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Thomas Trimingham

4 Reasons Distressed Designs Go Wrong

Differentiating between two of today’s popular designs.





DISTRESSED PATTERNS offer a lot of creative possibilities, but when used carelessly they can cause serious damage to your art files and generate big errors on press that can lead to some very unhappy customers. Here are four of the most common mistakes to avoid.

1. Too heavy a distress pattern on delicate or detailed images
The most common mistake when using distressed effects on screen printed apparel involves the “slap it on” approach where an overlay is applied to a design without adequate review of how it may affect the look of the final image. If the distress layer is too dense or knocks out too much of the positive elements in the graphic, the result may appear bad or damaged rather than worn.

2. Distressed “pieces” causing illegibility or confusion
Another common error is caused by using distressed images too heavily in the type, giving the logo and other text a damaged look that may make the graphic confusing or illegible. It may even look as though the logo was misspelled. Small type elements that are needed to achieve clarity may be lost.

3. Distress patterns that can’t be reproduced by screen printing
When photographic distress patterns are used, there will often be areas in the source file that are grainy or shades of gray. These areas can become small dots that you’ll have trouble replicating with your mesh and inks. They’ll sometimes produce a light halftone with dots that will be too small for your mesh and stencil; they can also damage solid areas of the design to the extent that they don’t expose properly.

4. Pixelated or fake-looking distressed effects
When textures from low-resolution web photos or graphics are used, the resulting distress filter can become pixelated and appear blocky or distorted. This can make the distress effect unrealistic and amateurish, so the overall design will be less appealing.

Thomas Trimingham has been helping screen printers for more than 25 years as an industry consultant, freelance artist, and high-end separator. He currently works with M&R as a marketing communications manager. Connect with him on LinkedIn or at

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