Learn to add a distressed look to any artwork in Adobe Illustrator by applying traced texture as an opacity mask.

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What you learned: How to apply texture to artwork with an opacity mask and artwork

Trace the texture

To apply texture to artwork, you can convert a raster image to vector artwork for scalability and editability.

  • With the image selected, click Image Trace in the Properties panel and choose a default trace option.

Adjust tracing options for the best results

With the traced image selected, click the Image Trace panel button in the Properties panel to open it and adjust image trace options.

  • Use the Paths option to set how loosely or tightly the image is traced.
  • The Corners option enables control over more smooth or sharp corners.
  • Change the Noise option: the lower the value, the smaller the details that you can trace.
  • To edit the traced artwork, click Expand in the Properties panel.

Apply an opacity mask to the artwork

You can use an opacity mask to mask or hide parts of your artwork. Unlike a typical mask, the opacity mask is white where the artwork is showing. The opacity mask is black where the artwork is hidden. Shades of gray in the mask result in varying degrees of transparency in the artwork.

  • Open the Transparency panel by choosing Window > Transparency. The Transparency panel is where you create and edit an opacity mask.
  • Drag the traced texture on top of the artwork.
  • Select the artwork and the texture that will become the opacity mask.
  • Click Make Mask. By default, the Clip option is set. The Clip option gives the mask a black background.
  • If your traced artwork is black, deselect Clip to see the mask applied to the artwork.

Edit the opacity mask and artwork

The artwork and the mask are treated as a group, but you can edit them together or separately.

  • With the artwork selected, to edit the mask (and not the artwork), click the mask thumbnail in the Transparency panel. You can edit the mask by adding more content, erasing, and more.
  • To edit the artwork, click the artwork thumbnail in the Transparency panel.
  • To unlink the artwork from the mask, click the link icon.
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