Use of Texture in Design

Texture and design usually go hand in hand, but rather than focus on colour, we will focus our concentration on texture as a design principle – both aesthetically and psychologically.

There are various forms of texture from the physical or actual texture such as that from a watercolor or an object made from leather to that of implied – for example the user interface on your desktop might have a metallic feel to it despite being made up of pixels.

Using texture in design goes back to the days when man painted on the walls of caves tens of thousands of years ago. From art movements to the next, texture has always played a large part in conveying feeling and evoking a mood – more importantly, storytelling.


The Feeling That Texture Demonstrates

The feel of paper as a medium – the thickness and the way the pulp has been created provides us with a general feel of quality. Compare a business card that is lightweight with a glossy surface to that of a luxurious quality card with a matte finish and with a paper weight of 600gsm, such as the Luxe by Moo. Your clientele would be forgiven for thinking you are handing them a small piece of balsa wood. They will certainly remember your card.

The texture alone is not accountable for a business card but it certainly makes a difference. Observe the use of embossing debossing images and lettering onto a surface and that too will awaken a certain appreciation through touch as well as appeal to the eye.

Replicating these sensations within digital media is not the same as the literal feel someone can experience with a physical object. However, it can be represented – a likeness if you will and somewhat like an illusion of real life objects.


Vintage, Retro and Effects

Vintage and retro are common tags associated with modern design. Depending on the particular subject area (vintage and retro are evidently broad terms) it’s pretty tricky to obtain a vintage appearance from something new. To mimic this appearance to that of an image which is more appropriate, we add layers, make it a little weathered and can give the impression that the source is older than it actually is – all recreated through texture.

Sometimes less is more and by giving the appearance of  using less ink, the image has more of a worn feel of it. T-shirt designers rely of this effect to recreate products and pop culture from yesteryear.

Comparatively, a website that replicates texture very well to insinuate a vintage aesthetic is Von Dutch. Previous incarnations have been of the grunge ilk, but the brand is consistent and moves with the times. There is a sense of actual texture and a vintage/retro feel added to each image.


Texture as a Background Image

Texture is not always a necessity. Sometimes it is an enhancement to an overall experience. Have a look at sites such as Webdesignerwall or Spoon Graphics and note the use of background texture. Instead of having a simple colour, the background texture, while subtle, is both visually appealing and gives the appearance of a paper surface. Almost like a blueprint or working canvas. The content takes precedence over the visuals, as with most blogs, but it adds to the overall impression for the user.

As long as these textures do not detract from the actual content, they can add optical 3D value to an otherwise 2D image. There are many websites out there that utilise a ‘best practice’ approach – sometimes using texture to separate elements effectively without making the viewer too aware of the change in surface. An excellent example of distinguishing elements from one another is the portfolio site of the interactive designer Grayden Poper.

UK Web Hosting company WebHostingBuzz utilise textures and patterns throughout the site to  lift specific elements off the page and draw the eye to price points or promotions. A good example can be found on their UK Reseller Hosting page.


The Use of a Pattern

Texture can be in the form of a pattern using repetition. In digital media we cannot use actual paper, wood, metal or any other actual texture for reproduction in our visuals. We can imply a texture however and with the use of a pattern, we can almost certainly recreate the material from which we are copying.

One such resource is the website Subtle Patterns. This is an excellent site with a respectable community that submits patterns for use in web design for personal and commercial use (always check licences as some authors may vary).

A similar use of a pattern is to apply an effect – as long as it does not distract from the content or principal design. A simple noise effect created in Photoshop or even from a website CSS generator can illustrate a texture that adds depth to a variety of layers or even reproduce a sensation.


  1. Su Hall

    Very interesting read! I so agree about textures adding so much to an image. Color, alone, is nice, but, when that color plays off of a texture, it adds so much more interest. I like the word you use, “imply”, when it comes to digital images, because, well, that’s what it is! LOL It’s a lot of fun ‘implying’ stuff, eh? I love textures and spend considerable time with them in any art I create. I am often amazed at what a simple-looking texture, with a blending mode added, can do for an image.
    Thank you! You write a good article!


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