Create a Vintage Art Deco Poster with Illustrator's Grain Effect
You might not know the name A. M. Cassandre, but you've surely seen his work. His early 20th century French advertising posters have become iconic images of the Art Deco movement, and have inspired a new generation of designers worldwide.
One of the characteristic aspects of Cassandre's work is the grainy texture used to shade objects. In painting, this technique is achieved by the artist using his thumb to flick paint off the end of a toothbrush. In printmaking, the grainy tone is created with aquatint.
Illustrator users can keep our hands clean and duplicate this technique with various texture effects. This is a beginner tutorial, which starts with basic shape-building methods. More experienced users can skip ahead to the texture part. Let's get started!
Every few weeks, we revisit some of our reader's favorite posts from throughout the history of the site. This tutorial was first published in Jan of 2011.
Part I — Wine Bottle
Use the Rounded Rectangle tool and draw a rectangle that's a little more than twice as tall as it is wide. You can do this one of two ways: click once on the artboard and enter numerical values, or just drag with the tool to draw it freehand. As you draw, you can press the up or down arrow keys to adjust the corner radius. Give it a stroke but no fill. The color doesn't matter at this point.
Next, click once on the artboard with the Ellipse tool (L). Make the width and height the same as the width of the rounded rectangle. Center align the two shapes, using the Align panel or the icons in the Control panel.
Draw a rectangle for the bottle's neck, using the Rectangle tool (M). Center this shape with the others. Switch back to the Ellipse tool and draw a thin ellipse for the rounded bottle top. Make sure the edges of ellipse match up with the edges of the small rectangle. It can help to use Smart Guides for things like this. Turn them on under the View menu. When the points intersect, the word "Intersect" will display. Smart, eh?
Now draw a small rounded rectangle near the top, for the lip of the bottle. Center-align everything you've drawn so far. You can stop here, for a more stylized bottle, and skip the next step. Or you can get a little tricky and add curves to the sides.
Select the Arc tool and draw out an arc segment that slopes from the edge of the bottle's neck and meets the edge of the circle. You can eyeball it, or you can double-click the Arc tool to being up its options and get a preview.
Again, Smart Guides will help position the arc. View the illustration in Outline mode to get it perfect. Don't worry if the arc hangs out beyond the circle — take the Scissors tool (C) and cut the excess off, as close to the intersection point as possible. Use the Direct Selection tool (A) to select the extra part (if it's not already selected) and press the Delete key twice to get rid of it.
Select the arc segment, then double-click the Reflect tool (O). Choose Vertical, enter 90°, and click Copy. Now position the copy on the other side. Select both arcs and press Command/Control —J to join them.
Make sure everything is aligned, select all, then merge the shapes using the Pathfinder panel. Switch the fill and stroke color so that the bottle has a fill but no stroke.
Part II — Wine Glass
Draw a circle with the Ellipse tool. Constrain it to a perfect circle by holding down the Shift key while drawing.
Draw a rectangle the same width as the circle. Align the bottom of the rectangle with the center of the circle. Adjust the height of the rectangle, if necessary, to form the bowl of a stylized goblet.
Merge the two shapes with the Pathfinder. Keep the new shape selected and got to Object > Path > Offset Path. Enter a negative value so that the offset path sits inside the original.
Select the top corner points of the offset path and move them down. This will be the wine. Draw two rectangles to form the stem. Merge them with the original goblet shape. Fill the "wine" shape.
Part III — Liquid
Draw a thin, vertically-oriented ellipse. Using the Convert Anchor Point tool (Shift-C), click on the top and bottom points. Go to Effect > Warp > Flag and enter -100% vertical bend. Expand the appearance under the Object menu.
Choose the Mesh tool (U), then click once to add a mesh point in the top half of the object. Select this point with the Direct Selection tool and change its "fill" to white. We normally don't think of points as having fills, but that's the way Gradient Mesh works.
Part IV — Texture
You now have the three basic elements of the poster. It's time to add the texture. The steps for each object are pretty much the same, so I'll just go through it once, and you can make adjustments on each shape.
Make a copy of the object. Fill it with a black-to-white gradient. The orientation of the gradient will depend on the placement of the object and lighting source you choose for your composition, but keep in mind that the dark areas will be the shadows and have denser grain. This is a "live" effect, so you can always change it.
Select the gradient-filled object and go all the way down to Effect > Texture > Grain. The texture window will open and take over your whole screen. In the right column, enter values for the intensity and contrast. The grain type can be selected in the drop-down menu. The "Stippled" type works well for this effect. Your settings can be previewed on the left.
Place the textured object on top of the plain one, and select Multiply as the blending mode in the Transparency panel.
That's the basic grainy texture method. It can be used with radial gradients, as in the wine glass, and with blends, and with Gradient Mesh, as in the flowing wine shape.
It can also be used on outlined text. Since this illustration is in the style of Cassandre, who was also a type designer, I've chosen an Art Deco font. You can find lots of free Deco fonts
Putting It All Together
Cassandre's lines were clean and his compositions simple. But don’t be fooled — making something elegant out of a few basic shapes isn't easy. But again, as vector artists, we have the advantage of unlimited, non-destructive editability. The grain effect is "live," so you are free to experiment while always keeping things fresh.