How To Create Distressed Graphics

You can modify an image to look worn, torn, and old. It's a technique used by computer graphics artists to lend a simple image a visual quality that can make it seem antique, authentic or just simply to conform to a certain aesthetic standard. This added-on effect is generally called "distress." There are several techniques to apply this effect. The ones discussed here will require a scanner.

1. Distress the image's print out.

This is the most direct approach to accomplishing the distress effect. Print out a copy of the image and apply the distress effect by hand. You can fold it, crumple it, make little tears on it, smudge it with dirt, and pour coffee or any other translucent liquid on it. It all depends on the kind of distress effect you're trying to go for. Once you're done modifying the print out, you can scan it to make a digital copy and apply any finishing touches using graphics software such as Photoshop or CorelDraw.

2. Create a distress overlay image file.

In this approach, you will create a separate image file on which the distress effect will be present. Then you can put this file as a layer over the original image to apply the effect.

  • Using graphic software with drawing features creates a black-colored solid block as big as the paper you will print it out on. Print this solid block image and apply distress effects by hand - crumple, fold, tear, etc.
  • Scan the distressed print out as a Grayscale/Black and White image.
  • Again using graphic software, invert the scanned distressed image so that its colors are reversed (black becomes white and vice versa) and it looks like a negative. Then save the image in the appropriate image format that your preferred graphic software can read. You now have a distress overlay image file.
  • Open the original image (the one you want to apply distress effects to) in your preferred graphic software. Depending on functionalities of the software you're using you can import or cut-and-paste the distress overlay file on to the original image as an added layer.
  • With the distress overlay in place as an additional layer, you can now manipulate it, such as repositioning it in reference to the original image, or increase or decrease its color saturation or transparency. These final touches will depend on what the graphic software can do and what over-all visual quality you're trying to achieve.

There are plug-ins and filters which can also create distress effects. They may be easier to use as they fit into a graphics software's interface and don't require a scanner; however, most graphics artists say that the result is not as natural-looking as doing the distress effect by hand. A certain amount of randomness is not achieved and sometimes the pixels become apparent.


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