Master the “grunge” look with this step-by-step Photoshop tutorial

Grunge textures are a popular trend characterized by its organic, realistic and rugged look. Designers don’t have to be extreme when trying to make designs look rugged — subtle visual elements are just as effective.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to achieve a rough effect using irregular textures on a simple black and white photo. What program is the best for creating heavily textured and worn, grunge designs? Photoshop of course!

This is the final image we’ll be creating:

Start by creating a new image:

  • File: New
  • Image size: width 1280 px; height 867 px
  • Background color: black

Open, copy and paste your base photo

Open the photo you’d like to use as the base for your design. I’m using a photo of an orchestra from a contest I won.

Open the image by:

  • selecting all: ctrl + A
  • coping: ctrl+ C
  • then pasting it into the new document you created in the previous step: crtl + V
  • you can place it in the center, scale or move it using the free transform tool: command + T

Incorporate textures: blend modes and masks

I love textures! And who doesn’t? They really create nice contrast and give designs a real life feel. There are plenty of textures you can find via the web but don’t be scared to create your own.

When handling textures, we will only be using a few tools — simple shapes, blending modes and layer masks.

3D Textures

Not only does 3D textures give designs a unique look, they also give a nice impression of depth. In this example, I used a texture I created a while back in Illustrator. Feel free to search the web for other 3D texture options.

Place the 3D texture on it’s own layer (above the photo layer):

  • set blending mode (a drop down found at the top of the layer palette): Screen
  • set opacity: 67%

Draw a shape that covers the image (you can use the rectangle tool):

  • give it a #000834 color fill
  • set blending mode: Overlay
  • opacity: 100%

Use this same texture again and place it above the shape:

  • set blending mode: Normal
  • opacity: 29%

Metal texture

Next, we will use a metal-looking texture — I found a nice one on webtreats.mysitemyway.com.

Open the texture, then copy and paste fragments of your texture into your design:

  • set blend mode: Overlay
  • opacity: 25%
Really play around with the texture’s positioning especially in lighter areas.

Grunge texture

Now, we will incorporate actual grungy-looking texture.

After opening the texture, I cut it into 5 pieces and put it onto 5 separate layers. Then, I created fragments by selecting:

  • the marque tool: M — dragging and highlighting an area
  • cutting the selected area: command X
  • pasting it onto the design: command V

For each layer, set:

  • blending mode: Overlay
  • opacity: 41%
Then, add masks to each layer:
  • Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All
  • OR click the Layer Mask, rectangular icon at the bottom of the layer palette

Select the brush tool (B) and paint on each masks so you get a more irregular result.

Note: your color palette should be set on black and white. Put it on black if you want to erase and if you’d like to add something back, switch it to white and draw it back in.

Painting on mask:

Painting on mask:

This is what the grunge and 3D textures look like:

This is what they all 3 look like together after incorporating the metal texture:

Adding text

Let’s add some structure and prepare areas so we can place text. Just above the photo layer, draw a horizontal bar with the Rectangle Shape Tool (U). Set the shape so it fades nicely into the image:

  • blend mode: Normal
  • opacity: 100%

Now, draw a second shape (it’s red in my example) above the 3D texture layer:

  • blend mode: Multiply
  • opacity: 100%

We are going to add a drop shadow effect:

  • right click layer > Blending Options > Drop Shadow
  • Change distance to 9px > spread 0% > size 0px

Creating texture using brushes

To keep the design consistent, I often give icons a grunge style too. Again, you can find textures from the web or have fun creating your own.

Let’s create our own using texture brushes which already exist in your default brush settings. Create a new document:

  • Size: 150px by 150px

Paint a few strokes with a texture brush then duplicate it by selecting:

  • Filter > Other > Offset: 50px horizontal, 50 px vertical

You can fix up any edges with the Spot Healing Brush tool or Rubber Stamp tool. Once everything looks grungy select:

  • All: ctrl+A
  • Edit > Define Pattern
Give the pattern a name — it will be saved into your pattern panel for later use.

Social Icons

Once the pattern is created, I load Twitter and Facebook icons from my shape set and apply my pattern. Do this by right clicking the layer > Blending Options > Pattern Overlay. I set each layer:

  • blend mode: Normal
  • opacity: 100%

Ready, set… press okay! Icons are in a grunge style now:

Fonts

For final touches, I add titles and menus using grunge fonts. In this example, I used intense colors so they stand out from the textured background.

The final result

This tutorial is a helpful start for those who wish to experiment with this grunge style in their digital projects.

Once you feel confident with these techniques and tools, I suggest you forget what you’ve learned and just have fun mixing textures in a creative and casual way!

Have questions about creating a grunge texture? Please ask in the comments!

The author

Joanna Krenz Kurowska & Jerzy Kurowski
Joanna Krenz Kurowska & Jerzy Kurowski

Joanna Krenz-Kurowska has been working as a freelance graphic designer and web designer for 13 years. She lives in the mountains in the south-west of Poland. She has spent the last few years working for clients on five continents, writing about web design and technology for the 99designs community blog, winning dozens of web design contests and following her passions: art photography, running marathons, and graphic arts. She is a member of the New Mill Artists' Colony art union. Teaming up with Jerzy Kurowski, she creates complete digital products like websites or multimedia programs. She loves challenges like bathing in ice air holes, long-distance mountain running, or exploring new areas in web design. More about her work on 23dragons.com. My 99designs profile: http://99designs.com/users/413631. Email: jkk2332@gmail.com

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