View Full Version : RRM - Relatively Realistic Mountains using Photoshop

03-23-2009, 08:38 AM
This is a tutorial on how to make mountains that look like these:


I use photoshop, so it will naturally be done in photoshop. I do not know how it could be replicated in another program but if someone has suggestions I am sure they would be appreciated by those who use others!

STEP 1: Lets assume that you have a landmass. Lets assume that it's all green, and looking something like this:

STEP 2: Create a new layer. Call this layer "Mountains" or something like it. In this layer, you want to paint a good "ground" for mountains to be built on. For example, if you want rocky granite mountains in the end, you would paint it gray while if you want sandstone or more vegetation-covered mountains, you would paint it brown. Use a rather rough, uneven brush for this to make sure that it blends well with the grass region.

STEP 3: Paint the high regions of the mountains in a lighter color. These will be the areas where your mountainpeaks will be highest. This can also be done after you paint the mountain peaks, adapting them to how it turns out. Paint these in the same layer.

STEP 4: Add some texture with "Pattern overlay", something resembling stone or mountains.

With these four things done, you should have a map that looks something like this, only better ( Since I haven't put any grass textures or anything on there ) The next part of the tutorial will be continued in the next post.

03-23-2009, 08:57 AM
STEP 5: With your base mountain texture in place, you will now go on and add another layer. I usually call this "Mountainpeaks". Add this above the mountain layer.

STEP 6: Set your brush size to 1 for a start. Just one tiny pixel. Set the opacity to 20% and the flow to 20% or some low number like that.

STEP 7: Add a "Bevel and Emboss" effect to the mountainpeaks layer. Set this to "Emboss", "Chisel Soft" and a size of around 150-200 pixels, depending on how high your highest mountains should be. Set the shadows to 90% and lights to around 30% in the shading. I also added 1 pixel of "soften" for this map, depending on how.. well, soft and round you want the mountains. Note that the 1 pixel of "soften" makes a huge difference. If you want the maps to be more craggy or pointy, remove it and you will see an immediate effect on the end result.

STEP 8: Add a Texture effect to Bevel and Emboss and adjust to a level where it feels good. For this map, I used "Black Marble" at 75% scale, 2% depth.

STEP 9: Start painting. You will notice that as you paint, if you paint several times over one location, mountainpeaks will start to rise in that place. The thinner or less visible your line is, the smaller the mountains. Experiment with different brushes, different flow strength and such to get the increase of mountain altitude to a point where you like it.

It should look something like this when you are done:

03-23-2009, 09:56 AM
I just tried this out and this is a nice technique. It's fairly quick and versatile too, which is always something I look for.

03-23-2009, 10:06 AM
It is very easy to adapt - if you need another mountainrange, or modify one some, it can be done in two seconds. You don't have to manipulate the underlying world or anything like that to change the terrain. Glad you liked it!

03-23-2009, 11:34 AM
This is, of course, just a simpler and faster variant of the Raising Mountains tutorial written about photoshop further down, but still with it's own distinct style. I think it works well with larger maps, where you do not need individual levels on each mountain or mountainrange.

03-23-2009, 02:34 PM
Thank you very much for the tutorial!

I do, however, have some questions, if you don't mind helping out a photoshop newb :)

Q) I'm afraid I don't understand step 4 at all. Are you talking about the bush mode being in Overlay, or adding a Overlay Texture layer style?

Q) In step 6 you say to use a brush size of 1 pixel. I can barely get any paint on the canvas (so to speak) with this setting. What am I not understanding here?

Q) I presume that you do the painting with the Pattern Stamp Tool and not the Brush, yes?

All my mountains seem to glom together into one big range, not a variety of circular rises, as yours seem to do. It's a very nice style, here's hoping I can figure it out :)

03-23-2009, 02:43 PM
To answer your questions:

1) - I meant the layer style.

2) - It's correct that you should use a brush of just 1 pixel. If you don't want that subtle a result at first, you can use 50% flow and opacity just to experiment with it - with such high amounts, you should immediately see how mountains appear whenever you paint a single pixel worth of color. If you use even more, or use a bigger brush, it gets a too heavy an effect - which is most likely the reason why your mountains glomp together, most likely - by using a single pixel with such a low flow, you paint the same area multiple times to create the different height of mountains. Make sure you don't have "Chisel hard" but "chisel soft" as well, on the layer style.

3) - I use the brush, not the stamp tool. The entire pattern which gives the mountains their color is made in the earlier step, the mountains are just single pixels that are embossed heavily to create the idea of a mountain - if you paint small black pixels on a green fields, the black pixels won't actually be seen but the "mountains" around them will be.

03-23-2009, 03:29 PM
Thank you so much for indulging me.

I had to set the blend mode to Overlay in the Overlay Texture layer style to get similar results to your first image. I presume that is what your setting is, instead of a Normal blend mode.

I definitely still seem to have a great misunderstanding when it comes to painting with the 1 pixel brush. I have included a screen snap so that maybe you can see what I'm doing wrong. I'm painting in the Peaks layer, above the Base layer, and even scrubbing back and forth. All I ever get is 1 pixel scratches. Here are my settings as well:

I just know I'm gonna be embarrassed once I figure out what I'm doing wrong. Thanx again!

03-23-2009, 04:00 PM
Your problem is that you have the mountaintop layer effect set to bevel instead of emboss. I was having the same problem till I noticed that. :)

Hello the forum, btw. First post here.

03-23-2009, 04:15 PM
I just knew it would be something simple, lol. Thank you so much, and welcome!

03-23-2009, 05:34 PM
Glad things were solved! =)

08-07-2009, 12:10 AM
Just wanted to ask what your settings were for the pattern overlay in step four.


12-18-2012, 01:08 PM
Thanks for this - helped a lot! :)