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Grunge Style In Modern Web Design


Most design trends come unexpectedly, evolve over time, become pointless and finally disappear from the design landscape. This holds particularly for web design, which is — just as every other creative field — prone for over-hyping and over-usage of trends. Being used excessively (sometimes properly, but mostly without any reasonable purpose), trends lose their ability to communicate information, express something unique or innovative and consequently lose their visual appeal.

Web 2.0 style is an excellent example for this evolution in design. In the last months of 2007 we’ve observed a clear example of design abuse, as glossy buttons, colorful reflections, 3D-effects, rounded corners and xx-large font sizes could be found almost everywhere (and we’ve presented some examples1 a year ago). However, currently we’ve been observing a new step in this evolution. Web 2.0 elements start to disappear; they become more subtle, more user-centric, more content-oriented and less loud. Is it a sign for coming changes?

What is the Grunge style? Link

As Web 2.0 style passes way, it’s time for something new. Few weeks ago we’ve written about the hand-drawing style2 in modern web-design. And as Web 2.0 style is all about glossy and shiny look, another option would be something rather crude, radical and provoking. Such as the grunge style — dirty look with irregular, nasty, sometimes even ugly and crooked visual elements. Will it establish itself as a trend? Probably not. However, it may be used once some creative and unconventional design approach is needed.

Below we’ve collected everything you would ever need for a perfect design in a grunge style — design examples, free fonts, icons, textures, brushes and even few tutorials.

Examples of Grunge Style Link

Grunge doesn’t necessarily stand for dirty. Grunge designs may have subtle dirty elements, providing the content with the dominant position it deserves. Let’s take a look at some examples how it might look like. All screenshots are linked and lead to the sites from which they have been taken.

Texture Screenshot3
Web 2.0 meets Grunge.

Texture Screenshot4
Notice the clear, rigid structure of the site blocks, supported by the grunge style.

Texture Screenshot5
Visually appealing design with grunge elements.

Texture Screenshot6
Not that visually appealing, however unique and unusual. Wood in use.

Texture Screenshot7
Grunge can be used not only in personal web-sites, but also in galleries and blogs.

Grungy Free Fonts Link

5 Excellent Free Grunge Fonts8
A selection of free “grunge” or “eroded” typefaces.

Texture Screenshot9

Bleeding Cowboys Font10
Free for personal use. PC / Mac OS X.

Texture Screenshot11

Grungy Icons Link

Stretched, torn and dirty: grunge icons at its best. They don’t necessarily fit to all designs, however it’s nice to have them ready to hand once you might need them.

RSS Grunge Icons12
A set with Feed-Icons in blue, red and green. Sizes: 128 x 128, 64 x 64 and 32 x 32 px. In .png-format. One of the icons has an ornament embedded into it — you can see it in the right hand side of the screenshot.

Icons Screenshot13

Grungy Olive Icons14
This set by designed by Dryicons fits not only to grungy cloth and weapons. 28 icons in the .png-format. 16 x 16, 24 x 24, 32 x 32, 48 x 48 and 128 x 128 px. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. You can do with them almost everything you might ever need to.

Icons Screenshot15

Grungy Asphalt Icons16
Another set, in a different color.

Icons Screenshot17

Litho System18
A bright and well-worn system replacement icon set. This collection contains 99 individual icons with large resources for Vista & Leopard.

Icons Screenshot19

Grungy Textures Link

The Best Textures Flickr Group20 offers excellent textures, among them also pretty colorful grunge textures. More than 900 images offered in a variety of sizes.

Texture Screenshot

Torley Textures21 presents 11 sets with quite impressive images in the size 512×512 — available in the .png-format.

Texture Screenshot22

DeviantArt: Textures23 is probably one of the largest sources for textures. For instance you can find excellent textures by searching for rust24, grunge25 or wood26. The choice is enormous, so you better take a portion of patience with you: advertisements are annoying, but the search is worth it.

Texture Screenshot27
Example: Flaky Old Gold28

W-Enter Textures29
Three excellent collections of grungy textures. Preview30 (links on that page don’t work, use this31 link to download the textures)

Texture Screenshot32

Texture Screenshot33

Textures Download34
A number of textures: walls, dirty, wood, graffiti, metal, plastic, stone, sand and cloth. Feel free to use these (mostly dirty) textures for any project, personal or professional. Click any thumbnail and use your mouse to "save image as…"

Texture Screenshot35

Garden Grunge Macro Photos36
This is what the photographer Neil Creek explored in his garden under the macro-objective.

Texture Screenshot37

Urbandirty38 collects the dirty of cities. Virtually, of course, in form of textures. No, this is not beautiful, but real. The collection includes 291 photos in three sizes. Released under the Creative Commons License.

Texture Screenshot39

Free Grunge textures from TextureKing40
A growing collection of grungy textures, available for free download. 319 textures.

Texture Screenshot41

10 Grunge, Rusty and Dirty Tileable Textures42
This is a collection of ten 1000×1000 pixels seamless textures. These textures were created using Filter Forge plugin. And they are free.

Texture Screenshot43

Grunge Textures44
Craig Jewells texture set contains 211 photos on Flickr. Different themes: rock, wood, rust, floors and more.

Texture Screenshot45

24 Free High-Res Textures46
By Bittbox. There is also a set of Photoshop brushes47 made from these grungy textures. There are 12 brushes in the set, and they are all 2500px. Available for CS3, CS1, and in PNG formats.

Texture Screenshot48

Grunge Textures49
Huge choice, (mostly) high quality. For instance in categories Asphalt, Brick, Concrete, Drains, Vents, & Grates, Graffiti & Vandalism, Metal, Mud, Clay & Earth, Old Machinery, Paper & Cardboard, Peeling Paint, Rusted Metal, Spills & Splatter, Stone, Trash & Garbage and Wood Textures. Hotlist50 displays the most popular textures.

Texture Screenshot51

Grungy Paper Textures Link

Scanned Scrapbook Papers Set 152 with 14 themes, Set 253 with 12 themes.

Texture Screenshot54
Set 2

Lovelamp55 presents 7 textures which look like wallpapers (real wallpapers, not desktop wallpapers).

Texture Screenshot56

PapierScans57 offers more paper scans; 12 images in high resolution.

Texture Screenshot58

4 Free High-Resolution Grungy Paper Textures59
The full-size images are in the 2005x3000px resolution.

Texture Screenshot60

Grungy Brushes, Corners etc. Link

Jenn B’s Typographic Grunge Brushes
A random collection of grungy, decayed typographic brushes.

Texture Screenshot

Grunge Brushes61
Photoshop set.

Texture Screenshot62

50 Free Vector Grunge Corners63
Formats: AI, EPS, SVG, PNG, Ill8. Source grunge is also included to let you play around with.

Texture Screenshot64

RisingSun Brushes65
This set contains brushes of the size 1280x1024px.

Texture Screenshot66

Grunge Brushes67
Photoshop set.

Texture Screenshot68

Dumpster Brushes69
8 Photoshop brushes created from photos of old dumpsters. All brushes are over 800px.

Texture Screenshot70

Vector Ink & Paint Splatters71
Vector images that would make a niece background touch or even a nice finishing touch to top off a grungy piece of art.

Texture Screenshot72

15 icon with two large scratchy / grungy textures in .pat (Photoshop Patterns Format).

Texture Screenshot74

Grungy Tutorials Link

Grunge Photoshop Tutorials75
An overview of grungy Adobe Photoshop tutorials.

Texture Screenshot76

Grungy Cover Design Tutorial77
Learn how to create a nice grungy cover design with grungy textures.

Texture Screenshot78

Is Web 2.0 style here to stay? Link

What do you think? Please take part in the poll and comment on this article!

Footnotes Link

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Sven is the co-founder and former CEO of Smashing Magazine. He's now writing at his Conterest Blog, where he focuses on blogs, content strategy and publishing — all in German.

  1. 1

    I totally agree with you. Web 2.0 is not about a visual trend…

  2. 2

    I think Grunge doesn’t look good for most sites . I mean you don’t want to use it for a shopping site or even a portfolio site. On the other hand it does look good if combined with a clean colorful look like this. In general, i find the dark dirty look annoying and childish

  3. 3

    one of those trends/styles i cant stand.

  4. 4

    Graphic Design Studio

    January 29, 2008 9:27 am

    Great Collection. Keep up the good work

  5. 5

    Hello, thanks for including my 1000×1000 textures in this amazing guide.
    I’m trying to digg it but for some reason I can’t connect to Digg right now.

    I also have some rusty (rustic, dirty, whatever) high resolution textures at my site:

    Thanks again,

    Enrique Flouret
    The Photoshop Roadmap

  6. 6

    another great article.

    these make a nice change from the current clean/simple design trend

  7. 7

    I’m disappointed you mention a “Web 2.0 style” since there is no such thing. It’s impossible to create such a style since “Web 2.0” has nothing to do in any way with styling.

  8. 8

    This is my absolute favorite style. So raw and earthy!

  9. 9

    The “web 2.0 style” just looks childish to me. The trend will hopefully die soon.

  10. 10

    Great list of grungy things, definitely a bookmark article. Always good to have some nice grunge inspiration and resources.

  11. 11

    I’m not a big fan of the grunge style. It’s more often not done very well. Though it does have its place, and if done properly can be very effective. I’ve dabbled with it before, but prefer other styles.

  12. 12

    grunge and dirty styles were long in use before this whole “web 2.0” thing came about.

  13. 13

    I have been a huge fan/maker of grungy designs for a while now. However, I have continued to see it become more popular in web and print design. You said that the grunge look will most likely not become a trend, but I beg to differ. Many artists are using the grunge style when showcasing their portfolios. Perhaps it won’t reach to the global and multi-million dollar companies. However, it already has reached the artist community and is on the rise.

  14. 14

    Well, some of this textures quite look great. But I’m not a fan of this style. I love simplicity in webdesign and this grunge style isn’t simple. It really catches the eye, but it catches too much! The real content is no more the first member.

  15. 15

    I agree that there were recognizable themes in many Web 2.0 apps that came out between 2004-2006. And I’ve seen the grunge style emerge during that same time. But I don’t see this style in web apps, I see it on portfolio sites, brochureware sites, band sites, etc. The Web 2.0 style was created by web app designers for web apps. I have a hard time envisioning using a grunge style for a web app that is designed for ease-of-use by a broad demographic. Not saying the grunge style isn’t cool. Just saying I don’t see it as a replacement for the current web app style. Apples and oranges.

  16. 16

    Couldn’t be more true that web 2.0 has nothing to do with styling, however I think many people would agree that there are many elements such as the above mentioned “glossy buttons, colorful reflections, 3D-effects, rounded corners and xx-large font sizes” and the like have become synonymous with web 2.0, therefore earning this style the name “web 2.0 style” and unfortunatley, I think it’s a bit late to change it.
    Go folk style!

  17. 17

    Be sure to check out a href=”” title=”Grunge Style”> Grunge Style for a growing list of grunge style resources.

  18. 18

    Great post!

    The web in year 2000 was plenty of microtext and pixel fonts with ultra-small sizes. Ultra neat & tidy minimalist white websites where everywhere too. Today fonts are huge and webs are dirty. Trends evolve and change very fast. Just wondering what we’ll be doing in 5 or 10 years from now!!

    Keep up the good work!

  19. 19

    I see web2.0 becoming more of a niche, with new styles (like grunge) adding to the available genre’s for web designers. I don’t think it will ever leave, just become less popular.

  20. 20

    Grunge style allows the designer to captivate a specific audience on a modern medium. It gives a contemporary web presence without alienating the target audience, and possibly more important, the branding of your website. I could see this style implemented well on, say, Jeep’s website, or any outdoor gear/sports site’s front page.

    But don’t confuse Grunge with a “Web 2.0 Style.” If Web 2.0 had a style, it would most certainly adhere to usability and portability (almost like semantics). A grunge style allows you to embed usable applications to your website. But this style would most certainly not work to define an entire web service.

    In short: Grunge works for front pages and blogs. These include small ‘widgets’ like comment systems, email forms, etc. Actual, multi-page web applications need usable interfaces. That’s where a web 2.0 style would come in to play.

  21. 21


    Thank you very much for including my Rss Grunge Icons in your great List.

    And i am thinking that a new Trend will come. Because tastes change. That was always like that and will also always like that be.

  22. 22

    “grunge” style is nothing new – it was being done years ago.

  23. 23

    Very nice post for resources.



  24. 24

    I think this style is commonly known as “distressed”. Grunge, pfff! ;-)

  25. 25

    And punk is not dead !
    Nice post once again (I ramble on…)

  26. 26

    Grunge style can also be used in unattended websites: I mean, for example, in a food-blog… Have a look to the blog (in Italian) made by a friend of mine: He also won prizes for his grungy pictures… cool
    P.S. Fabien, you owe me at least a pizza for this comment :)))

  27. 27

    This is a great post! Looks like there are many cool things shown here that I will have to spend a couple hours to.

    About 2.0 “style” versus “grunge.” Web 2.0 started not as a style but more about new interactivity. But as time has gone by the web community seems to have adopted a “style” that is now called the web 2.0 style. That being said I don’t think that a grungy style can’t be considered “web 2.0” just by its appearance.

    So in short: there is “web 2.0” and “web 2.0 style” Grunge can be “web 2.0” but not so much a “web 2.0 style”

    Thanks again Smashing

  28. 28

    Well, I dislike the style but that said This is one helluva resource for all of that information.

    Great job once again.

  29. 29

    Hi SM,

    Thank you very much for including icons in two of your most recent posts: this one, and “Best of January 2008”. We’ve been developing our sets for 4 months now and giving them for free. This recognition by you guys at SM is truly awarding and keeps us going.

    So, a big thank you from Dryicnons Team!

  30. 30

    It’s great to see this article here. I’ve just written a chapter on grunge style in my eBook about Blogger template customization, so now I can link my readers here to see even more examples of this style.

    I’ve always thought the grunge style is like Marmite: you either love it or hate it! Personally I love the grunge style. But it doesn’t work for all sites. Excellent resources here, thank you for publishing this article :)


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