Bring your vector art to life with Skinny Ships





Hello, Richard & Jen here from Skinny Ships! We’re a creative duo from Portland, Oregon. We love to create bold, illustrative design with vibrant colors and interesting forms. We also love the interplay between sharp, clean vector shapes and the texture and tactility of hand printed work.

With that in mind, we're going to show you how to use True Grit's Essentials Collection textures in Adobe Illustrator to bring added depth, and a gritty, hand printed feel to your work.

We'll show you how we build out our vector shapes, separate colors, create overprint effects and import a variety of bitmap textures while keeping our file sizes low and our enthusiasm high.



True Grit Tools & Apps Used:

Essentials Collection Texture Packs

✓ Adobe Illustrator

✓ Procreate for rough sketches


Software skill level:

We'll be using some illustrator tools that are more complicated than the basics, but if  you have spent some time in illustrator and can draw shapes, use masks, and have some experience with shape builder, you should be good.




Part 1:
Sketching ideas.

Although most of our work is done on the computer, we almost always start with sketches on paper.  We made a couple of thumbnails of the initial design – a collection of vases and urn-like shapes arranged like a museum display.


We’re liking that top right one, so we create a color rough in Procreate (see below). We clean up the layout and use some horizontal and vertical lines to indicate where we might have some textures once we bring it to illustrator.


At this stage we also like to do some rough color blocking to get a sense of how we might extend our color palette by simulating overprint.

To do this, we add 3 new layers in Procreate, each with the layer blend mode set to multiply, then paint in the areas using blue/pink/yellow. You can see above how the multiply blend combines the the blue, pink and yellow layers to create new colors where they overlap. Now that's we've got a good idea of how things will look, we’re ready to get vectorized in Illustrator!


Part 2: 
Building out the design.

We bring our rough into Illustrator and start building out outline shapes and forms with the shape tools and pen tool. We use a combination of the Pathfinder (Window > Pathfinder) and the Shape Builder tool (Shift+M) to merge and combine basic shapes into more elaborate forms.


Once we have our b+w forms all drawn out we start coloring our shapes. The blue/pink/yellow palette we used in the original sketch multiplies well and looks great so we're sticking with that.

  1. To begin, we duplicate the artboard containing our outlined shapes three times – one for each of the colors we will be using (blue/pink/yellow).

  2. Then, referring back to our rough sketch from Procreate as a guide, we fill in all the same color shapes on each artboard so that some colors will overlap.

  3. Once all of our shapes are colored in, we remove the outline.


Now it's time to separate out elements of the same color into their own layers.

  • Create a layer for each of the corresponding colors in the design.  I like to label each one with the color name CYAN, YELLOW, MAGENTA) just too keep things organized.

  • Next we'll set up our Multiply layer style. In the Layers Panel, click the small outline circle to the right of each layer, then in the Transparency Panel (Window > Transparency) set the blend mode to Multiply. This will automatically apply the multiply blend to all the elements in this layer.


  • We then select and copy all the artwork from each artboard and Paste in Place (Ctrl+Shift+V) to drop the art into its own layer on the same artboard (see video below). We’ll repeat this for each color/layer. Notice how the colors are all automatically multiplied when pasted into their respective layers? Separating our colors like this is really helpful if we decide to screen print the finished artwork.




Part 3: 
Adding Textures.

Now that the basic layers and colors are laid out, it's time to add pizzaz with textures.


We start by locating the Essentials Collection textures on our hard drive, select a few of our favorites and tag them for easy reference.

We then place our selected images onto the artboard by going to File > Place (CMD + SHIFT +P).

The great thing about using bitmap .tif files is that Illustrator ignores the white background so they can be used with transparency. This also means that you can change the color of the texture within illustrator, just like any vector object, all without grinding your machine to a halt with memory sucking vector textures.

Editors note: learn more about the advantages of using bitmap tiff textures here.

How to mask a texture into any object. 

  1. Move a bitmap texture into place over the object you want to mask it into. (make sure it's on the same layer too). 

  2. Send the texture to back (Object > Arrange > Send to Back).

  3. Select both the object, and the texture then make a clipping mask (Object > Clipping Mask > Make). Now with the texture masked, you can move or re-color the it using the Direct Selection tool (A).


Here's a quick video showing the process of importing a texture, changing its color and masking it into an object using keyboard shortcuts for extra speed.



Now let's get a little tricky.

We're going to create a rippled shading effect on one of the vases like this...

We do this by duplicating one of our Gritty Vignette textures and masking it into smaller objects (with no fill or stroke) within the outer shape. Sounds complicated right? Watch below and see.

Pro Tip:

Notice how we're duplicating the texture and placing it on the left and right side of each shape rather than simply scaling it to fit? This is because we want to keep the texture the same size for consistency as smaller textures would look squished and suggest the scale of the vase is a bit off. 

Aaaaaaand repeat.

Now that we have our magenta layer all textured up, we'll move on to the cyan and yellow layers. We always try to choose a variety of textures that work well together without being too same-y or contrasty. 

Here's how it's looks with each color isolated and combined.



Inevitably we always end up experimenting with different textures so luckily Illustrator makes it super easy to swap out a texture using the Linked File button or Links Panel (Window > Links).

Let's tweak those colors.

Need to make a color adjustment? We're big fans of using the replace color tool in the Properties Panel to quickly change every instance of a color in the vector and bitmap objects (Window > Properties > Quick Actions > Recolor). See how it's done below.




Part 4:
Final Touches

Once the textures are applied to our color layers, we're going to add some final touches with a border and an overlay color to add-warmth and simulate off-white paper. 

  • Create a new layer and place a texture from the Frames & Folds pack.

  • Change it to one of the colors from the piece. Then copy the texture and paste in place twice and make those the other two colors of the artwork.

  • Select all 3 textures and set the blending mode to multiply.

  • Finally, draw a rectangle filled with an off-white color and set it to multiply. 




And here's our final artwork. Thanks so much for following along. We're really happy with how this turned out and as a bonus, all of our colors are  separated and ready for screen printing. Go forth and texture!

Get the Essentials Texture Bundle here.


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Featured music: All Too Soon by Pastis