Building a Texture Library for Web or Print Design

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." – Henry David Thoreau

If you're a designer, you might say it's not what they look at that matters, it's what you can make them see. Texturing invites the viewer to look deeper into a design, to spend more time with it. In this sense, texture plays a large role in the success of visual communication, and maybe even in the realization of a design's purpose.

With the HOW Conference mere days away, I've been spending a lot of time on the HOW Conference blog. The other day, I was snooping around there, and I found this great link to a site promoting a book called Crumble. Crackle. Burn.. The author, Von R. Glitschka, will apparently be at HOW, prepared to lead the 'creatively curious' on a texture-hunting tour through Atlanta.

For those who have just arrived on this planet, designers – and not just 3-D graphic designers – are deeply and passionately enamoured with textures these days. In a recent conversation witha colleague of mine, a dyed-in-the-wool adherent to simple, clean web design, he mentioned that he would probably haven eaten glass before adding textures to his designs even a couple of months ago, but now? Texturing is just so…mesmerizing.

In this context, we are talking about textures that you layer into a print or web design to give it added depth. Over at DT&G, the experts say that you can never keep the eye too busy in a design. When we look at things, we expect to see many layers, colors, and tiny details, so to keep the eye glued to a design, texturing comes into play.

Glitschka's book is all about where to find compelling textures for design. Learning how to see these textures in the world around you can fuel creativity and spark great design ideas. The secret is to learn to see textures that will contribute to beautiful designs in the most unlikely places. For example, in a dirty, rough alleyway wall, a muddy puddle, or a farmer's field, burnt down to stubble in the fall.

Every designer should have a personal library of textures that includes photos taken of interesting elements in the world around us. Images of water, wood, stone, metal, and organic matter in varying stages of flourish and decay are all worthy additions to a texture library.

If you're not much of a photographer, there are also thousands of background textures to be found online at places like istockphoto.

Failing a strong desire on your part to use stock images, you can always make your own. There's a great post on Bittbox discussing how to use typography to create nice textures. This technique can be a great outlet for all those who love wacky fonts, but know that an excess of font enthusiasm rarely improves the look of copy in a design. When creating typography-based textures, you can experiment with all those barely legible fonts that your good sense has never allowed you to mess with before. Huzzah!

For print designers, there is yet another option available in terms of texturing, which is to add texture to a design after it has been printed. Print materials can be embossed, foil stamped, engraved, burnt, roughened, or even crumpled to create texturing effects. In this way, print designers have a lot more freedom with their medium than web designers, who are restricted by the tactile uniformity of the computer screen.

Do you have a favorite texturing effect or technique not mentioned here? A gem in your texture library that you're willing to share? Let us know about it. And stay, as Von R. Glitschka says, “creatively curious.”


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