Looking for a worn-out, 90s-looking aesthetic to add depth, dimension, and character to your designs? Then you might want to try grunge textures.
A study conducted at University College London suggests that textures can evoke a range of emotions and perceptions in viewers — making them a powerful design element for communicating ideas and reinforcing messages.
Using texture effects in your design can create a tactile visual experience and the illusion of a 3D surface. With grungy textures, you can evoke a dirty, distressed, or aged look that can make your designs stand out or establish a unique visual identity for a brand.
Let’s take a deep dive into what grunge textures are and how to use them in graphic design — make sure to read to the end for your free downloadable texture pack!
How did grunge textures in design originate?
The term “grunge” emerged at the end of the 1980s to describe the aesthetic of the underground music scene in Seattle, spearheaded by bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains. The grunge look was so disheveled that Alice in Chains’ original lead singer Layne Staley was once mistaken for a homeless person while sitting outside a recording studio.
The raw and gritty aesthetic reflected grunge artists’ rejection of and non-conformity with the mainstream. It became synonymous with early 90s pop culture and had a profound influence on graphic design, with designers incorporating grungy textures, colors, and elements into their work to echo this sense of rebellion. Grungy textures such as distressed metal, worn paper, and graffiti began to appear in posters, album covers, and other design projects.
The grungy look remained popular until the early 2000s, as designers sought to create designs that felt more authentic and handcrafted. With the advent of professional digital design tools, it became easier to create and manipulate grungy textures, and designers began experimenting with new techniques and styles.
Today, grunge textures mostly evoke feelings of nostalgia and a retro theme that is popular not only with Gen X and Millennials, who remember it from the 90s but also with Gen Z, who yearn for a past that they never lived through.
In fact, Gen Z’s nostalgia for the pre-internet era is a driving force behind the current resurgence of grunge fashion that will likely precipitate the rise of grunge as a popular design aesthetic — in contrast to the clean, minimalist look that dominated the 2010s.
Grunge textures in design
Grungy textures are ones that mimic the look and feel of aged, worn, or distressed surfaces such as concrete walls, rusty metal, or weathered wood. These textures often feature rough edges, scratches, and other imperfections that give them a raw and gritty appearance and make them a great element for filling negative space in your designs.
As a graphic designer, you can use grungy textures to create a sense of edginess or rebellion. You can also use them to give your designs a distressed or vintage look, adding character and personality to the overall aesthetic. Grungy textures are a go-to in designs for music, fashion, and other industries that aim to evoke a sense of urban or alternative culture.
Grunge textures can also create contrast within a design. For example, you can juxtapose a clean, minimalistic design with a grungy texture to create a striking visual effect. This can add depth and dimension to a design, creating a sense of tactility that makes it more engaging for the viewer.
Types of grunge textures
Now let’s take a look at some of the most popular grunge textures you can incorporate into your designs, along with examples of each.
Metal grunge texture
A metal grunge texture gives a rough, industrial look to designs. You can create it by photographing or scanning a metal surface or using metal texture stock photos or overlays. This type of texture is often used in designs for heavy metal bands, the automotive industry, or for creating urban grunge looks.
Notice how the metal texture background on the Zaha Hadid Architects website gives it an industrial look and feel.
Paper grunge texture
A grungy paper texture is created by photographing or scanning crumpled, torn, or stained paper. It gives a vintage, weathered look to designs and is often used in designs for book covers, flyers, posters, and vintage-style graphics.
Check out this example of the paper scan aesthetic from They Make Apps:
Copy scan grunge texture
A scan texture is created by using a photocopier or scanner to copy a textured surface. This type of texture gives a rough, gritty look to designs and can be used in designs for grunge-style posters, album covers, and urban street art.
The Black Sheep Agency does a great job of incorporating the photocopy texture into its web design.
Brick grunge texture
Bricks can evoke an edgy, urban feel and add street cred to any design. You can create this texture using stock photos of bricks and walls — especially ones that look slightly broken or run down.
Look at how the use of a brick-texture background brings urban appeal to the Tiger Beer website:
Now that you have some creative inspiration for using grunge textures in design, let’s take a look at how you can create them yourself using Photoshop.
5 easy-to-follow steps for creating your own texture effects in photoshop
Find a free stock image (Unsplash and Pixels are good sources) with an interesting pattern or texture on it — for example, thunder, a ripped magazine, a cracked wall, marble, or whatever works for your piece.
Open the image into Photoshop, click on ‘Adjustments’ on the right-hand side of the document, and select ‘Hue/Saturation’. Then, adjust the Saturation to -100.
Click on the ‘Adjustments’ tab again and select ‘Levels,’ then adjust the toggles. Bring the white tab near the peak of the levels and bring in the black tab as well. You want the end result to have a striking contrast between the white and the black in your image.
Select all the layers in your document and merge them (CMD + E). You want the main colour of your texture to be black, so in most cases, you’ll need to invert the layer.
To do this, go to Image > Adjustments > Invert (you can always invert it back once you test out the texture on your artwork). Then, save your image.
Open up the artwork you want to apply the effect to and add it to the document. Then add an adjust layer — we’d recommend ‘overlay, multiple, or screen,’ but play around and see what best fits your design.
Free grunge texture pack
Alternatively, you can save yourself some time and download this pack of ten custom-made grunge textures of varying types created by the Playbook team so you can start incorporating grunge textures into your designs right away.
Whether you want a dash of nostalgia or rebellious overtones, these high-resolution templates (and this guide) have you covered.
Download the texture pack here.
Smell like teen spirit with grungy textures
Using grungy textures in your designs can help you recreate the anti-establishment sentiment of the pre-internet era, evoke feelings of nostalgia in people who remember it and people who don’t, and create an edgy, unique aesthetic.
Hopefully, by now, you’re brimming with inspiration and ready to start making your first grunge-flavored designs. Of course, you’ll need the right tools for storing, managing, and presenting these designs to the world.
Although many designers rely on Google Drive, it doesn’t fulfill all of these functions — unlike Playbook, which allows you to store, manage and share your designs on a professional-looking website in just one click.
Want a full breakdown of how Playbook stacks up against G-Drive? We’ve got you covered. Check out this article that compares their specs.