How to Make Vector Grunge

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After my “50 Free Vector Grunge Corners” post, I got a lot of responses asking how to make vector grunge. Well, I'm going to show you exactly how, and trust me, anyone can do it. It's not as hard as you might think, thanks to InkScape (free).

How to Make Vector Grunge


In order to easily make intricate grunge shapes, we are essentially going use a picture and trace the patterns and edges using a vector graphics software tool (InkScape). Although this IS possible to do using Illustrator's “Live Trace,” In my opinion, InkScape leaves Illustrator in the dust as far as tracing goes (Score: Adobe-0, Open Source-1, let the battle continue!).

I have provided everything you need for this tutorial, except for InkScape itself.

First things First:


Like I said, you can also follow along in Illustrator using Live Trace, but I highly recommend using Inkscape. Download it here and install it.


(Not sure if this is true for PC users, but . . .) Once you install InkScape you might get an error saying you need a program called “X11” in order for InkScape to work. If you get this error (which you probably will with a Mac) here are some instructions on how to install X11 (also Free).

How to Install X11 on OS X

Lets Get Started:

Now that you have InkScape up and running, we can get started making some quick and easy vector grunge shapes in a matter of seconds. First, download this image that I will be using for the tutorial so you can follow along. (I took this picture myself in my basement, so no copyright is involved here)


Includes: – JPG (2)

1. Open your grunge image in Photoshop.

This is the image we will get our vector shapes from, so we need to make sure there is enough contrast in the image itself, in order for Inkscape to find some detailed edges. If your image already has enough contrast, you can skip the next few steps. Here is what our original image looks like in Photoshop:

Texture image

2. Take up the contrast of your image

In Photoshop, go to “Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast” and take up the contrast on your image a little. (Again, only if it needs it)

Brightness and Contrast

Our image after upping the contrast: (save it)

Image after brightness and contrast adjusted

3. Open Inkscape and Import your adjusted grunge image


4. Now you should see your grunge image on the InkScape artboard:

Texture on artboard

5. Keep your image selected and go to “Path > Trace Bitmap.”

Trace Bitmap

6. Trace your image to make the vector grunge.

You will have plenty of options to play with in this window, but for learning purposes just keep the default settings for now. You can go back later and try thousands of combinations.

Trace bitmap options

7. Click OK to trace your image

Click “OK” and InkScape will trace the image (could take a few seconds depending on complexity) and place the vector grunge shapes on top of the original image, like this:

Traced image

8. Separate the vector shapes from the image

Once you have your vector grunge shapes on top, drag them aside and delete the original image so you can save your shapes as a vector file.

Vector Grunge

9. Save your new vector grunge!

After you delete the image you traced, and all you have left is the grunge vector shapes, you are ready to save. Go to “File > Save As.”

Save As

10. Choose your file type

I always save as “Plain SVG” when saving, because I can easily open SVG Files in Illustrator, but you can save as whatever file type that's most convenient to you.

Naming the file you're saving

Download the finished file:


Includes: – AI (2) EPS (1) SVG (1) PNG (1)

Using your Vector Grunge

There are lots of ways to use the grunge shapes after you've gotten this far, but I have a post on Illustrator's “Pathfinder” that might be helpful in expanding your horizons when dealing with complex paths.

Tips for exploring this on your own:

  1. Experiment with InkScape's Trace Bitmap Options to see what results you can get.
  2. Don't get to complex in a single file. While you are tracing, try to separate your vector grunge files as much as possible. Each trace can contain hundreds, if not thousands of individual shapes. If you trace multiple images and save all of the vector shapes in a single file, illustrator will have trouble handling the load. Try saving each trace as it's own file.
  3. Trace at a decent size. If you trace a small image and scale it way up, your “grunge” will start to look jagged. It's better to trace a decent sized image to get the best detail.
  4. After tracing multiple images, make custom grunge by overlapping and combining/subtracting paths and shapes. Read my post on Pathfinder for details.
  5. Always rename your original vector grunge file before you change it. Or keep a backup copy somewhere on your hard drive.