Blog Home Tips & Tutorials Design Tips Illustrator Tutorial: Create A Grunge Effect From Scratch

By Shutterstock Contributor Erica Truex

The beat-up, weather-worn style of “grunge” never seems to go out of style. The most authentic grunge or distressed effects often come from source photos or scanned textures. Though manipulating existing images is a great way to obtain grunge, you may not always have the time or resources to use this method. You also might want to create a grunge pattern that’s easily scaled and distorted without losing quality. Creating texture from scratch in Adobe Illustrator is a great alternative if you find yourself without source photos, or if you’re looking for complete creative control over the finished effect.

This basic tutorial shares a step-by-step method on how to create your own grunge in Illustrator. Please note that throughout this tutorial, I refer to Mac shortcuts. If you’re a PC user, remember to use Ctrl instead of Cmd and Alt instead of Opt.

Let’s get started!

1. Draw a square on your artboard.


Using the rectangle tool (M), click and drag anywhere on your artboard to draw a square. Hold down Shift while dragging to constrain your proportions.

2. Slice your square into pieces.


Activate the Knife Tool. If you don’t see it in your toolbar, check the drop-down behind your Eraser or Scissors tool.


Enter Outline Mode (Cmd+Y) to maximize visibility, then click and drag with the Knife Tool to “cut” all the way through your square, from one edge to another.


Continue cutting, using a variety of both straight and curvy cuts. The more cuts you make, the more detail your finished grunge will have. Keep in mind that depending on the speed of your computer, too much detail might slow you down as we add filters later on.

When you’re finished cutting, don’t forget to exit outline mode (Cmd+Y).

3. Transform the pieces.

Select all your pieces (Cmd+A) and Hide Edges (Cmd+H) for a better view of your transformations. Press Opt+Shift+Cmd+D to open the Transform Each dialog box.


Turn on the Preview and Random checkboxes, and experiment with the values.

I prefer about 10% for Horizontal and Vertical Scale. To get the most variety in your transformations, enter a value of 100pt for Horizontal Move and -100pt for Vertical Move. In addition to adjusting the values, you can toggle the “Preview” or “Random” checkbox to generate a new randomization of the transformation.

Click OK when you’ve achieved the effect you’re looking for.

For more detailed grunge, repeat Step Three.


These next two steps are optional ways to customize your grunge. Feel free to skip to Step Six if you’re already happy with the outcome.

4. Soften the edges.

If you zoom in to take a closer look at your pieces, you’ll notice they have sharp, jagged edges. If you would like to create a more organic effect, make sure your pieces are still selected (Cmd+A) and go to Effect->Stylize>Round Corners.


Enter a radius of 200pt, then click OK.


Go to Object->Expand Appearance to permanently apply the effect.

5. Add additional detail.


Turn Show Edges on (Cmd+H) and use your Selection Tool (V) to select a thin rectangle of grunge pieces.


To duplicate your selection, Opt+Drag it away from the other pieces.


With the pieces still selected, click on “Horizontal Align Center” in the Align Palette.


Open the Transform Each dialog box (Opt+Shift+Cmd+D) and enter 30% for Horizontal Scale and 150% for Vertical Scale. Enter 0pt for Horizontal and Vertical Move values and make sure the Random checkbox is turned off. Click OK.


Group your pieces together (Cmd+G). Use the Move Tool (V) and the Rotate Tool (R) to position the “crease” as desired. You can create additional crease marks to achieve the effect you’re looking for.

6. Apply to your shape.


Position your grunge over a shape.


Select everything (Cmd+A), then click “Subtract from Shape Area” (also called Minus Front) in the Pathfinder to apply your effect.


Your effect is complete! To further customize your grunge, you can experiment with applying different filters or multiple transformations to your grunge pieces. Have fun creating new textures and distressed effects!

Visit Skillfeed for even more Illustrator tutorials.