If you have followed my work, both my photography and illustrations, you know I am “ever so slightly” obsessed with texture… the grittier and grimier the better as I feel they add an organic quality and dimension to my illustrations when partnered with other techniques like textured brushes. Texture brings life to otherwise flat work and I find myself seeking new ways I can work it in to my creations.
One of the biggest questions I hear from students taking my classes is, “Where do you find your texture files?” While I always provide a list of resources with my classes, I thought it was time to pull together a blog post going through various resources, both free and for purchase, for those who are looking to add a little more texture to their own illustrations.
Two important notes about using texture image files in your work, before I run through the list:
The print quality of your final, textural illustration is only as good as 1. the texture files you use and 2. the original size you create your canvas at. When you’re using raster images you need to make sure that you use high quality, high resolution images, as, no matter how large you create your original canvas, a low quality texture file will end up looking muddy and pixelated in your end result. Even when using high quality, high resolution images, you need to make sure you size your original canvas to the largest size you plan to print so that you don’t run in to any pixelation of the textures when you go to print.
Now that we have established that, here are some of my go to sources for texture:
Unsplash, Pixabay & Pexels
Sites like Unsplash, Pixabay and Pexels are a great resource for free use, high resolution, images. If you aren’t familiar with the term free use, it’s a license which allows you to download photographs and use them for free, for both commercial and non-commercial purposes, without permission or violating copyright.
A few important notes… You cannot sell the photographs as is, understandably, as these are still an artist’s work. Also, while attriburion isn’t required, it is always appreciated by the photographer. That said, in some cases it’s difficult to provide attritubtion but, where and when you can, it’s always nice to provide a nod to the original artist.
Now that all that fine print is out of the way, here is how you can use these sites for adding texture to your work. I have provided the links to all three sites above; just click on their name. In the search function, type in “texture,” and be prepared to ooh and ahh at all the wonderful photographs of texture that pop up. Understandably, you’ll see some overlap as photographers upload the same images to all three sites for greater exposure, however, you will find some differences as well. I find Pixabay has the best selection of textures overall but all three have a great assortment. Want to drill down even further? Type in searches such as, “metal,” “rust,” “wood,” or the like and you can find something more specific for your work.
Once you find the texture you like you can either download it to your computer or, in cases like the Affinity Suite of products, you can access them directly through the Stock Studio and pull them right in to your canvas. I have made the video below, using Affinity Designer both iPad and Desktop, to show you exactly how you can do this. (the Stock Studio works the same, across the suite of products, there are just slight differences between iPad and Desktop versions as to how you pull them in.)
I won’t lie, even with free use sites available, and the fact that the collection I have amassed over the years, between my photography and my illustrations is bordering on ridiculous, I keep collecting more. Design Cuts is perfect for that because the more you purchase, the more you save. Want just one item? No problem. Want two or more? Get anywhere from 20-50% off the entire purchase.
One of my favorite texture makers on Design Cuts, and one of my go tos when creating my classes, is 2 Lil Owls. While they were created with photographers in mind (and, as a photographer, I can tell you they are perfect for that), I also find they are wonderful for illustrations as well. I love the organic quality of their textures because it plays in to the, “perfectly imperfect,” textures you find in nature itself. That said, there are a ton of wonderful textures out there, from many creators, on Design Cuts, both gritty as well as smooth and subtle, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
Beyond texture, Design Cuts is also a great resource for brushes for Procreate, the Affinity products, and the Adobe Suite and their same bundled purchase discounts apply. (psst- they also tend to run sales and have live design events quite frequently so be on the lookout)
Creating Seamless Textures
If you are looking for a specific texture that you can’t find out in the “wild,” (a.k.a The Internet) I highly recommend creating your own seamless textures. Whether it’s shooting a photograph of a texture you love or creating one using a mix of your favorite brushes in Procreate, Photoshop or Designer, or even using analog supplies like paint, ink or paper, creating your own means you get the exact look you want. Best of all? It’s free!
Now, a note about this, as I mentioned above, the print quality of your illustration is only as good as the texture you use so you have to be careful about how you approach this. A few notes on what to keep in mind when photographing your samples:
If you don’t plan to print your final illustration but, rather, just use it online, this becomes less important, however, if you do want to print and plan to use the texture regularly, you should create it at a high resolution (regardless of whether it’s a photograph or a texture you create with Procreate or Designer or the like). Many modern smartphones are capable of shooting at a high resolution but you need to make sure you have it set to do so.
You also want to pay attention to your positioning when photographing your own textures. Unless an angle is an intentional part of your creative process, and you’re ready to be really frustrated when trying to line up your seamless pattern, you need to make sure you are either squarely in front of what you are photographing or at a perfect paralell when shooting directly above it.
For example, if you are shooting a photograph of bark on a tree, or a brick wall, get right in front of whatever segment you are photographing, do not shoot at a downward angle. If you do, the perspective will be skewed and it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to create a seamless texture out of it. Check out my sample photos below (and don’t judge my ability as a photographer by them, I literally just went out in my pajamas and took a quick shot)
Also, make sure your subject is as evenly lit as possible and, in the absence of being able to do that in camera, make sure you will be able to do it in a post edit in Photoshop or Affinity Photo or the like.
When you have followed all the suggestions above, and gathered a nice collection of images, create your seamless textures out of them. This allows you to tile your texture across large selections without your viewer seeing breaks or seams as you can easily match up the sides and all corners of your texture match it’s opposite corner. There are a number of tutorials or classes out on the Great Wide Web (including Skillshare) as to how you can create Seamless Patterns in Photoshop, Designer, or even in Procreate so find one that works best for you and start collecting your own beautiful textures!
No matter what approach you take to texture, have fun with it! Play around with the types of texture, your blend modes and opactities, even consider inverting the texture before you place it to see how big of a difference it can make.
If you would like to learn more about how I add texture to my own work, check out my classes on Skillshare. I will continually be adding to my lineup, in a wide variety of programs and apps, so hit the “Follow” button on my profile page to receive notifications when I add a new class!
As always, happy creating and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have a question.
** This post contains an affiliate link or two. I loved working with them so much, I joined Design Cuts Affiliate program. There is absolutely no additional cost to you, however I do receive a very small commision whenever a purchase is made.**