Texture can really add depth and a tangible quality to vector illustrations. In this tutorial, illustrator Jeffrey Bowman discloses the techniques he uses to create texture and then explains how he adds this to his work.
You’ll learn how to take scanned textures and turn them into vectors using image trace, then effectively apply them to your illustration using clipping masks. Jeffrey will also explain how to add brush strokes to hard vector edges, so as to give a hand-drawn feel to your artwork.
To help you follow along with this masterclass, Jeffrey has provided some sample vector shapes and textures in the project files.
The techniques featured in most of this tutorial can be applied to almost any version of Illustrator, but the texture vectorisation process in Steps 10-11 require CS6.
Time to complete
Files for this tutorial are downloadable from
First, set up your document (
Cmd/Ctrl + N) – I’ve opted for A4. I then worked out the area I wanted to work within, so other page elements could be fitted around it. I drew out some guides ( Cmd/Ctrl + R) that the illustration would fit inside.
Next, create an illustration – you’ll be applying textures to this later. For this example, I designed a camping scene with a mixture of solid vectors and linework.
It’s time to start adding brush strokes to the outside of the vector shapes. Illustrator has some excellent pre-made brushes. Open the Brushes panel (
F5) and, from the fly-out menu, select Open Brush Library > Artistic > Artistic_ChalkCharcoalPencil.
Select the shape you would like to add the brush effect to – this tree shape is in the project files,
. In the Artistic_ChalkCharcoalPencil panel, select the Charcoal Pencil. This gives a really nice edge-of-a-pencil look. VectorShapes.ai
You will see your shape now has a rough edge, and that it’s changed your shape’s stroke to match that of its fill.
Depending on how extreme you want the stroke to be, you can edit it using the Stroke panel – I set the stroke between 0.5 and 1pt. This gives it a more subtle effect – too much will make the illustration look messy rather than organic.
Once you are happy with the stroke width you need to prepare the shape, so you can apply clipping masks when you want to add texture later on.
To do this, select the shape, then go to
Object > Expand Appearance. You will see it now has three paths inside it. Open up your Pathfinder panel ( Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + F9 or Window > Pathfinder).
Select the shape, then press the Unite button in the Pathfinder panel. This will merge the three paths into a single shape. Repeat Steps 4-7 for the rest of your illustration.
We are now going to start vectorising some textures. Textures can be made from anything, but for this tutorial there are five you can use in the project files.
To create these, I scanned real materials into Photoshop using the black and white bitmap setting on the scanner, as this gives the best contrast when converting them to vectors.
Open up the first texture in Illustrator by dragging and dropping the PSD onto your illustrator icon. It will appear in a new document. Once it’s there, open up the Image Trace panel, which is new to Illustrator CS6 (
Window > Image Trace).
In the Image Trace panel, set the Mode to Black and White (from the drop-down menu). Tick Preview, so you can move the Threshold slider left to right and experiment with the results.
When you’re satisfied with the result, click on Trace. Go to
Object > Expand, ensure Fill and Object are ticked and click OK.
With the Direct Selection tool, click anywhere on the white background of the texture to select it, then hit Delete. You’ll be left with the black. Now copy and paste it into your illustration, and you will have a texture ready to apply to your object.
Next, change the texture to a darker or lighter version of the colour of the object it will sit on top of. Make multiple copies of the texture, so it covers the object. I produced three copies and rotated them until I was happy with their placement.
It’s now time to create a clipping mask, which will mask the textures into the shape of the vector – the tree in this instance. Clipping masks are one of the most important functions when creating an illustration like this. Copy the shape and paste it in place (
Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + V).
Once you’ve pasted the vector on top of the textures, you’ll need to convert it into a Compound Path, as without this the process won’t work. Go to
Object > Compound Path > Make ( Cmd/Ctrl + 8).
Ensure your topmost object is selected, then hold Shift and select all of your textures as well. Go to
Object > Clipping Mask > Make – or press Cmd/Ctrl + 7. If this doesn’t work, check the topmost version of the tree you’re using for the mask is above the textures in the layer stack.
You can now send the masked texture back in the layer stack so it doesn’t obscure any of the objects it should be behind. Use
Cmd/Ctrl + [ or Object > Arrange > Send Backward to do this.
Repeat Steps 9-16 to complete the rest of your illustration.