Create a Fantastic Decaying Metal Sign

tagged Photoshop by Jon

The “web 2.0” look has taken over the web and has given it a very clean and polished look. Nothing against this, but I wanted to throw something of the opposite into the mix.

If done right, a nice grungy look can be rather refreshing these days. By creating a rusty street sign, I’ll show you some techniques you can use to make your next design downright nasty.

Step 1: The Gradient

Step 1: The Gradient

No Photoshop tutorial would be complete without some sort of gradient in the background. For this particular one, I used #4C4D50 and #909498. I applied this radial gradient to a 500 pixel square canvas.

Step 2: The Sign

Step 2: The Sign

In this step, I used the rounded rectangle and custom shape tool (U) to create a basic looking sign. Just do a Google image search for signs to get a little inspiration. The possibilities are endless.

After you are happy with your sign, flatten all the layers you used to create it. Name the layer “Sign”. You may want to copy the original layers and hide them in a folder for safe keeping in case you need to revert to it later.

Step 3: The Grime

Step 3: The Grime

The next step will involve 5 different filters/effects to for the specific texture that is needed.

Step 3a: The Grime

Step 3a:

Create a new layer and name it “Grime”.

Ctrl click the “Sign” layer to make a selection of the rounded rectangle shape. With the “Grime” layer selected go to Filter > Render > Clouds with #88733B as the foreground color and #4B3A17 and the background color.

Step 3b:

On the same layer, go to Filter > Texture > Grain. Set the Intensity to 100 and Contrast to 50. Choose Speckle for the grain type.

Step 3c:

Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels and play with the levels until you get a good contrast. Use my example as a guide. There are no right or wrong values.

Step 3d:

Go to Filter > Artistic > Dry Brush. I set the Brush Size to 5, Brush Detail to 10 and the Texture to 1.

Step 3e:

Go to Filter > Noise> Add Noise. I set the amount to 7 and selected Gaussian as the distribution and checked Monochromatic.

Step 3 Final:

Make a backup copy of the “Grime” layer as it is now. We will use it as rust in the next step.

Set the blending mode to Screen on the “Grime” layer and give it a 50% opacity. This shows up nicely in the dark area.

So the texture shows up better in the lighter areas, duplicate the “Grime” layer and call it “Grime 2”. Set the blending mode to Hard Light and give it a 10% opacity.

The toxic icon in the middle was a little too light and showed too much texture so I used the eraser with 20% opacity to erase some of the texture in that area.

Step 4: The Rust

Step 4: The Rust

Now to add some rust. You don’t want to overdue this effect. You will want to take time to refine each step so that it looks good. Results will vary so don’t think that you have to use all the exact settings that I did for this particular piece.

Step 4a: The Rust

Step 4a:

Ctrl click the “Sign” layer to make a selection of the rounded rectangle. Go to your Channels tab and create a new channel. Then, fill the selection with white.

Step 4b:

Deselect [ctrl + d] the selection. Go to Filter > Pixelate > Mezzotint. Set the type to Medium Strokes. Take a brush with the color black and add some extra detail like the corners.

Step 4c:

Go to Filter > Noise > Dust & Scratches. Set the Radius to 3 pixels and the Threshold to 0 pixels.

Step 4d:

Go to Filter > Brush Strokes > Spatter. I set the Spray Radius to 13 and Smoothness to 8. Again, results may vary.

Step 4 final:

Remember that backup copy of the “Grime” layer that we kept? Unhide it and move it to the top of all the layers. Name it “Rust”.

Go back to your channels and Ctrl click the channel you just made to make a selection out of it.

Hide that channel and show the standard RGB channels. Then go back to your layers. Make sure you are on the “Rust” layer, and with the selection from the channel you just made, hit Delete to erase the excess rust.

I added a couple of layer styles to the “Rust” layer.

Inner Glow with the following settings changed from the default: Blend Mode set to Multiply. Color changed to #412608. Choke set to 0% and Size at 24px.

Outer Glow with the following settings changed from the default: Blend Mode set to Darker Color. Color changed to #372107. Opacity at 50% and Noise at 10%. Spread set to 9% and Size at 21px.

Step 5: The End

Decaying Metal Sign

To finish things off I added some extra detail like the screws, rust streaks and drop shadow. The screws were pretty easy to make, just use shapes and give them some Bevel & Emboss layer styles and use the same rust effect. Use Filter > Stylize > Wind and Filter > Blur > Motion Blur to create the rust streaks.

To give credit where credit is due, I originally learned some of these techniques from here and here.

I would like to see what you come up with from this tutorial (some bullet holes would be a great addition). Let me know what you think.

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January 3rd, 2008

Wow! Just amazing :)

January 6th, 2008

I like how your “going against” web 2.0 or at least the generic gradient, polished style. The thing is that your final product is still very reminiscent of web 2.0. It’s probably the gradient background or perhaps the lighting that you accomplish on the sign.

Anywho, it’s a great tutorial nonetheless.

Sean Hodge
January 31st, 2008

Nice tutorial. I’ll have to do this when I get a chance. Thanks.

April 5th, 2008

why don’t you upload the psd source for we can have an idea, for me would easier,

thanks in advance


April 13th, 2008


Rajita - Logo Design
May 15th, 2008

I like the way you added the grime layer.Its really cool

Joe J
July 4th, 2008

Thank You for the article, i am learning so much from your articles.

August 8th, 2008

WOW!! fantastic job and techniques.. this is amazing! I followed your steps and I had a beautiful result too :)

Thanks dude!

September 15th, 2008

Thank you! I had a photoshop assignment for my digital art class using only shapes and text- NO PICS! I found your tutorial very easy to follow and got great results, thank you so much!

September 27th, 2008


October 26th, 2008

Thanks..)) Nice photshop tut..)))) Here is .PSD file???

December 2nd, 2008

very nice and helpful tutorial, love step 3a-e, the transitions from a to e is amazing

July 8th, 2009

This is absolutly beautiful! i didn’t read the tutorial yet but the final image is amaizing…i am wainting forward for new great tutorials!

July 24th, 2009

Woooow incredible!!! I was looking for something like that!!!!
I like it a lot
Thanks for the tutorial!!!
I’ll make one for my blog
I learned a lot!

Pretty Me Pink
August 27th, 2009

Thanks for this, the hazard sign reminds me of that game i used to be hooked on Duke Nukem 3D (man, that brings back memories)

August 31st, 2009

Thanks for this seriously cool! cant believe the first picture and the last picture when you compare them, and all in a few steps, good and simple to follow tutorial!

September 26th, 2009

I love it!

September 28th, 2009

That was a great tutorial, I used it for a diagonal Black & White Style Sign. One of those stay left, right, or avoid this sign.

November 3rd, 2009

Hello, Tnx for the beautifull tips. I have a question, after i do step 3a, i cannot access to the menu filter Texture, cause is not selectable, what do i do wrong? Is there something to do between step 3a and 3b?

Tnx a lot.

November 22nd, 2009

thanks a lot for your tut, looking for this kind of tut for long time, great job and easy to follow

May 18th, 2010


thanks so much for the tut! Although the final result is not what I imagine for the newe design of my website especially the rust element comes in very useful and seems to be adaptable in so many ways.

July 30th, 2010

whats up everyone

just signed up and wanted to say hello while I read through the posts

hopefully this is just what im looking for looks like i have a lot to read.

September 26th, 2010

I am Photoshop beginner in Japan.
I was impressed by this tutorial, and tried at once.
thank you so much !

December 6th, 2010

wow it was really great

here check my version please I added some custom brushes and a vintage BG

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