View Full Version : Randomized boundaries, terrain of your choice: a mini-tut for Paint.NET

02-15-2011, 05:44 PM
Randomized boundaries, terrain of your choice:
A mini-tutorial for Paint.NET

Because Korash makes me do these things... and because there are like three tutorials on this entire gigantic forum that are tailor-made for PDN. :)


I got this idea while playing a number-puzzle game, of all things, called Logic Squares. All you really need to know is that it's similar to sudoku, in that when you've completed one you have a grid with numbers in it. I got the idea to assign a color to each number in one of the sets once I'd finished, and after a little noodling I liked what I got. So now I get to grace/inflict upon you the technique.

When I make maps, I nearly always use the method RobA and others have taught, where you render some clouds and let them determine your landmasses, elevations, bodies of water, and so forth. They look GREAT - but sometimes, I already have an idea of where I'd like water and land to go. In that case, I'd like a little more control over their placement, even though I still want to let the program come up with nice random boundaries between the different areas. This technique allows for that quite nicely.

One last note: I'm sort of thinking through this tut as I go; having written as far as step 2, I've already come up with and incorporated suggestions for several other different ways you could use this method. So if I seem inconsistent in places it's because I'm trying to teach and go stream-of-consciousness at the same time. :)

Step 0 - Program Prep
If you've never played with Paint.NET before, aka PDN, it's essentially a souped-up version of MS Paint. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, but you're only partly right. Out of the box, it doesn't have much, but it is open-source and there are over a hundred user-generated "plugins" that, when downloaded and added to PDN, bring it right up alongside GIMP in terms of functionality. Since this is a mini-tut, you will only need the Crystallize plugin, and optionally the Transparency Adjust plugin, but if you plan to stick with PDN for cartography, I'd also recommend Engrave/Emboss and Gradient Mapping at the very least. There's also a clouds plugin that I like a little better than the Clouds function included in PDN. Make sure your plugins are compatible with the most recent release of PDN - 3.5.6 as of this writing.

Now then.

Step 1 - Build a grid

Your background layer is a simple frame, and it doesn't even have to be exact. Pick your preferred method of drawing either straight lines or rectangles, and make some.


I've gone as far as a 9x9 grid, but for this tut I'm keeping it simple and going with 4x4. You could probably go simpler, maybe even down to 2x2 depending on your needs - say you just want to establish the boundary shapes between three regions on a political map, for instance. I'm doing mine atlas style at the moment.

Note what I said earlier - my grid is not made of perfect squares. I could generate a perfect grid with another plugin I have, but all I'm making here is a frame for where I want color blocks to go in my next step. It really is okay for the rectangles to be unevenly sized.

Step 2 - New layer, nice big paintbrush setting, color in the squares

You don't even *really* have to go to a new layer if you don't want. I've just found that trying to put the colors on the same layer leaves some odd artifacts once I distort everything - probably because I'm not trying to be precise. This is quick and dirty, because the grid you're coloring in will *absolutely* not look gridlike once you're done. There's just no point in trying for pretty and perfect on this step, but since I don't want little black spaces on my map either, I go to a clean layer.

Pick a color you like for water, and then three more for land. Again, depending on the purpose of your map, you could use as many or as few colors as you wanted. If you were zoomed in far enough - say a coastal city or something - you could just use a water and a land color and call it good.

Select your paintbrush tool, bump it up nice and wide so you're not scribbling forever, and fill in the grid. (I'm currently at 50 pixels wide.)


Options: when I first played around with this technique, I strictly mapped my number grid because I was curious to see how it worked. This meant only one instance of each color per row and per column. It was fun and I liked the result. You might want to play with a 5x5 grid using these numbers:


But then I realized that the greatest asset of this technique is that you could deliberately choose where you want your regions to be, which means you don't have to follow that rule. Say you want a nice big ocean in one corner, or you want a row of mountains somewhere, or you'd at least like to show some elevation changes by color. Maybe you're doing a political map and you already know one of your countries/provinces/districts is bigger than the other/s. Go ahead and put a color into squares that touch each other. No, it's okay. Really.


You could also choose to fill in some squares with more than one color, say if you want small peaks on your mountains or a small lake in your land region, as I'm demonstrating here (along with another color for deep ocean). Don't get carried away with detail at this stage - and definitely don't try to add any more shape than what I'm showing you here - it will all go away in later steps, and your efforts will be wasted.

Note the gaps I've left here, with grid showing through. Yes, I could fill everything in more carefully, but as it happens those gaps provide me with an artifact that I happen to like. I suppose if I stayed on just my background layer the black artifacts could be useful too - it's just been a matter of personal taste so far that has led me to avoid them.

A final option is to use two layers to make this step - one for water and one for land. For now I'm not going to bother, but it's definitely a good idea, once you start doing texture-y things, to keep them separate. And, I suppose if you wanted to be really picky you could separate each color out into its own layer, but by then you're getting complicated enough that you've kinda negated the point of this tutorial. :)

Go ahead and hide, or even delete, your grid layer. If you plan to come back and do more experimenting with color placement, keep it around, but otherwise you are pretty much done with it.

Step 3 - Crystallize!

In PDN, this plugin is under the Effects menu > Distort > Crystallize. Its default setting is 8, which isn't a lot of deformation at all, in the grand scheme of things. Run your slider up around 50 and you'll see what I mean.

Play with the settings until you get something you like; I'm often surprised by the difference in results just going from 50 to 49, for example. I personally don't like to go higher than 65 or so, and only once have I gone as high as 80 - after that the "crystals" get so big that your color layout no longer fits your canvas, and you start losing large areas of your picture.

33563 33562

If you have a size you like, don't forget to try reseeding a couple of times to see what you get.

To be continued...

02-15-2011, 05:49 PM
Now, obviously these results look pretty wonky, but they're a good start. I like how the light yellow that will be my range of hills/mountains has a sort of curve to it now, and the reshaped lape in the top left corner is good too. Once you get something you're mostly happy with, it's time to rinse and repeat - run crystallize again, only this time lower the settings by at least 25% - I'll start with a setting of about 30 and see what I get. Again, bump the settings up and down just a single notch at a time - I found that 29, 30, 31 and 32 all gave me drastically different results, but ultimately 30 is the setting I kept.


Run crystallize again. See if it does anything you like while keeping the setting at 30; if not, drop it again to about 20 and see what you get. Each time you lower the settings, your edges are distorted with a greater level of detail, and more of the original shape left undisturbed. As you work your way down, you'll gradually get some plausible looking coastlines, boundaries, possible river tracks, and so forth.

Starting with the picture above, I ran Crystallize again using settings of 23, 15, 15 again, 9, 6, 4 with a reseed, 7 (I was curious), and 3. The minimum settins is 2, but I didn't feel a need to go farther so I stopped.


To be honest, I usually only run Crystallize half as many times as this, but I was having fun. As long as you eventually get to a setting around 4 to 8 as your final stop, you'll be fine.

Step 4 - Fill in the gaps

So, the white gaps in the original grid scribble have also gotten "crystallized" and are now some intriguing shapes in between our selected color patches. If you look closely, you'll also see a few places where the crystals overlap, giving you semi-transparent or color-blended zones. If you've gotten the Adjustments > Transparency plugin, now is the time to use it, increasing the setting to "fully opaque". Since we use the flood fill at a low tolerance, those translucent spots can be a pain.

Next we're going to use our color picker, possibly our magic wand, and our flood fill to take care of recoloring the gaps.

As with the rest of this tut, the theme of the day is Play Around. Should I bridge those two dark green zones in the lower left with more of the same, or extend my mountain terrain between them, or spread the lighter green of the top left down into those spaces? The program has already given me some new "in-between" colors to play with thanks to the blending of multiple crystals; maybe I'll want to use those to fill convert empty spaces into "in-between" zones.

So. If you don't want to create another color from scratch, use your color picker to select something, set your magic wand tolerance no higher than 33% and use it to outline the area you want to fill. You actually only need magic wand if you want to fill in more than one area at a time; press and hold the Shift key while you select your zones. If you find that the magic wand is selecting stuff you didn't want it to, just drop the tolerance and select the area again.

Assuming you used magic wand, once you've selected as much of the zone as you want, use flood fill. If you want that color in more than one place, set the flood fill tolerance to 0 so you don't cover anything by mistake, and go to it.


Okay, as far as this technique is concerned, you're done. You've got nice wiggly borders and boundaries, areas of color blend that overlap the main zones, and hopefully a map that is throwing suggestions at you left and right. For myself, I can already get a good idea of where my rivers are going to go based just on this.

An option, if you want to continue, is to open a new layer, and render some clouds on it. Set the layer's blend mode to overlay and you'll get a whole new range of texture - although admittedly, if you're going for a political map, the clouds likely defeat your purpose. If you do use them, they can suggest new elevations and possible paths for hills, rivers, roads, and different water depths. If you do that, though, I'd suggest only using one color for your water when you're doing the scribble step - otherwise it just looks weird once you try to use the clouds over the water.

Considering we started with a sloppily-colored grid...


...this doesn't look too shabby, now does it? :D


02-15-2011, 05:51 PM
Okay, NO idea why the second post didn't give me thumbnails, but... *sigh* I don't have time to mess with it just now.

02-15-2011, 07:03 PM
This is really cool! I need to start branching out in relation to the parts of PDN I use... though I can't see those pictures in the last post at all.

02-15-2011, 07:53 PM
They *should* come up if you click on the links - at least they do for me - but I'm going to try and bring them back as thumbnails as soon as I give my kid her bath. :) Priorities are such a pain sometimes.

EDIT: Let's see if they work now.

02-15-2011, 09:50 PM
It's working now, thanks!

02-15-2011, 11:16 PM
I'd love to see your own results using this tut, euio. And anybody else's for that matter!

02-16-2011, 08:11 AM
Hello, All.

I have taken PeaceHeather's tutorial and created a PDF document out of it.

It is available in the Tutorials in PDF Format (http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?4987-Tutorials-in-PDF-Format) thread on Page one in the first post.




02-16-2011, 09:21 AM
Thanks so much! Now I feel all special and stuff.

If you ever get to it, there's another tut I did back in 2009 that is essentially RobA's tutorial "translated" for PDN users. I only bring it up because I know there are relatively few PDN resources on the forum compared to GIMP and the rest.


02-16-2011, 09:33 PM
Just a quick run through with some extra experimentation. I'm thinking this is a great springboard to some kinda new style. This has really got my brain churning...

02-16-2011, 10:32 PM
How'd you do the forests - some kind of Effects > Noise > Grain over your selection? I'm guessing the water was made by duplicating and then blurring the dark segments, yes? I like what you did there, and I'm curious about the forests.

I'm also curious what your starting grid looked like to end up with this result. There's nothing quite as much fun as watching this beautiful shape appear from a bunch of blobby rectangles, you know what I mean? :D

02-16-2011, 11:15 PM
Since I realized while I was writing the tut that it could be used to create political maps (something I don't often draw), I decided to create one as an example.


02-17-2011, 04:30 PM
The forests were just a simple Effects/Noise/Add Noise with no colour saturation. As for the water, I just duplicated the whole layer, then blurred it and decreased opacity.
That political maps is looking really nice! How'd you do the borders? Stylize/Outline?

Oh, and here's my original.

02-18-2011, 04:08 AM
Looking great - and good with a tut where you have sort of predefined the areas :)

have some rep with my +8 mace of nice repping :)

02-18-2011, 09:46 AM
Euio -
Yep - I used outline selection because for some reason outline opbject wasn't working for me - probably needs to be a single thing on a transparent background. And there's another plugin that has a bunch of text effects where you can write them on curves and whatnot.

I'm curious to see what would've happened on yours if you had just stuck to rectangles in the original - my first impression is that what you have here would have been too detailed. :) But obviously it worked out pretty well!

Tilt - Many thanks! Yep, the idea was to have something that would make me a map with a little more control over where things end up. The render-clouds options always look good, but they sort of dictate where your land and water will go, and if I have other ideas about what I want, this technique will let me use them.

I'm wondering if there's a way I can use this to build river systems, too. Those outlines just look *right*, you know?