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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

Most designs will have elements that should give you clues as to which distressed overlay will work best and how to apply it. For instance, a large sports design with block letters may look good with a jersey mesh distress filter knocked out of it to emphasize its sporty appearance. Other designs that have a retro appearance would look better with a cracked paint texture overlay to accentuate the vintage effect. Such a distress filter will augment and reinforce the design’s theme instead of just making it look worn-out.

Vintage print with a distress filter.

A good way to decide which distressed filter to use for a job is to look for an overlay that recalls the design’s theme. For example:

• Camping, outdoor, fishing, and hunting designs with a wood grain distress layer
• Sport teams and fan apparel with jersey and “usage” distress (areas that look worn through from excessive abrasion)
• Vintage logos and retro designs with cracked or sand-blasted textures, including pitted and mottled surfaces
• Rustic designs for country music or western logos with a denim distress pattern and worn-out corners
• Fitness apparel, boot camps, and mud race graphics with “grunge” effects and multiple distress filters combined.

Creating Fast Distress Textures from Source Photos
There are many ways of creating and applying distress effects. The more versatile the overlay filter, the easier it will be to adjust if the effect does some unintended damage to the final composition. A good rule of thumb is to apply a distress filter to the design and then step back and see if it feels right or not. The majority of the time, you’ll see some good areas, and many questionable ones where it may be wise to adjust the effect or remove it entirely. To make this process easy, approach it in a way that will allow you to quickly manipulate the overlay rather than making you a prisoner of a big, fuzzy square that overlaps the whole image.

Here are the procedures in CorelDraw for creating a fast distress overlay from a photo texture. For Mac users, the commands below are easily adapted to Photoshop and Illustrator.


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