How to Create Subtle Grunge Textures

The subtle grunge textures I post here on L&T and elsewhere (see Subtle Grunge Textures Vol1 and 25 Subtle and Light Gunrge Textures) are some of the most popular resources I've released. And for good reason, they're easy to incorporate into designs and the subtly textured grunge look is really trending at the moment. Today I wanted to share with you how I make these textures. At the end of the tutorial I've included a few extras, like how to add a color layer or pattern to the finished textures. Here's what we'll be making:

Final Preview

Source Files

The source .zip contains the .PSD for the texture we'll be creating, I've left the layers intact so feel free to play around with it. Also included in the .zip are the four textures we'll be using:


Layer Orders


Almost all of the textures I create in Photoshop are arranged in the same way and include four layers: 

  • Base Layer - The base layer typically consists of a low contrast grunge texture without too many hard edges. Paper textures work well, along with rust, concrete, or stone textures.
  • Middle Layers - These two layers are populated by heavy grunge textures, the darker and dirtier the better. These provide the bulk of the "grunge texture" to the final image.
  • Top Layer - Could also be called the "light" layer, I typically use a light paper or grunge texture.

The goal is to take parts from all these various textures and combine them into one, new image. Choosing correct textures is the most important part in the process, you have to make sure they'll work together cohesively. Experimenting by trial and error is the best way to learn, just have fun trying to combine various textures together. You'll be surprised at how cool the results can be. 

Here you can see how the textures interact with each other when layered. The individual textures can be useful in their own right, but when combined they help give a very even and subtle grunge layer to your designs.


Creating the texture


Open baselayer.jpg and rename the layer "Base Layer". 


Open middlelayer1.jpg and past it into the document. Change the layer blending mode to Overlay and name the layer Middle Layer 1.


Paste middlelayer2.jpg into a new layer and also set the blending mode to Overlay.


Finally, paste toplayer.jpg into a new layer and set the blending mode to Screen. Now we have the base for our texture, from here on out we'll simply tweak each layer to make the textures blend together better and to bring out that truly subtle look


Select the Base Layer and set the saturation to -40. I prefer to keep all of the layers visible because it allows you to observe how they interact with each other. 


While still on the Base Layer tweak the levels to add a little bit more contrast.


Select Middle Layer 1 and adjust the curves to darken the texture and reduce some of the contrast


While still on Middle Layer 1 reduce the saturation by -50. We don't want any one color to dominate the final texture and this helps the colors form each texture meld together.


Select Middle Layer 2 and adjust the curves to help bring out the grunge highlights


Select the Top Layer and reduce the opacity to 87%


This is one of the most important steps. By pushing the contrast and brightness of the top layer we can really work to help bring out the subtle textures from the images below. I normally tend to play around with Levels until I reach a result I'm satisfied with, but you can also use Curves or play around with the Saturation and Brightness.


I noticed the the top of Middle Layer 1 was a lot darker than the rest of the image and prevented some subtle grunge lines from showing up. So I applied a light Gradient Overlay in the Layer Styles to help brighten it up a little bit.


That wraps up the creation of the subtle grunge texture. There are literally an endless number of textures that you can combine to create brand new ones using the method I've described here. It's kind of like combining elements in an RPG. I highly recommend just opening up four random textures in a .PSD file and start playing around with the layer blending modes and levels. 


More Examples


Here are two more examples of subtle grunge textures I've created using the process I described above. You can download the .PSD files below each texture, feel free to dissect each layer to see how the texture is assembled.




Creating subtle textures is just the beginning of what you can do with this method. Using the texture we created as a base, we can modify the feel by simple adding a layer of color or pattern. With a few adjustments you can create a texture that perfectly fits your design, it's what makes these subtle grunge textures so useful. Below are the methods I use to make some of my most downloaded textures, including 8 Colorful Grunge Textures and all of my vintage wallpaper textures.

Adding Color

Create a new layer called "Color" and paint in colors with the brush tool. Another option is to paste in a colorful photograph and go Filter > Gaussian Blur > Radius: 250px. This gives the color layer a very natural feel and helps saves time.

Then simply set the blending mode to overlay. 


See how easy that was to transform the base texture into something entirely different and beautiful and useful in it's own right?

Adding a Pattern

Working off of the base file, create a new layer above the Base Layer named "Pattern".


Go Edit > Fill and select a pattern to use. I've chosen a vintage damask pattern from my archives


Once the pattern has been added to the layer set the blending mode to Overlay


Lastly, select the eraser tool and choose a fuzzy brush with a diameter of 300 pixels and set the opacity to 10%


Using the Eraser tool, erase a little bit of the pattern layer where the texture is brightest, I've highlighted the areas where I erased. The goal of this is to provide a more realistic final product and to help the pattern blend with the textures around it


Once again, it was very easy to transform the base texture into something suited specifically to your project needs.

That pretty much wraps up everything for this tutorial. Please leave me a comment to let me know if you enjoyed it and I'll put together a few more like this. Enjoy!

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References (3)

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Reader Comments (33)

Great Tutorial! Wonderfully easy to follow ... Thank You!
October 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKat7
Thank you so much for the share!
November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIgnazio Lacitignola
I just found you while browsing. I've really been missing out but I'm so glad I found you now. I love your textures and your tutorials are fabulous and so helpful. I had no idea how to put them together to create a new texture. You are very creative and so generous to share with us. Keep it up. I have you bookmarked and will be checking in frequently. Thx again.
December 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercheryl butler
Amazing work keep it up.
December 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkonica/qms toner
Awesome tutorial!
You brought many happiness to artists the world over!
Thanks for your contribution!
April 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTL
wonderful tutorial. thank you!
April 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn
What a great tutorial1 Thank you for posting it. You've given me a lot of ideas to try.
May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPrairieJill
Thank you very much for this tutorial! Especially for a beginner in Photoshop like me this was very, very interesting - I absolutely love the results. And being able to see how it is done step by every tiny step is really a great help.
June 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngelika Westermann

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