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How to Create Successful Distressed Effects

(February/March 2017) posted on Tue Feb 28, 2017

Everything old is new again, making distressed garment effects highly popular with today’s apparel buyer. Learn to create simple, original designs that will avoid the on-press problems such artwork can cause.


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By Thomas Trimingham

If you’ve ever spent a few hours rummaging through an antique store, you have no doubt come across many worn-in (or worn-out) items. Aside from the awkward styles or out-of-date functions that may characterize these treasures, they often have surfaces that display a wonderful variety of distressed features: cracked paint surfaces, pitted metal signs, worn-out leather, and fatigued wood surfaces, to name just a few. If you look closely at these textures, you will sometimes find subtle patterns that can be extracted and used in your artwork. Taking distressed textures from a variety of sources to create vintage looks is an art in itself. With the proper application of distressed features on even a boring piece of typography or art, a design can suddenly take on a collectible, nostalgic, or even iconic look that is highly appealing to garment buyers.

Distressed effects can go wrong, however. Often, they are used indiscriminately, with no consideration of how they may impact the final design. This typically happens when the artist applies the effect at the end of the design process as a quick afterthought and then rushes it to the client for approval or, worse, to production. Used incorrectly, distress filters can seriously damage your art files, make text illegible, and cause a host of printing problems.  Since getting a distressed look is essentially a process of extraction in which you remove pieces of the design, it stands to reason that it makes a considerable difference where these pieces are removed, and to what degree.



Different Effects for Different Looks
Producing great distressed designs is all about the tools that you have to work with. You can often do the work in CorelDraw or Illustrator; for the really detailed patterns, Photoshop comes in handy. Start out by building up a collection of different textures. A lot of great public domain sources are available online, but in order to produce truly original designs, it’s a good idea to collect your own texture photos as well. The goal is to have a good variety of different effects that you can use to give your designs interesting vintage and worn-out looks depending on what the composition calls for.


Jersey distress on a sports design.


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