Just as texture adds an extra element to our own physical world, it’s important to build them into our designs if we want to portray that sensory world through graphics. Graphic designers are lucky in that we can deploy these textures and create visuals that go beyond the world we actually see.
With all the variations of textures and patterns, it can be hard to cement an idea in your mind when staring at a blank screen. We’ve collated different ways to approach the inclusion of texture and the layering of patterns to serve as inspiration when planning your client’s next project.
1) Geometric Patterns
Arguably the most widely used pattern in graphic design, there’s unlimited scope for angular imagery to create effects and shapes.
Designer Hope Little didn’t realise the snowballing popularity her vector designs would kick-start when she began creating intricate animals from shapes. Altering shades and tones of colours means that flat colours arouse the look of fur, whilst the arrangement of jagged shapes creates a 3D depth that launches the animals off the page.
Layering your geometric patterns on top of photography not only adds unimposing splashes of colour, but act as rough guideline frames for the eye to follow. This example is from Foreign Policy, who wanted advertisements for a funky, feminine cocktail bar called 13Wives. Grayscale photography evokes the classy vintage era the bar associates itself with, yet pops of colour from the geometric shapes ensure the flyer still captivates attention. Mixing circles and triangles also allows a softness with a trendy edge, again allowing the design to symbolise the bar’s philosophy.
2) Seamless Pattern Vectors
A firm favourite amongst designers who want to avoid visible lines between squares of textures. Seamless pattern vectors remove the need to stretch the background to fill the whole page, and therefore lose the effect of the original texture.
We absolutely adore the complexity and detail of this stone effect seamless pattern. By sticking to shades of grey, the protruding segments of rock extrude elegance and drama.
This seamless vector layers a simple monochrome geometric design with a tropical spin, adding gravity to the pattern. The magnitude of lines means the image loses its flatness, so the bends of the leaves seem to fold in between the lines. Once positioned in rows, this seamless pattern will form a loud and powerful element to any design! The contrast between the artificial shapes and green natural shapes gives the image a fun, floral twist that challenges expectations.
3) Layered Natural Textures
Another design which incorporates floral elements to bring life to standard text is this botanical piece by Keith Barney. A simple arrangement of flowers is carefully placed around the edges of the letters to project the image off the paper. Placing each letter at a different height accentuates the depth even further, as the letters appear nearer, or more engulfed by the flower.
Spanish designer Xavier Esclusa follows a similar formula. Graphic lettering stands in stark contrast to the natural elements which tumble from them. The neutral backgrounds compliment the earthy tones, and make you want to hold out and pick the branches off the paper.
Alternatively, he flips this on its head in this piece of the same project by colouring the letter with a florescent and unnaturally bold pink to make it pop off the paper. The sudden change from natural to graphic is a great way to challenge expectations.
Behance: Xavier Esclusa
4) Paper Textures
Paper textures are fantastic for creating a distressed overlay to an image. They can transform your work into something memorable, or serve practically when wanting to design something which looks printed.
This design was created using the Adobe Paper Texture Pro extension by Mark Johnson. Using a combination of overlays and texture blending, he created this striking image. The build-up of multiple layers of paper texture darkens the image on the edges to create a frame. It also gives the illusion of paint strokes across the sky for an illustrative feel to a graphic piece.
Paper texture here adds a tactile realism to the graphic image, instantly conveying a vintage, worn and washed appearance that tells a story. This effect is created by first washing out the image, then overlaying with the paper for a defined image with a history.
If you can’t find the perfect free paper texture to use in your own work, simply scanning in your own paper to apply is a crafty technique. Scrunch up the paper as much as you want depending on how much depth you want to add, and experiment with different stocks and colours.
5) Textured Typography
Whether the typography is simply complimenting the image, or is the entire focus of the graphic, there’s no reason to ignore applying textures to it.
London based designer Craig Ward specialises in fascinating and beautiful typography. His passion for pushing the boundaries of text has encouraged him to design typefaces such as this feather effect above. The sharp, thin and elegant standard type is given an animalistic makeover with black feathers bursting from it. So detailed is the design, that if you look closely you can see tiny birds in flight.
This fun typeface has been layered with simple dots for a pop art take on typography. Care has been taken not to overdo the layering, but add a subtle texture of pink polka-dots which help emphasise the playful nature of the type.
Here we see a dotted pattern design used in a slightly different way. The texture is shaded on to add a depth to the ‘&’ for an ingenious 3D effect. The ‘Bananda’ therefore serves as a delicious example adding a texture can do to design.
6) Photographic Textures
Manipulating photographs with texture and patterns renovates images and can help tell a story with more accuracy than the photo alone.
This portrait has been altered to show what look like jagged pieces of glass framing segments of a map. The map has been placed as a layer on top of the photo and cut out with lines to form a shirt of paper. Glimpses of his pinstripe shirt peep through, whilst thinner lines remain on the left which connote to coordinates.
An industrial black and white photograph is brought to life with circle patterns adjusting the natural form. A burst of yellow brings a touch of vibrancy to the sullen photo, without detracting from the dreary original.
7) Graphic Design Patterns on Photography
Texture isn’t the only thing you can apply to photography. You can form patterns from pieces of a photograph or imprint patterns on top for a new way of thinking and presenting photography.
A simple pattern of circles has been applied to this ballerina, whose image has been copied so she stands twice. The circles work with each other to alternate whether it’s the first ballerina or second they show. The image looks fragmented, unearthly and elegantly different. Classical grace is given a futuristic twist.
An unassuming pattern looks like it has been imprinted onto the photograph. The tones and hues of the original are held in stark contrast to the bright leaf pattern. A paper texture has again been applied to the pattern to cause the ‘ink’ effect, seemingly hand pressed onto the graphic.
8) Vector Pattern Backgrounds
Vector background patterns are hugely popular habits to spice up an image. Shelby white, a Graphic Designer based in Los Angeles demonstrates the effectiveness an incredibly simple patterned background can do. The diagonal stripes suddenly change direction and shape form the visually altering glass bottle.
This marble pattern background design is dramatic enough to be the main feature of this image. The white box could have been just put on top, yet instead the pattern background leaks into the rectangle for a truly immersive design.
9) Texture That Surprises
The most glorious thing about graphic design is how you can create images that present the world in new and exciting ways. You can alter reality and make people view ideas in different ways.
Patterns and textures that don’t fit the image they’re fixed around is a great way of achieving this. Pouring gold texture has been applied firstly instead of melted ice cream, secondly as cigarette smoke for a metallic take on common images.
10) Form whole images from patterns alone.
Sometimes there’s no need to add pattern to a pre-existing design. Utilise your favourite textures and patterns to create whole designs from scratch.
Hands are formed out of a simple monochrome pattern, placed over the ‘typewriter’ which consists merely of a polka dot pattern.
Again, on this book cover by Polish Designer Wieslaw Rosocha, a man’s silhouette is designed from a pattern of a wire fence. This allows us to think much more about the story since the pattern leads us to believe that the man is somehow trapped by the fence.
Textures and patterns are uncontested huge players in the graphic design field. Designing these patterns in Photoshop and Illustrator is one of the greatest benefits graphic artists have in the field, and can enhance the depth, life and meaning of a picture. We hope you’ve gained some inspiration when designing your next piece, and utilise the skills in your projects.