Create an Illustrator Texture From a Photograph

Textures play such a huge role in surface pattern design that I thought I’d start a series of posts on how to generate or create them. This first post shows you how to use one of your photos to create an Illustrator texture that you can put into multiple images, use in Photoshop, clip to a shape, or use as an opacity mask.

The basic steps are to:

  1. Open a photo (preferably a JPG photo) in Illustrator.
  2. Select the photo and use the Image Trace command. In the video, I also show you how to make the artboard the same size as the image. I used the Object > Artboards > Fit to Selected Art command in Illustrator CC.
  3. Once you enter Image Trace mode, you need to open the Image Trace options (the icon between the presets and the View fields on the Control panel.
  4. You may uncheck the Preview box whilst making initi8al changes:  show the Advanced settings, set the Path count to Low, Set Corners to Less, untick Snap Curves to Lines, and tick Ignore white. (Snap Curves to Lines, despite my slip in the video, creates *fewer* lines, which is what I want.
  5. Once these options are set, tick the Preview box and drag the Noise and Threshold setting where you like them best.
  6. Click the Image trace options and click Expand on the Control Panel.

These steps should get your start. If you need more written instructions after viewing the video, please let me know and I will get them added to this site (somehow) I’m still learning my way around!

I’d love to know if you find the video helpful.


‘Til later! Sherry–aka the prancingpixel


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Sherry London
7 comments… add one
  • May Leong Aug 21, 2013, 11:21 pm

    hello Sherry,

    Good tutorial, very clear explanation. 1 question though, what is the difference if we choose a png or gif file ?

    • Sherry London Aug 22, 2013, 10:50 am

      May, there is no difference other than cameras don’t take GIF or PNG photos, so my thoughts weren’t even running in that direction. I was thinking more of starting with a JPG rather than a Camera RAW file. If you try to drag and drop a RAW file into Illustrator, you get an error. A GIF or PNG means that you either didn’t take the photo yourself or you have already edited and saved something. Nothing wrong with that so long as you have the rights to use it.


  • bethania Aug 22, 2013, 3:43 pm

    Excellent explanations, Sherry. In fact you are explaining two things: 1. how to line trace a photo to get the texture to work from; 2. how to apply the texture to the object. Both things are clear and never had seen it so well explained. You arean amazing great teacher, thank you so much!!
    I was just thinking if it might be convenient to make the second explanation a video of its own, in which you could go in a bit more of detail in the crop method and in the opacity mask method. Compare both methods and show advantages and disadvantadges of each one. What do you think?
    Yesterday I was playing around the opacity method and realized that in order to use that method to create a pattern in AI6 I have do sthg else. So it might be interesting too to see how each method evolves in terms of making textured motifs for pattern making.
    Thank you for this amazing contribution to this theme, Sherry. 🙂

    • Sherry London Aug 22, 2013, 4:12 pm

      Bethania, thank you so much! Yes, I was explaining several things and I love your suggestion that I expand this a bit. I haven’t tried to use an opacity mask in actual pattern and I need to lay with it. I have a personal project that would be a great as a test. I was asked to make a pattern of a friend’s dog and I used an opacity mask filled with type on the motif to make an icon. I just haven’t gotten to the repeat stage yet. I will do more on both these!


  • Susan Cousineau Nov 13, 2013, 11:06 am

    So sorry for my late reply! Very helpful Sherry. Thanks so much for sharing it in the forum!!!
    Susan Cousineau

  • MaryJane Mitchell Nov 20, 2015, 1:42 am

    Sherri I love you. You taught me a few great tips about texture in ai. love it. mJ

    • Sherry London Nov 20, 2015, 10:54 am

      Maryjane, thanks so much!!! I really value your support! –Sherry

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