In the dictionary, grunge is defined as dirt, filth, or rubbish. In the music world, it’s a genre of punk rock that took over Seattle in the 1980s. In the fashion world, it’s a slouchy, subcultural style influenced by that music genre. In the literary world, it’s a genre that emerged in Australia in the 1990s.
In design, it’s an engaging texture you can use to give your graphics a specific look and feel. And you don’t need to be promoting a punk rock show or gritty book in order to use it (though, those are good reasons). Grunge can be applied to a whole range of designs for a variety of purposes.
The question now is: Are you ready to get your degree in grunge?
We’ll break down everything you need to know about what grunge texture is, why you should use it, how you can get the look, and tips for making the grungiest designs. (Yes, that’s a good thing.)
Let’s get started.
What is grunge texture?
Grunge texture is a graphic overlay or effect that gives the illusion of a rugged, coarse, distressed, and, well, grungy image. Picture grunge you might see out in the world: A rusty pipe, a distressed brick building, a wall that’s been chipped, weathered, and graffitied over the years.
That’s grunge. And when it comes to design, grunge texture is just the graphic version of that.
Take this poster for an alternative rock concert. The aqua-tinted grunge effect gives the poster a weathered and almost psychedelic look and harkens back to the days of vintage rock concerts.
You can even create your own grunge-textured music posters in Canva with templates like this Rock Music Event Poster. The design likely started with just a smooth, red background. But by simply adding a grunge texture, it transformed into a grittier, more dynamic graphic—reminiscent of rock-and-roll, distorted electric guitars, and wild summer nights.
That’s just the beginning, too. There are plenty of reasons you might use grunge texture to spice up your graphics...
Why use grunge texture?
Grunge texture is a simple tool for adding a more organic quality to your designs. Even if your graphics are one-dimensional, grunge texture can make them look bumpy, jagged, rough, and irregular. This is especially useful if it fits the theme or message of what you’re sharing or promoting.
For instance, maybe you want your business to have a vintage feel—showing customers that your services harken back to the old days and stand the test of time. That’s what this Vintage Barber Shop in Texas did with its Facebook graphic:
Or maybe you’re creating a business card for an auto repair shop, as with this Mechanic Tool Business Card template. At its core, the template is just a simple black-and-white design. Swap out the text and the icon, and it can be used for any professional, from a neuroscientist to a jewelry-maker. But with the added grunge texture, it takes on a more distressed or hand-worn look, making it a perfect fit for any mechanic’s wallet.
Going further, maybe you want a distressed backdrop for your social image about a serious topic. That’s what one designer did with this Typographic Drug Awareness Poster template. The speckled, rough-hewn background can add a darker and more authentic feel.
The point is, whatever you’re creating, grunge texture can add another layer to your visuals, evoking a raw, rugged feel, and ultimately helping them pop and catch the eye.
How can you create the grunge texture look?
Creating the grunge texture look doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There are plenty of pre-made templates, brushes, and backgrounds you can use. All you have to do is select your favorite and apply it to your graphic.
Take this Yard Sale Instagram Post template in Canva, for example. It comes with a blank, white background.
If you want to add some texture to it, however, you can just go to “Elements” in the left sidebar, search “grunge,” and choose a photo or graphic.
I picked the first one on the right. And voila—the result:
You can also create a grunge texture yourself. Think about it. The common design elements of grunge texture include contrasting colors, variations in light and shade, and regular or irregular patterns. If you have the time and are interested in creating a unique grunge texture, you can try experimenting with these elements until you land on the look that’s just right for you.
Where you can you incorporate grunge texture in your designs?
Grunge texture can be laid over your whole graphic, or it can be applied to certain elements of your design. For instance, you can use it as a backdrop, or apply it to individual fonts, colors, shapes, and illustrations.
Take this Facebook graphic for a tattoo company. Just the text “Booth Available” has a grunge texture. But the subtext, logo, and background image remain clean.
On the other hand, you might just want one color block of your graphic to be affected by the grunge texture. That’s the case with this Grunge Eco-Friendly Recycling Poster template. The green and brown portions are untouched by the grunge texture, but the central tan portion is flecked with green. This serves to tie the colors together and provide an earthy feel —appropriate for a poster about sustainability efforts.
The good news is that if you’re not ready to go full-out grunge, you can always start by testing the grunge texture on different portions of your graphics. You never know. You might like how it makes your graphics look—and, most importantly, your audience might like it, too.
Go for it, get grungy
Despite its definition, “grunge” doesn’t have to be a dirty word. When it comes to your graphics, grunge can help you create that specific feel you’ve been looking for. And it can engage audiences with more organic, raw, and authentic designs. So don’t be afraid to get grungy.
The grungy look is easy to achieve, as well. You can either create the grunge texture yourself by playing around with contrasting colors and light and dark shading. Or you can simply use ready-made overlays, backgrounds, templates, and brushes—giving you that grungy glamour in just a few clicks.
So, whether you’re trying to sell out a punk rock show, promote your tattoo shop, spread the word about your cause, or just add some grit to a social graphic, remember that grunge texture is always an option—and a good one, at that.