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In this tutorial we will use Adobe Illustrator to make a 100% vector grunge abstract background.   We will learn how to layer with transparencies and blends in order to achieve depth and a grunge style.  We will also use blends and a scatter brush to create a bokeh highlight effect.


1. Open up a new document and create the first layer with a simple flat background shape. For this project I used a darker teal color.step1

2. Create a new layer for the grunge paint strokes.  You may use any paint style brush you would like. There are a variety of them that can be found on the internet and most versions of Illustrator ship with a basic set.  In CS5, they can be found by opening the brush window (F5), clicking on the menu > Open Brush Library > Artistic > Artistic_chalkcharcoalpencil


3. Since we are going for a grunge style, just throw your paint strokes anywhere making sure you get some good texture.  For this project I set the stroke color to #4C1E21 and set the transparency to multiply.  If you have having trouble with the color working with brush you are using, you may want to expand the stroke once you are happy with your results.



4. Now we are going to make a simple scatter brush to add some more depth. Start by making a small circle shape by selecting the ellipse tool (L).  Hold down Shift while you make the shape so that it ends in a perfect circle. Set the color to #753536.



5. Once your circle is made you can simply drag it over to the brush window to create a new brush.


6. This will open a new window that will ask you for the brush type. We are going to choose “Scatter Brush” and click OK.


7. You may need to play with these settings depending on how large your art board and circle shape is. You will want to make Size, Spacing and Scatter all set to “Random”.  Rotation doesn’t matter as it is a circle shape.  Under Colorization you will want to choose “Tints”.  Once you are done, click OK.


8. Create a new layer and use your new scatter brush to fill in over top of your grunge painted area. The best method to use is the pencil tool (N). Just make some scribble lines and apply the scatter brush to them.



9. Select all of your strokes and expand (Object > Expand Appearance). Then ungroup all of the circles (Ctrl + U).  You may have to hit ungroup a few times to make sure none of the circles are still grouped together.  Set the transparency mode to “Multiply” and lower the opacity to your liking.



10. Create a new layer. Using the same scatter brush with the stroke color set to #E8D3A3, make some more circle clusters in either corner of the artboard.  Expand the stroke and ungroup as in step 9.  For this group of them, we are going to set the Transparency mode to “Soft Light” with the Opacity at 100%.



11. Create a new layer. Now we are going to work on adding in some blurs.  Start by creating a circle with the color set at #E8D3A3.  Copy this circle (ctrl + C) and paste in front (Ctrl + F).  You will want to re-size this circle to about 20% of the original. The quickest way to do this is to hold down SHIFT + ALT while you resize.  Shift retains the circle’s shape and Alt makes it resize at the middle.



12. Set the opacity of the original outer circle to 0% and leave the smaller inside circle at 100%.  To make the blend, select both of the circles then go to Object > Blend > Blend Options.  Set the Spacing to “Specified Steps” and set the number to 30.  You can adjust this value higher or lower.  The higher the number the smoother the blend, but the larger your file will be. The lower the number, the less steps you will have and the blend will be less smooth (note: too low of a number will cause a banding effect).  Hit OK.



13. Make copies of your blended object and scatter them over top of the lighter circles you created earlier to give a blurred effect.



14. Create a new layer.  We are going to create some more blurs in a different style. This time we are going to make 3 circles inside each other. Position them as shown below.  Set the outer most circle’s color to #99C6B6, the circle inside that one’s color is #4C1E21 and then the smallest circle the same blue color.


15. Set the opacity of the outer circle to 0%. Select all three circles. Using the same blend settings as before make the blend. Object > Blend > Make OR Ctrl + Alt + B.  Make copies of this blend object and create whatever variations you choose.



16. Create a new layer.  For this layer we are going to add in some lines. Start with a single horizontal line. Make a copy of that line and move it a distance away from the first line, then make a third line a little further down from that one. Change the stroke size between the lines so that they are thicker/thinner than each other.


17. Select all three lines and go to Object > Blend > Blend options.  Use “Specified Steps” again and then change the number between 8-10 depending on the distance between your lines.  Make copies of your lines and place them on your artboard where you would like them to be. (I tilted mine to be at an angle.  I also used the blue color #99C6B6 and beige #E8D3A3.  Set the Transparency mode to “overlay” or “soft light” depending on your preference.


18. Create a new layer.  We are going to use the same concept, but will apply a custom brush to the lines.  Create a small circle and drag it to the brushes palette like in step #6, but instead of a scatter brush, we will be making a pattern brush. Keep all the settings at default, but change the Colorization Method to “Tints”.



19. At this point you can copy and paste some of the blend lines you created in Step 17 and apply the dotted brush to them. Set the Transparency mode to “overlay” or “soft light” depending on your preference.



20. You can apply the same brush concept with an “X” shape instead of a circle to a few lines. Use step #18 and replace the circle shape with an X (or any other shapes you want).



21. Finally, copy one of your blurry circle blends from Step #11-12 and create a new layer.  Paste one of the blurred blends on this layer and set the Transparency mode to “overlay”.  Copy it a few time to add some more shine to the corners.


22. You can use clipping masks to hide any bits that extend off the artboard or just click “Use Artboards” when exporting to jpeg.


Congratulations you are done!


The final product of this tutorial is available for purchase:




This tutorial has been featured in the following articles:

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