How to Achieve a Realistic Distressed Effect with Hand Lettering 3/3 ? Distressed Effect in Illustrator

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How to Achieve a Realistic Distressed Effect with Hand Lettering 3/3 ? Distressed Effect in Illustrator

All goods things must come to an end… On this third and last part of our three volumes tutorial, I’ll teach you my own method to transform your raster distressed type into strong, convincing vector artwork.

Now that you’re mastering the art of crafting quality textures and applying it on type, you may be wondering “but what happens if I want to print it on a larger scale? And what about logo design? Can I keep my texture in vectors?”
Indeed, even if you’re able to work on high resolution raster artworks suitable for printing, it doesn’t leave you with too much flexibility. Furthermore, many design fields inherently imply working with vectors: with lettering and logo design, you can’t escape it.

Together, we’ll see how to benefit from the great potential of Photoshop and Illustrator to create a beautiful distressed type in vector graphics that are suitable for infinite scaling and professional logo design delivery.

Understanding vectors

Yes, you should expect losing details with vectors. But if done right, this will be almost invisible.

Raster graphics are colored dots on a grid, like a mosaic. The bigger the canvas and the smaller the dots, the finer the image will be. That’s what is called resolution, and defines the dimensions of the image.
Raster graphics usually use the RGB color space, mainly made for color rendering on screens (computers, TV). This mode allows to render up to 16 million colors, which is fairly close to reality for the human eye. This allows an incredible wealth of detail.
However, raster graphics depend on their resolution, therefore on their dimensions. They can’t be resized without losing information.

Vector graphics are the result of coordinates on a map, like a “connect the dots” game. The designer places the dots, and the shape is automatically calculated. However, the mathematical nature of vector shapes makes it only fillable with solid colors and simple gradients. They use the CMJN color space, which renders less colors than RGB but matches the printing industry standards.
This leaves way less options for details, but allows infinite scaling. This asset is essential for logos, fonts, or anything that needs to be resized without losing information. This is also the best option for printables.

If you want to create details on a vector composition, you must be clever.

This shirt design by Ryan Hamrick renders different shades and effects that give the impression of raster graphics.

On this close up shot, you can see that it was in fact made with solid white only, with absolutely no transparency levels. The design is formed with dots of various size and number, and therefore is only understandable for the human eye when watched from a certain distance. This process is called halftone.

Working high res

If you zoom in on the distressed lettering piece we did last week, you’ll see many colors and different levels of transparency. Since we can’t reproduce that in vectors, we’ll rely on optical illusion: we are going to work with a high resolution, high dimensioned raster base. When we’ll scale it at a normal, viewable size, the tiniest solid shapes will give an impression of detail to the eye.

I produced a high-resolution version of the artwork we made last week. My document is 1200x800, and its resolution is 300 dpi. I simplified the distressed effect on it, which doesn’t make it very convincing as is, but will allow me to make an interesting conversion to vector shapes.

I decided to do the vectorizing process in two passes: one for the inner grain, one for the rougher grit on the edges, since they need different tuning to render well.

We’ll start with the edges. We hide the Photoshop layer that contains the inner grit, then import the result into Illustrator.

As with last week’s tutorial, we’re going to use Live Trace and start from the Default preset. This time I’ll explain a bit more in detail how the options impact on your work, so you can make better choices.

  • Threshold controls the levels of black and white, as in Photoshop. Less favors the conversion to white, More favors the conversion to black. In our case, more white means the grit will be bigger, more black will make it more discreet. I set mine on 180 for a subtle effect.
  • Paths controls the accuracy of the vector. Low makes it more abstract, High makes it more true to the original artwork. I set mine on 95% for high fidelity.
  • Corners, as the name suggests, makes the vector more or less angular. We want to keep our grit soft so I set it at 20%.
  • Noise controls the amount of noise removal. The more you have, the less grit will remain. We need grit, but mostly thick particules, I set mine on 15px.

When we’re done, we Expand the result and get rid of all the white area (please see the previous part of the tutorial for more information on this process). You can save this document for later and close it, or keep it open and unsaved if you’re a hothead like me… at your own risk!

We now are going to repeat the process with the inner grit. I import my artwork from Photoshop to Illustrator in a new document, and apply Live Trace with the Default preset to start. Here’s how I tuned mine:

  • Threshold is set on 90 to keep a decent amount of inner grit.
  • Paths is set on 100% for a maximum fidelity.
  • Corners is set on 0% to keep the grit soft and natural.
  • Noise is set on 2px to keep the highest amount of grit possible.

We then Expand the result, but we don’t clear the white area. Indeed, we’ll need it to remain as a vector object since we’ll have to import it on our previous vector work. We select it with the Magic wand and apply a more visible filling color, so we can handle it more easily (I chose red).

We now need to remove all the red space that’s not grit. We use the Direct selection tool (white arrow) to select everything we don’t want, and delete it. We remain with the lettering and the red grit.

We now can select it all and import it on the first vector artwork. We align it precisely with the first lettering. I suggest you to make it on a new layer, so you don’t get mixed up with your vector objects.
When you’re set, you can delete the lettering from the second vectorization. It was only useful for placing your grit properly.

We now want to substract the red grit from the main lettering shape. For that, we’re going to use the Pathfinder. This powerful Illustrator tool allows us to blend vector shapes in a number of different ways.
We select everything and choose Exclude to keep all the letters, but exclude the intersections of the shapes.

And voilà. Really, we’re done :)

Our lettering piece is totally vectorized, ready to be used as a logo, or printed at any scale.

I use :

  • Photoshop CS6
  • Illustrator CS6

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