With its vector and raster tools, Adobe Illustrator is the graphic designer’s Swiss Army knife.
Recently, I created an image showcasing some of my logos for my homepage slideshow. Because the slide was sitting on a white page, I wanted to give it some color to make it stand out from the surrounding page. While a solid, pastel background would have worked, I wanted something a little more dynamic and a lot more organic. To convey the idea of designing logos, I thought about a sheet of graph paper as a background to the logos.
Instead of searching the web for copyright-free paper images, I turned to Illustrator to see what it could do. Turns out, making an image of worn, stained graph paper is easy. Here’s how you can do it yourself.
Start by creating the grid of horizontal and vertical lines on a new layer. First, use the Line Segment tool to draw a vertical line. Duplicate this line and move it horizontally some distance from the line you’re duplicating. Select Object > Blend > Blend to create intermediate lines between the original and the duplicate you made.
Now select Object > Blend > Blend Options, change the spacing of the intermediate lines.
To complete the grid, select the blend object and duplicate it (Edit > Copy and Edit > Paste in Front). Double-click the Rotate tool and key in 90°. The result is a grid of horizontal and vertical lines. You can select the two blend objects and change their stroke color. I changed the color to a light brown.
Next, create the background of the paper. To do this, make a new layer and move it below the layer you used to create the grid lines. Choose the Rectangle tool and draw a rectangle. Fill the rectangle with a light-to-medium brown. Next, add some texture to the paper. With the rectangle still selected, open the Appearance panel, click the Add New Effect, and choose Artistic > Sponge. I used the default Sponge settings.
At this point, I had a workable image of graph paper: light brown grid lines above a light brown, lightly textured background. However, I wanted to make this graph paper look old and well-used. To accomplish that, you’ll need to add some stains and smudges to the paper. Start by creating a new layer and moving it between the grid lines layer and the background paper layer. On this new layer, select the Pencil tool and drawn some irregular, curvy shapes. Fill them with the same brown you used for the background paper. You should overlap several of the shapes to create the effect of newer stains on top of older stains. When you’ve finished drawing, select all of the shapes on the layer and open the Appearance panel. Select Add New Effect, Distort & Transform > Roughen and change the Size and Detail sliders to make the edges of your splotches more irregular. Next, click the Opacity setting at the bottom of the attributes. Change the Blending Mode to Multiply and change the setting from its default 100% to 5% or a little darker.
I was satisfied with the result. I used File > Save for Web to create the image for the homepage slide. However, if you want to take this image further, consider modifying the grid lines. For example, you could expand the blend, ungroup the resulting set of lines, and then select and change the darkness of several of the lines. You could also thicken the lines and then change their Blending Mode to Multiply and their opacity to something less than the default 100%.