How to easily add texture to your Illustrator designs [video] | Pitter Pattern

As promised in my last post, I have created a video tutorial on how to add texture to your vector designs in Illustrator by using bitmap images. This technique is very useful and can produce some gorgeous and interesting results.

If you downloaded the free texture images from last post you can use those to follow along. If you haven’t downloaded them but want to, here is the link: 17 free textures that can help your designs kick ass. You can also, of course, use your own images!

Because I’m very aware that I have a strong accent and it might be difficult to understand me sometimes, I have added the script below the video (including some timings that might come in handy, and excluding some of the hems, buts, sos, etc!).

I hope you enjoy the video and, better still, find it useful… Please let me know in the comments below if you have any questions about the process, if you have any topic requests for small tutorials like this one, or if you want to share your own ideas about how to add texture on your designs… I would love to hear them!

How to easily add texture to your Illustrator designs

00:00 – Intro

  • Hello everyone, today I’m gonna show you how to use bitmap textures on your vector designs for those times when you feel like you want to add a little something to them.
  • For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Veronica and I’m a designer. I also run the blog Pitter Pattern, which is a blog all about surface pattern design.
  • I’m Colombian but have been living in the UK for a very long time. I’m telling you that as a kind of disclaimer because of my accent! So I will do my best…
  • In this tutorial I’m using some of the textures I gave away on last week’s blog post. If you downloaded them you can use those to follow along or you can obviously use your own photos.
  • I will also put a link to the download page in this post in case you haven’t got those images but want to download them.

00:53 – Setting up

  • Let’s get started. What you can see here on my screen is the illustration I’m gonna be working on.
  • On the left-hand side is the original illustration with flat colours and no texture.
  • On the right-hand side we have the same design but with the textures applied. This is what we want to be achieving by the end of the video.
  • I’m going to open my flat illustration in a new document, and I want to make sure that all my elements are ungrouped. That will make it easier to apply different textures to different elements. So, all of these are ungrouped.

01:29 – Creating background bitmap texture in Photoshop

  • I’m gonna apply texture to the background first of all, so let’s go and choose one of the textures from my hard drive. For the background I’m gonna choose this one.
  • I’m gonna open it in Photoshop and now I’m gonna go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold.
  • In this dialogue box you can choose the Threshold level, which is like the amount of detail you want to capture. This is up to you and the effect you want to create. In this case I’m gonna just set it to 115.
  • Now you go to Image > Mode and convert to Grayscale. You can discard colour information.
  • Go back to Image > Mode and now choose Bitmap. In the Resolution Output field choose the resolution you need for your final artwork.
  • If you’re creating something for the web choose 72dpi but if you are working on something for printing choose 300dpi. I’m gonna choose 300 in this case.
  • You can leave the Method alone at this time but you’re very welcome to experiment with it and see what kind of results you get.
  • Now you can Save your file. I’m gonna save it as a TIFF. It’s important you save as TIFF because that format will allow us to create the texture effects we want inside Illustrator.
  • I’m gonna save mine as ‘background texture.tif’. I’m gonna replace because I had already one, but you can save it as whatever you want.
  • You can leave these TIFF options alone in this window. I never bother messing around with those. Click OK.

03:54 – Creating background texture in Illustrator

  • Let’s go back now to Illustrator.
  • You can go to File > Place and select the TIFF image we just created. Click Place.
  • Now you click on the Artboard to place the image.
  • Now you go to your Swatches palette. If it’s not visible you can open it by going to Window > Swatches.
  • You can colour your texture with your chosen colour. For this one I’m just gonna choose this dark green.
  • Now you align the texture to the top and left sides of the background shape by going to Align, so I’ve got my texture selected, I go to the top bar where my Align menu is and I align Horizontal Align Left and Vertical Align Top.
  • Now you can scale your texture until it covers the area you want to be textured. In my case is the whole background, so I’m just gonna make it that big.
  • Now you can go to your Transparency panel. Again, if it’s not visible you can open it by going to Window > Transparency, and here you can apply a Blending Mode, on this side, or Opacity to this TIFF.
  • For the sake of simplicity, I won’t be explaining Blending Modes in this tutorial but you’re very welcome to experiment and see what kind of effects you can create with them.
  • In this case I’m gonna just set my opacity to around 40%. You can obviously play around with this as the result depends on the colours you’re working with.
  • At this point, as you can see, you can stop adding textures and call it a day. Sometimes it’s enough. It depends on the project.
  • So that could be the effect you’re looking for, so that would be the end of the tutorial, but I will be showing you a couple more tricks though, so let’s keep going.

06:24 – Creating bitmap texture for vase in Photoshop

  • Now select both the texture and the background by dragging over them like this and send them right to the bottom of the stack by right-clicking and choosing Arrange > Send to Back.
  • That makes this top of my background have the texture but not this bottom.
  • Now I’m gonna choose another texture to decorate one of the vases. Let’s choose, for that vase, this one.
  • Now we repeat all the same steps we did before.
  • We go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold.
  • For this one I’m just gonna go a little bit lower. I’m just gonna choose 95.
  • Go to back Image > Mode and convert to Grayscale. We can discard the colour information.
  • Back to Mode > Bitmap.
  • And again, resolution, we leave as it was.
  • Now Save your file as TIFF.
  • I’ll call mine ‘vase texture.tif’.

08:05 – Creating vase texture with Clipping Mask in Illustrator

  • Back in Illustrator I’ll select one of the vases, I’m gonna choose this orange one, and Copy and then Paste in Place.
  • So you go to Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste in Place. So now we got 2 copies of that vase, one on top of each other.
  • Mine is right on top, but if yours is not right on top of the whole illustration, you can bring that copy we just created right to the front by right-clicking it and choosing Arrange > Bring to Front.
  • Now I’ll show you a handy little trick. Before placing your TIFF into this file, you change the Illustrator mode to Draw Behind by pressing SHIFT+D. You can also find this option at the bottom of your tools palette, it’s here, we can just about see it, Draw Normal/Draw Behind.
  • Mine is a bit hidden.
  • Once in Draw Behind mode go to File > Place and select the TIFF we just created, which was the ‘vase-texture.tif’. Click Place.
  • Click to put it into place.
  • Because we are in Draw Behind mode the texture is placed behind our copied vase shape, which is handy because we need that exact stacking order for our next step.
  • You can get out of Draw Behind mode by pressing SHIFT+D again, or by pressing this little button down here. So I’m back to Draw Normal.
  • Now you can colour your texture with your chosen colour. I’m gonna choose pink for this one, bear with me.
  • With the texture still selected SHIFT-click on the vase to select it at the same time. So you got the texture selected, press SHIFT on your keyboard, click on the vase, now you got both elements selected, now just go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make.
  • Now we have a mask, with the shape of the vase, with our texture in it.
  • Now you can go to your Transparency panel and then set your Transparency. I’m gonna set mine to 20% and this time I’m actually gonna use the Multiply Blending Mode. You can play with those as much as you want.
  • Last thing we need to do with this vase is to send the masked texture back to its place because at the moment is on top of the flowers and of this vase, so it’s a bit messy.
  • We do that by right-clicking and choosing Arrange once again, but this time we Send Backward. And we do that as many times as necessary to send it behind all the elements that is overlapping at the moment.
  • So instead of going to that menu every time, if it’s gonna need many times, you just go COMMAND + left bracket several times, until it goes to where it belongs, right there.

11:44 – Creating bitmap texture for leaves in Photoshop

  • In the last example I’m gonna show you, we are gonna apply the texture only to a part of a shape. Let’s do it.
  • I’m gonna choose another texture, so. I’m going back to my hard drive, and this time I’m gonna choose a texture for the leaves. So I’m just gonna choose this one.
  • We repeat all the same steps as before.
  • Image >Adjustments > Threshold.
  • This time I’m gonna set mine a bit lower, 80.
  • Image > Mode, convert to Grayscale.
  • Image > Mode > Bitmap. Same resolution.
  • Save as TIFF again. And this time I’m gonna name it ‘leaf texture.tif’.

12:48 – Getting leaves ready for applying texture

  • Back in Illustrator, let’s zoom in on those leaves I’m gonna be working on.
  • Now with the pen tool, I’m gonna draw a shape that covers roughly half the leaf.
  • I’m gonna choose the leaf, the original leaf, and duplicate it by copying it, Edit > Copy, and this time we’re gonna Paste it in Back, so we have another copy of that leaf.
  • With that leaf still selected, SHIFT-click on the shape we just created and open your Pathfinder window, which for me is here, but obviously if you’re not finding it go to Window and find it like we found the other ones, and this time click Minus Front.
  • That leaves us with a shape that is half a leaf and obviously the original leaf.
  • I’m gonna colour it differently so you know what’s going on here. I’m just gonna give it another colour green, so we got the original leaf and half a leaf.
  • With my half a leaf selected I drag it while holding SHIFT+ALT at the same time. ALT duplicates the shape while I’m dragging it, and SHIFT constraints the movement to vertical only.
  • My Illustrator Smart Guides and Snap to Point options are on, so it’s easy to align the new shape with the rest of the leaves.
  • You can turn those options here in View > Smart Guides/Snap to Point.
  • Now we select the 3 shapes we just created and select the Reflect tool.
  • Click on the corner of this leaf, because that’s the point of mirroring I want to set, click once and then SHIFT+ALT to duplicate and to constrain to the other side, the movement.
  • Now just put them on the leaves in the place they should be.

15:47 – Creating leaves texture with Clipping Mask & Compound Path in Illustrator

  • Select all the new leaf shapes we just made, by clicking on each one while pressing SHIFT, selects them all.
  • Go to Object > Compound Path > Make. By making a compound path with these shapes, we are telling Illustrator that this counts as 1 shape and not 6 different shapes and this will come in really handy at the time of masking.
  • Let’s zoom out again and bring our final texture in.
  • I’ll go to Draw Behind mode, so SHIFT+D or the button down here, Draw Behind with those shapes still selected.
  • Go to File > Place and choose my leaf texture this time, Place, and click on the artboard to place it.
  • With it still selected I’ll choose a colour, this time I’m gonna choose this yellow and see how it goes.
  • And resize to just fit that area of the leaves. I’m gonna zoom in so you can see what’s going on here.
  • So the texture is behind these leaf shapes because we were in Draw Behind mode. I’m gonna get out of Draw Behind mode by pressing SHIFT+D again, back to normal.
  • While the texture is still selected SHIFT-click on the leaf shapes and again Object > Clipping Mask > Make, and it just creates a lovely mask of our half leaf shapes.
  • And now we go back to the Opacity and we set up the opacity, and you can obviously play with the Blending mode once again.
  • That looks nice. Let’s zoom out again, there you are!

18:20 – Finishing off

  • Okay, so I showed you a few ways of using the textures inside Illustrator.
  • To recap: First we used it on the background and you can do that for the whole image and finish at that point if you want.
  • Second, we applied it to a simple shape, the vase, with a Clipping Mask.
  • And third, we applied the texture to only part of a shape and used Compound Path to apply one texture to several elements at the same time.
  • There are hundreds of ways of using textures on your vector illustrations and this is just the tip of the iceberg, and I think the end result can look quite gorgeous!
  • Another thing to take into account is that you could convert these TIFFs into vectors by Image Tracing them inside Illustrator. But I find that converting them sometimes create so many anchor points that the file becomes really heavy and really slow to work with. You have to take this decision based on the project your working on.
  • Anyway, I’ll finish off these textures like Speedy Gonzalez so we can see the end result and hopefully see you again soon! Bye.

Let me know how you get on and if you found the tutorial useful! And also, are there any other techniques you’d like me to create tutorials for? Pop them in the comments…

I am a designer, originally from Colombia and now living permanently in Cornwall, UK. I graduated in Product Design but since then have mostly worked in graphics for print and web. A few years ago I decided to specialise in Surface Pattern Design and I'm loving it!


  1. Laura

    Hi Veronica, great tutorial. Thanks!

  2. Thanks Veronica, very clear and very generous of you to share this! I’ve been using illustrator for years but have never got my head around many of the tools so I learnt a lot. best wishes, Jo

    • Hi Jo, thanks so much for your message! It makes me so happy when someone finds the things I post useful… It makes it all worthwhile! Hopefully see you around :-)

  3. Hi Veronica, thanks for the great tutorial on adding texture – something I love the look of but as yet haven’t done in my own work. I am confused – why did you make a copy of the orange vase before adding texture?

    • Hi Jan, so glad you found the tutorial useful! When you create a Clipping Mask the shape you use to make the mask (in this case the vase) loses its stroke and fill properties and becomes an invisible shape that its only job is to mask the texture. So if you didn’t make a copy of that shape you would be left with a masked texture but nothing else. You make copies of any shapes you want to create masks with when you want to retain their original properties, such as background colour, strokes, gradients, after applying the mask… Hope that is clear, please let me know if not! ;-)

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