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Thread: Mapping in Paint.NET - a basic tutorial

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  1. #1
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    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:

    Intro
    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)
    Plugins
    Threshold
    Alpha Mask
    Engrave/Emboss
    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.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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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 ¼ 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.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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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.
    Duplicate.
    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.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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    Attached Images Attached Images  
    Last edited by PeaceHeather; 04-14-2009 at 03:55 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.]
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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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.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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