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Thread: Mapping in Paint.NET - a basic tutorial

  1. #1
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    Indiana, the bipolar state

    Tutorial Mapping in Paint.NET - a basic tutorial

    Hello all,
    Sorry for the delays, but this took quite a while to write, check, adjust, and so forth. Without further ado:

    I consider this to be a basic tutorial, mainly because I'm a novice player-arounder-with-mapping, but I've really enjoyed the results I've gotten from this technique. I've blatantly ripped – ahem, I mean, admiringly learned from and incorporated – techniques found on the forums, especially the one regarding making Not-So-Random-Coastlines, as well as the color palette from the Artistic Regional Map.

    About the Tweak Alerts
    As I've been writing, I've found places where it might be fun to experiment and do something a little differently than what I've described. I haven't yet tried very many of these "tweaks" and can't guarantee you'll get anything pretty. On the other hand, I can't guarantee something like that even if you do follow my steps, as I'm fairly sure I've mostly been getting lucky up till now.

    Stage 0 – Seriously, people
    This tutorial is written for use with the current version of Paint.NET, which as of this writing is v. 3.36. Several of the effects I'm using are "plugins" created by users and do not come standard with the basic PDN download. You're certainly welcome to translate this tut to fit your own software, heaven knows I do that all the time, but if you want to use the instructions as written, you kinda need to have the appropriate toys to play with.

    Download the following:
    Paint.NET v. 3.36 (older versions are not supported and plugins may not work)
    Alpha Mask
    Gradient Mapping
    Also, read this thread for instructions on how to install the effects. It's pretty easy.

  2. #2
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    Tutorial Stage 1

    Stage 1 – Setup

    Open Paint.NET and make sure you have all four sub-windows open: Tools, Colors, Layers, and History (F5, F6, F7, F

    Open tut palette.png, blatantly stolen from this tutorial by RobA

    In the tools window, select Color picker
    Select a blob from tut palette.png - you can safely ignore the gradients
    Go to colors window – the primary color should match the blob you selected
    Click "add to palette" (little icon with the plus sign, along bottom of window)
    Click on the two rows of color buttons along the bottom to add
    Repeat for all Blues, Greens, and Browns – the remaining four colors are optional and are not used in this tutorial, and we'll be making our own gradients.
    I arranged my palette to look like this so my eyes wouldn't bleed. For the gaps, just select white as your color, and add it to the palette repeatedly. Obviously this is optional and a matter of personal taste.

    Close palette.png
    Open New
    The default size for a new window, at least on my machine, is 800 x 600, 96 dpi – adjust as you wish; my machine is a little slow so I tend to just go with the defaults
    Make sure your primary color is black and your secondary is white.
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  3. #3
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    Tutorial Stage 2, with Interlude

    Stage 2 – Create your layers
    Effects > Render > Clouds
    Go for a large size and high roughness – size 450 on up to 700 (the default is 250) gives good results for larger landmasses and roughness .75 gives nice edges for coastlines and such.
    Duplicate this layer
    On the new layer:
    Adjustments > Levels
    The levels are marked 0 (black) to 255 (white)
    Adjust the black output from 0 up to about 64 or lower. This is Ό of 255 and should give you four usable layers, which is all we need for this tutorial.
    [TWEAK ALERT: Try only changing the level only slightly, say to 10 or so, and see what happens. You might end up with more layers to work with, but I haven't tried it yet to see.]
    Repeat the above steps, duplicate and level adjust, as many times as you want.
    Once you have established your settings in the Levels dialogue, you won't have to reset them – just hit Adjustments > Levels > OK.
    Some of the lighter layers will prove to be unusable, but you will be able to weed those out in the next stage.

    Interlude – Which layers to use?

    At this point, you have a choice to make, and from what results I've been able to get so far, either one will give good results. For an overview, what we will be doing in the next stages is taking each land layer and making it resemble a specific elevation on the overall map. We do this by giving it texture to resemble height, masking some of it off to distinguish it from the other land layers, and then coloring it. We'll do the same thing to the ocean layer, apart from the masking which operates a little differently.

    So what's the choice, you're asking me. Well. The original way I had written these directions, when you complete Stage 2, you end up with four distinct layers, then you use each one to create your sea, low lands and plains, hills and mountains, and snowy peaks. But I discovered that the way I was making my maps actually involved using the sea layer to create both the ocean and my lowlands – and then, as far as I can tell, I ended up discarding one of the other three layers. The result of doing this would give me larger landmasses overall (because I'm starting with a lower "elevation", as it were), and correspondingly smaller, more separate oceans. Then, depending on which layer I actually discard, I end up with different proportions of peaks and highlands, compared to the lowlands.

    Is this making any sense? Would it help to say that instead of using layers ABCD, I'm using AA, and then either BC, BD, or CD to make my final image?

    Well, even if that doesn't make sense, I've either discovered a mistake I'd been making, or a massive Tweak Alert for people to play with. Since this is my tutorial, I'm going to make myself sound wise and declare that I've just given you a whole new set of possibilities to consider. Aren't I great that way?

    Whichever option you decide to go with is up to you; at this point, you should either duplicate the bottom layer, or not (this only works for the darkest layer). Then label four of the layers from darkest to lightest with something like Ocean, Lowland, Highland, and Peaks. Or you can call them Blue, Green, Brown and Gray, or One, Two, Three, and Four. Whatever. Call them John, Paul, George, and Ringo if you want to.

    Whatever you call them, if you decide to keep a fifth layer for experimenting, be sure to label it too. We won't do any coloring until Stage 4, so you'll be able to hold off on making your final decisions until then.

    Right, back to the instructions.
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  4. #4
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    Post Stage 3

    Stage 3 – Texture and trim to size

    Go back to the Land layer – one of the darker sets of clouds, whichever one you picked. We're not starting with the ocean because it operates differently.
    Duplicate it TWICE, so you have a total of three identical layers.
    In the layers window, hide (uncheck) everything except these three.
    Leave the bottom one alone for now. We'll be using it for color later.
    On the second one, run Effects > Stylize > Engrave/Emboss.
    I generally prefer to emboss at 5 pixels width, but that's a matter of taste – also, a fun area for a Tweak Alert. Five pixels gives you nice height distinctions, but maybe you want to make your lowlands more smooth, say with a 2 or 3 pixel Emboss, then emphasize your higher elevations with the 5-pixel. Up to you.
    Rename this layer to Land Texture.
    On the third layer:
    Run Effects > Color > Threshold, with the default settings.
    Run Effects > Alpha Mask
    Rename to Land Mask.
    Move one of the mask layers down so that it is between the clouds (land) and the embossed layer (land texture). From top to bottom, you should have Land Mask, Land Texture, Land Mask, and Land.
    Select the top Land Mask, and Merge Down onto the land texture.
    Select the other Land Mask, and Merge Down onto the land. You should now have two layers, one called Land Texture, and the other one called Land.

    Our masks work by giving you a transparent area and an opaque white area. Once our layers are merged, we don't need the white anymore, and we really don't want it to keep our other layers from showing through, so let's fix that.
    From the tools window, change to Magic Wand, and set the tolerance to 0.
    Select anywhere in the white part of the image; if there are multiple areas, you can hold down the CTRL key to get them all. Alternately, you can set the mode to "Global" and get everything with one click.
    For another Tweak Alert, and this can be fun, you can leave a few of these white areas, especially the ones inside landmasses, to serve as plains later on. Trust me.
    Hit "Delete".
    Behold, grayscale embossed landmasses – nifty!
    Repeat on your other merged layer.
    Hide these layers.

    Go to the next cloud layer and repeat the above steps:
    Make it visible.
    Duplicate twice for a set of three
    Emboss the middle one, and label it Texture
    Threshold, then Alpha Mask on the top one, and label it Mask
    Duplicate the mask and move one of them down
    Merge the masks down, one onto the texture and one onto the clouds
    Magic Wand, select and remove the white areas
    Hide these layers and move on to the next.
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    Last edited by PeaceHeather; 04-14-2009 at 02:55 PM.

  5. #5
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    Post Stage 3 examples

    With each successive set of layers, running Threshold will produce smaller and smaller black areas. You will reach a point where, when you run Threshold, you only get a blank white layer. That's okay, it just means that you've hit the upper limit of your usable layers, and since we're really only going to want four layers anyway (at least, for this tutorial), that's not a problem. Just delete any layer that gives you a totally white threshold, and get ready for the next stage. In fact, if you want to, you can start with your brightest layers, run Threshold, and delete them if they come up white. As soon as you get a usable layer, Undo Threshold, and then go back to the steps as I've described them.

    [TWEAK ALERT: Try adjusting the threshold settings to be more forgiving, allowing larger black areas, and using those settings to create more than four layers. In theory this should give you more detail and subtlety between the different elevations.]
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  6. #6
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    Tutorial Stage 3.5 - ocean texture

    Stage 3.5 – Ocean texture
    Yeah, the ocean operates a little differently from the other layers. There are fewer steps in setting up the texture, mainly because we can't use any masking until later or the sea will look weird.

    Go back to the very bottom layer of clouds, and hide everything else. (Even if you're experimenting with what layers to use, your ocean has to be made from the lowest "elevation" layer.)
    Duplicate once only – we're not making a mask yet – and ignore the bottom layer.
    On this second layer, Effects > Stylize > Engrave/Emboss
    I like to keep the same pixel width as I use in the land, and while I usually use Emboss as I did on the land, I occasionally find that Engraving the sea, looks better. Try it both ways to see which you like. You could also adjust the pixel width to diminish the differences in ocean depth and give a smoother, more "surface"-like appearance.
    In the layers window, select Layer Properties. Change the Blend Mode to Overlay.
    Hide Layer.
    For the impatient: Since so much of what you're doing is repeated on each layer, you could choose to lump each action together: duplicate everything, rename everything, run the Emboss on everything, run the Threshold and Alpha Mask on everything, and then merge everything. The Repeat Effect command, CTRL-F, would become your friend for quite a lot of these steps.
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  7. #7
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    Tutorial Stage 4, with Interlude

    Stage 4 – Colors, colors, colors

    Coloring in the layers is a blast, but it is slightly more involved than the previous stages. PDN's gradient mapping plugin lets you select and blend the colors seamlessly on each layer, but it needs to be reset each time for the next set of colors. Most of this involves a dance of right-clicking and left-clicking, and is easier to do than it is to explain.

    There is also a bit of selecting and inverting, which, if you're a beginner, sounds more intimidating than it really is. All you're doing is taking something that would be difficult to select or outline or whatever, and selecting the space around it instead. Then, you "invert" the selection, and your complicated shape is selected, and you can do whatever you want with it and – this is the best part – not affect the space outside the selection. This will be important when we're coloring things, and only want to color the land and not the whole bloody canvas.

    Interlude – Decisions, decisions

    This interlude is specifically for those of you who decided to duplicate your bottom layer and use it as both ocean and land. You don't have to worry about the choices for all of your layers just yet, but you do need to decide whether you're going to keep that duplicate layer for your lowlands. When we color our ocean, the shallowest parts will have the lightest color (duh), and unless we make an adjustment to the ocean layer, the lightest colors will actually end up hidden under our landmass. So we need to know which land layer will rest at "sea level".
    Select the ocean layer, but not the ocean texture, so that you can only see clouds.
    Select one of the land texture layers, so you can see embossed land on a smooth ocean.
    Switch back and forth between the texture layers of the two lowest "elevations" and see which one you like best.
    Label your favorite "Land Texture", label its corresponding cloud layer Land, and pause for a moment to feel godlike in your world-building genius.

    Now that we've made that decision, we can get back to coloring things in. The most important part of using the gradient map is making sure that you're selecting your landmasses beforehand, so you only color your selection rather than applying the gradient to the entire layer.

    First, a bit of setup for the ocean, because of course it doesn't operate the same as the land layers:
    Go to the Land layer.
    Magic Wand (tolerance is still 0, right?)
    Select anywhere in the clear areas
    Hit CTRL-I to invert the selection
    In the layers window:
    Hide the Land Layer
    Create New Layer; select it if PDN hasn't done so for you
    In the tools window, click Flood Fill
    In the colors window, switch to white
    On the new layer:
    Fill Mode "Global"
    Fill in the selection
    Label this layer Blur, and hide it. We'll come back to it later.
    If necessary (ie, if the little marching ants are gone), go back to the Land Layer and do the Magic Wand, Select, Invert thing again.
    On the Ocean layer
    Hit the Delete key. You should now see a layer of clouds with cutouts where the landmasses are supposed to go.
    Repeat the select, invert, delete thing on the Ocean Texture layer.
    Hit ESC to cancel the selection.
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    Last edited by PeaceHeather; 04-14-2009 at 03:17 PM.

  8. #8
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    Tutorial Stage 4 continued

    And now, finally, we can get to work coloring the ocean.
    Hide everything except the ocean layer. (Once you get the hang of it, this becomes optional)
    Select the cutouts on the ocean, then invert the selection (CTRL-I).
    Go to Adjustments > Gradient Mapping
    Immediately, the default hideous black to red to white gradient will be applied. Right click on the darkest color, and select "Change Color". The color wheel will pop up, including your palette colors as added way back in the beginning of this tut.
    Select the darkest shade of blue and click OK.
    Right-click the gradient bar and select Add Color, and add the other three shades of blue to the gradient, working from dark to light. (You can either remove or change the middle shade of red.)
    Leave white as the brightest color.
    Now for the fun part. Each of these colors (except the ends) is on a slider, and you can tweak the look of your entire ocean just by shifting them around. You can also check the Reverse Colors box and see what the gradient looks like from the opposite direction; I often prefer to do this with the ocean because it puts my darkest shades out where the "deepest" water ought to be. I also take my continental shelf into consideration, and try to have a decent light colored band around each landmass.
    When you're happy, click OK.
    Unhide the Ocean texture layer and make sure its blend mode is set to Overlay. Feel free to experiment with different blend styles, opacity, and ordering of layers (texture on top, or under the color, etc.).
    When you're happy, you can hide the ocean layers, or leave them visible, and watch your world build itself up layer by layer.
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  9. #9
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    Tutorial Stage 4 conclusion

    Go to the land layer.
    With the magic wand, select in the clear area, then CTRL-I to invert the selection.
    Go to Adjustments > Gradient Mapping.
    The ocean gradient will apply itself to your land. Don't panic. Just right click each slider, select Change Color, and pick a green shade from your palette.
    With the ocean, we went ahead and kept white as our brightest color, plus our four blues for a total of five shades. With the ground we're not going to do that; eliminate one of the sliders in the middle, and change the white to your lightest green shade.
    As before, move the sliders around to find a color scheme that you like, then click OK.
    Unhide the land texture layer, set its blend mode to Overlay, and move on.
    The Highland layer works exactly the same:
    Go to Layer
    Select and Invert
    Gradient Map
    Change the colors to your brown range
    Adjust to taste
    Click OK
    Unhide the texture, set to Overlay.
    The Mountain layer is almost the same, but not quite. Instead of using four colors, we're only going to use two or three (your choice). The dark end of the gradient is 50% gray, and the light end is white. If you choose to add a third color, use 25% gray, and move that slider to adjust the look of your peaks. Occasionally, I'll add an additional color and make my bottom 75% gray, followed by 50%, 25%, and white.

    How awesome is that?
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  10. #10
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    Tutorial Stage 5, and conclusion

    Stage 5 – Finishing touches

    I haven't included how-to images in this part of the tutorial, because I cover several options, and because if you wanted, you could stop after the Blur layer is done, and probably be happy.

    Go to your Blur layer, somewhere down among your ocean layers.
    Effects > Blur > Gaussian Blur, anywhere between 20 and 50 pixels wide.
    This will further lighten the water nearest your coast and kind of give the impression of breaking waves or spray, or whatever.
    Move this layer around, see whether you like it above the texture or between it and the color layers.
    Go to the Ocean layer
    Add Noise (optional)
    Color saturation can be anywhere between the default and 0; I usually prefer 0.
    Coverage at the default 100.
    Intensity – the default is 64 but I usually prefer something less than that. You're just looking to soften the layer and make it look a little less like a solid and more fluid.
    Click OK.
    Effects > Blur > Motion Blur
    The default angle is 25 degrees; I usually prefer something around -30.
    The default distance is 10; I prefer anything from 3 to 7 at most.
    Click OK
    Another option is to go to the ocean texture layer, and use the plugin Effects > Distort > Crystallize, with a setting around 5. This gives a really nice dappled effect, and with a slight blur applied, the water appears much softer.
    Go to the Land Texture layer, and adjust the opacity.
    The overlay blend mode gives you good texturing but can do odd things to your land colors; making the texture a little more transparent doesn't hurt the embossing, but does a world of good to your color scheme.
    Go to the land layer
    Play with various blurs and blend modes to see if there is anything you like. I'm fond of a blend mode of Multiply, and then adjusting the opacity down until I'm happy. Sometimes' I'll also add a slight Gaussian blur to this layer, but it depends on the landmasses to a large extent..
    Done! Well, mostly.

    Unfinished business
    I still don’t have any rivers, labels, place-names, or any of that, but at the same time, dang this looks nifty. If you really want to curl your toes, get Shape3D along with the other plugins I recommended at the beginning of this tutorial, and use it to map this image onto a sphere – instant planet, just add atmosphere.

    Hope you all enjoyed.
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