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This paper explores the nature and uses of irregular or distressed shapes in graphics. It departs from a paradox. While it takes considerable care and effort to produce regular graphic shapes by hand, digital tools produce them naturally and effortlessly. Conversely, while irregular shapes occur spontaneously in manually produced graphics, as a result of micro-scale events in the articulation, it takes great care and effort to produce them with a computer.

Then why is there such a proliferation of irregular and distressed shapes in computer-produced graphics? What is it that so urgently needs to be expressed, regardless of the time and effort it takes?

To answer these questions, we will survey the uses of irregularity and distressed shapes – their deictic role as a signifier of individuality, and their potential for expression playfulness or transgression, and authenticity. And we will argue that, despite the conventionalization inherent in graphic software, irregularity and distressed shapes are still understood on the basis of the dynamic constraints or affordances of body, tools and substances in manual trace-making practices.