View Full Version : [Award Winner] Tapering Rivers in Photoshop

08-10-2008, 03:24 PM
This is a quick and easy tutorial on how to make rivers in photoshop that taper from small at the source to large at the destination. Its really easy actually.

I'll be showing you how to do it in Photoshop CS3, but I believe the technique will work in CS2 as well...Not sure about previous versions.

You start by creating a new path and creating the points of the river on that path.

1) Click on the Paths tab
2) Click Create New Path
3) Click the Pen Tool
4) Draw points to make the path of the river.


It is important to START the path at the destination or mouth of the river...this is the point that will be the widest. The reason you create a new path is because if you just use the pen tool you'll be creating a shape, which will automatically create a shape layer and fill it...rivers are paths not shapes.

Next step is to use the Convert Pen Tool to turn the points of the river into bezier curves since the river shouldn't really be blocky. Use the photoshop help to learn how to use the Convert Pen Tool...but its basically click and drag on a point to drag the bezier handles out and make a curve. hold down ctrl to move the point.


Now that you have a river path, you need to switch to the paintbrush tool. Bring up the brush options and select a brush size that will represent the width of the mouth of your river. I chose a size 12 brush here.


Then you want to click on shape dynamics and where usually the pen pressure controls the size, you want to change the dropdown to "fade".

1) Click shape dynamics
2) Change control to Fade
3) Set a fade distance (in pixels for length of fade, may need to experiment)
4) Click Stroke Path to create the tapered river.


If the fade length was too short or too long, press ctrl-z and change the fade length and then stroke the path again.

An interesting side note, if you prefer to freehand draw the tapered river, you can JUST go to shape dynamics and change the control to fade, set a fade length, and then use your mouse or drawing tablet to draw a line that will progressively get smaller as you draw...just keep drawing until the line fades out. Its a neat little trick.

08-11-2008, 11:43 AM
Just found out that you can also go to file->export->Paths to illustrator and it creates an illustrator .ai file which is really cool if you want any of the paths you make to be able to be used in illustrator...or better yet for me I found that 3d studio will import .ai files as splines.

You can do some pretty neat stuff with paths actually...for example if you use one of the mask painting tools to paint up a nice mask you can go to the paths tab and to the left of the new path tool is a tool called "Make Work Path from Selection" which turns your mask into a path. Which you can then export to illustrator or stroke the path or whatever you need to do.

Hope this helps somebody.

08-11-2008, 01:12 PM
Arcana - you've got unbelievable graphic skills, and very diverse in your style. I beg you to please join our community forums over at conquerclub.com and create a map for us.

You would be one of the few elite, and thousands of people would be able to play on your maps. :)

08-11-2008, 01:26 PM
Arcana is smart. He can make us go!:twisted:

Steel General
08-11-2008, 01:48 PM
Arcana is smart. He can make us go!:twisted:

LOL - I'd of spit out my drink if I had one, hadn't heard that in a long, long, time.

08-11-2008, 09:28 PM
Thanks! I wish I had time to join another website and participate...I'll take a look, but don't expect much...I've got my hands full with running this website, running/planning my D&D campaign and the world its set in...and my band...along with my full time job that I absolutely love.

12-29-2008, 04:00 PM
Thank you Arcana! This will help me in my mapping endeavors greatly...much appreciated!

12-30-2008, 10:33 AM
glad to see this one popping back up ;) you're welcome!

01-03-2009, 09:26 PM
Hey Arcana, I just tried this out using Photoshop 7 (hey, I use what I have!) and it worked perfect, no hitches. Just giving you a point of reference.

And awesome tutorial, it looks really good.

01-03-2009, 10:05 PM
While I tend to be one for old fashioned, hand drawn rivers, this tutorial is just plain awesome (and rep worthy). On that note, the last little trick for hand drawn stuff with fade is very useful. Wonderful job overall. Just a quick question, how did you get that texture for your ocean?

01-12-2009, 01:56 PM
For the ocean texture, I took the output from fractal terrains and masked off the ocean area. I made a copy of the water just in case, and ran a spatter filter, then an ocean ripple filter. You can try then overlaying it or some other layer blend mode on top of the original water if you want to make it more subtle.

03-14-2010, 12:26 AM
It's the simple things like this tut that can really help folks out... thanks, Arcana.