain a photograph or create your own. You can photograph a texture, create one with ink or your own creation, or you can find a photograph to turn into a texture. I prefer to create my own textures using photography, but there are many other resources online if you want to create a texture and make it ready to use on your artwork in Illustrator.
Photograph a Texture for Illustrator
If you plan on photographing a texture, I recommend reading my other article first on textures. Also, I wrote recently about finding inspiration outdoors that might be helpful. You simply need a photograph with a lot of contrast and very close up.
Make your Own Texture with Materials
You can also create textures with ink and a nib pen, an ink roller, crumpled paper, paints, markers, and many other materials. I suggest using only black and white, scanning it at the highest resolution, and saving it to pull up in Photoshop.
Other Texture Resources
Old album & book covers, dictionary pagers, bible pages, etc., all make good sources of texture material that you can lay inside an illustrator artwork. This will make more sense once you start using textures, but for now, let’s focus on something simple.
If you want to follow along, here’s a photo I took of a library parking lot after it had been salted and it had snowed, as well as the cracks displaying. I thought it was a neat photo, so you can download this by clicking on it and save it to your computer. By the way, I took this on my iphone camera so any camera will work for taking texture photos.
Prep Work in Photoshop
So you got the photo downloaded and saved to your computer. Next, open the photo up inside photoshop & follow these directions:
- Duplicate the layer and lock the original photo for backup purposes. You may have to click on the little lock icon in the layer to unlock the background. Then right click and select “Duplicate layer”. I then named mine “Cracked Parking Lot”.
- Go to Image–>Mode–>Grayscale. Choose the option so you don’t merge the layers or flatten.
- Go to the Adjustments area under Image—>Adjustments—>Levels. (CTL + L). Adjust the image so it’s black and white and appears clear. You can also adjust the image by using “Curves” which is also under Image—>Adjustments. Click OK
- You are now going to create positive & negative versions of this photo. We will now select the grayscale photo we just made. Inside the layer, select the icon box of the photo. Go into the tab on the layers area called “channels” and CTRL and click on it at the same time. You will see the little bits of texture all selected.
Creating Masks, Positive, and Negative Images
- Go back to the layers tab & Create a new layer and then select the box on the bottom of the layers panel to apply — “add layer mask” on the layers tab.
- Click on the empty icon next to the mask you just created. (in the picture below – layer 1: black area is the mask; transparent box is the one you need to click on)
- Go to Edit –> Fill —> Click OK. Make sure the fill is black & you are editing the Foreground color. This makes an inverse of the image.
- Rename this layer indicating it is a negative. I named mine Cracked Parking Lot (negative). This layer should be beneath the first layer we adjusted.
- Select the Mask Layer (Negative Layer we just created — the 2nd icon on that layer). Go to Select –> Inverse. (Or Go to Select, then click on Reselect. Then go back up to Select and click on Inverse.)
- Create another new layer. Apply the mask to that layer. Rename it indicating it is a Positive — i.e. Cracked Parking Lot (Positive).
- Select the empty icon as we did above for this layer, fill the foreground with black. (Edit –>Fill)
- Go to the original Level (Cracked Parking Lot, in my case) and rename that with a positive as well.
- Clone the original level by right clicking and duplicating the layer. Rename it to indicate it’s a Positive layer. Move the layers under the appropriate headings (negative with negative; positive with positive).
- We will now edit the layer we just renamed. Select the image layer, Go to image –> Adjustments –> Invert.
- Toss the original image layer since you have that saved in a file.
- Save the PSD file for use later. I saved mine as “Cracked Parking Lot”.
Saving out the Files for Use in Illustrator
So hopefully at this point, you’ve saved out your PSD file. This is important because the next steps include flattening the images and you will lose your layers. You need to be able to access them again so please save your PSD file!
We will create 3 types of image files: Grayscale, Bitmap, and PNG. Note: The images with masks can be used in photoshop instead of pulling up the saved images. Let’s just concentrate on the two top layers that do not contain masks.
- Go to the positive layer (top) and flatten the image. (Right Click and select “flatten image)
- Click ok to discard the layers.
- Go to file –> save as and select the file format as “.TIF”
- Rename it with the name and indicate Grayscale (ex: cracked parking lot – grayscale.tif)
- Use the defaults and click OK.
- Re-open the original PSD file to save the next set of images. Select the same Positive layer. Go to image–>Mode–>Bitmap
- Flatten the image by clicking on YES
- Set the resolution between 400-600 and select 50% Threshold (or you can play around and use other methods if you wish)
- Go to file –> save as and indicate it is a bitmap and save as .tif. Now you have a bitmap version of the file for use.
- Open the original PSD file again with all the layers in it.
- Go to the mask layer and change the fill of the black to white. This creates a transparent texture. To easily change the colors go to the box in the tools panel that shows the colors and click on the arrow to reverse the colors so the top layer is white and the bottom is black.
- Go to EDIT —> FILL and change the background to white.
- Deselect the other layers so that the masked layer is only showing. It will look just white, but this is the texture as a .png image.
- File —> Save As –> .png image name
- No compression, no interlace and click OK
- Do this with the negative layer as well.
- Don’t save the .psd file when you close it or you will alter the original save.
In an upcoming post, I hope to show you how to use these textures in Illustrator.