How to Create Interesting Grunges for Your Designs in Illustrator

In this quick tip you will learn to use grunges to create hierarchy in your designs, making the main elements stand out more and the backgrounds a lot more interesting – all in vector format.
The technique is very easy and can be done by everyone, all you need is a bit of a keen eye for aesthetics.

Difficulty: Beginner
Completion time: 30 minutes
Tools: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop

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Helmets Vector Pack from
Spraypaint Vector Pack from
Floral Vector Pack 68 from
– a handwriting text scan
t-shirt mock-up template from GoMedia

Final Image Preview

So lets begin!

Go to File > New… and create a 600 x 600 px document in CMYK color mode.

Click-drag the mock-up template into our document, resize it and place it like below using the Selection Tool (V). Hold the SHIFT key while dragging to preserve its proportions. In the Layers palette (F7), click the “Create New Layer” button.

Lock the “Layer 1” layer and select the newly created one. Name it “helmet”.
Open the “Helmets Vector Pack”, select a helmet of your choosing, copy it (CTRL+C), hit CTRL+Tab to switch to our document and paste it (CTRL+V). Resize it like below.

Open the “Spraypaint Vector Pack”, the “Floral Vector Pack 68” and the “handwriting” vector file.Do not copy anything yet, we just need this at hand after we’ve decided on the composition.

Here’s how the composition will be: we will make the helmet the main element, surrounded by a few thorns, with a textured background.

Go back to the “Untitled-1” file created in STEP 1 (Window > Untitled-1). Grab the Magic Wand Tool (Y), set its Tolerance to “0”. Select the contour and set its color to #1c1c1c. Then turn the rest of the Fill colors into white (#000000).

Go to the “spraypaint vector pack” and pick a spray with a curved edge, as below. Copy it (CTRL+C).

Go back to our document (Window > Untitled-1), create a new layer (it will be named “Layer 3”) and click-drag it below the “helmet” layer. Then lock “helmet” layer. Select the “Layer 3” layer and paste the spraypaint. Name this layer “spraypaint”.

Grab the Direct Selection Tool (A), click the interior of the spraypaint and hit Delete. You should now have a shape like below. Paste another spraypaint shape, like the one below.

Grab the Magic Wand Tool (Y),  click one of the spraypaints, grab the Eyedropper Tool (I) and click the contour of the helmet. CTRL+click on the canvas to deselect them.

Grab the Selection Tool (V), alt-click-drag the round dotted shape to create a copy, resize it and place it like below. Use the Eraser Tool (SHIFT+E) to clean up the extra areas. We will now make the helmet more 3D using only one color. Pretty cool, huh?

Copy and paste in more spray paints and place them around the helm. Delete their “core” if necessary. The secret is to use more for the bottom side and only a few for the top side.

Create a new layer, name it “handwriting” select it and paste in the handwriting. Use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to give it the same color as the spraypaints and alt-click-drag a few copies. Place them as below.

Lock the other layers and grab the Lasso Tool (Q). Make random selections and hit Delete twice. Make them more rare the further they are from the helmet, like a gradient.

Go to the “Floral Vector Pack 68”, copy a few thorns and go back to our document. Create a new layer, name it “thorns” and paste them in, then recolor them like the spraypaints. Place them like below.

Lock all layers, then unlock the “spraypaint” layer and select it. Paste in two spray paints like below. Select one and hit CTRL+SHIFT+] to bring it to front.

Place it above the other one, make it white and delete its “core”. Place these two shapes at the base of the T-shirt. Unlock the top-most layer and paste a round spraypaint. Recolor it and delete its “core”. Place it as below.

Unlock the “thorns” layer and alt-click-drag to create some copies, then place them as below.

Unlock the “spraypaint” and the “helmet” layer. Paste in some round spraypaints, delete their core, recolor them in #1c1c1c and place them as below. This will add more depth and texture to our main element. Erase extra areas as necessary.

I want more depth to the overall design, so copy some more spraypaints and place them as shown in the image below.

As an end result, this how my print would look like:


The trick is to enhance your main element and its features with simpler elements to complete its shape. The help has dominant round shapes, so  I added straight, linear handwritten text to contrast it and to give it some stability. The grunges make it stand out more, enhance the shape and volume and the thorns, whose round shapes combined with aggressive sharp angles enhances its strength.
The elements I chose are only generic, you can use any shapes with the similar characteristics, you will obtain the same result.

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3 Comments on “How to Create Interesting Grunges for Your Designs in Illustrator

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