Having sharp artwork can work really well for T-Shirt designs, but what if the design you have is vintage or retro style?  Customers want a worn or distressed design, that looks like it’s been worn or washed a few times to ‘rough it up a bit.’

An easy way to do this is to distress your artwork, and this can easily be done in Photoshop or any other photo editing tool.  For this tutorial, I will be using Photoshop CC 2019 and will show you how to make non-destructive changes to your artwork, but the process is nearly identical in most versions.

Step 1: Finding Textures

Before you can distress your artwork, you need to find a texture that is suitable.  I personally use the 

Snap Crackle Texture Pack from The Vector Lab.  They give you 21 “pattern” textures and 10 “spot” textures.

Once you have your texture, you can load it into Photoshop if they’re in brush format.  If not, don’t worry, I’ll show you have to use both formats.

If you’re not using the Snap Crackle pack, try and find a distressed or grunge texture that is black and white to keep things simple.

Snap Crack Textures by The Vector Lab

Step 2: Preparing your design

Before you can distress your design, I highly recommend preparing your artwork.  If you’ve designs it yourself in Photoshop, then you might have quite a few layers.  If you only have a .png file to work with, this step will be easier.

My suggestion is to group the layers into folders where you want to apply distress textures to.

As you can see below, I have put the layers I wish to apply the distress effect to into a group called “TO DISTRESS”

I also recommend creating a background colour layer outside of the group and colouring it black. This will help when adding the distress texture.

Step 3: Creating the distress pattern

Using a Brush

If you don’t have your distress texture as a Photoshop Brush, scroll down to the next section where I’ll show you how to do this using an image

Create a new layer at the top of layers, making sure it is outside of the To Distress group, and call this layer “texture.”

Select the brush you want to use for your distress texture, and ensure the brush colour is solid black.  You can now apply the brush to the “texture” layer to make your distressed pattern


Using an image

If you’re using a .png texture, this step is quite simple.  Just add the image to the Photoshop project as a new layer, and position it over your design until you achieve the desired effect.

Step 4: Applying the texture

The first thing you will need to do is to add a Layer Mask to the “TO DISTRESS” group.  To do this, select the group and click the Layer Mask icon at the bottom as below, and you will see the layer added to the group.

Click the Layer Mask icon
Layer Mask applied to group

The next step is to copy the pattern you made in Step 3, into the Layer Mask.  To do this, hold Ctrl and click on the Texture layer.  This should highlight the pattern you made as below.  Once this is highlighted, you can now copy the texture by pressing Ctrl + C, and then press Ctrl + D to deselect the layer.  You can now hide this Texture layer.

Texture Layer is now highlighted

To apply the texture to your design, you need to apply this to the Layer Mask you made earlier.  To do this, hold Alt on Windows, or Cmd on macOS, and click the Layer Mask (white box) as per below

Alt/Cmd click the Layer Mask to edit

If you have successfully entered the Layer Mask, your canvas should now be filled white.  The way a Layer Mask works is by removing parts of the image that are black, and leaving those that are white.

Simple hit Ctrl + V to paste in your distress pattern.  Your canvas should now look like the below:

Distress texture added to layer mask

You can now click anywhere in the canvas to exit the Layer Mask and see your distressed texture applied.  Simply remove the Black background and save as a .png to use this on your merchandise.

You now easily add more design elements to your To Distress folder and they will automatically have the distress effect applied to them.

If you wish to disable or delete this layer mask, right click on the Layer Mask and select Disable or Delete


Delete or Disable a Layer Mask

Step 5: Repeat and Enjoy

There you have it, a simple Photoshop tutorial on how to add a distressed effect to your T-Shirt or Merchandise design.

Once you’ve created your design, don’t forget to upload it to your Merch Locker account!

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