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Thread: Landmass Creation in Photoshop (or possibly other programs)

  1. #1

    Tutorial Landmass Creation in Photoshop (or possibly other programs)

    This tutorial will show you how to create landmasses in Photoshop. It is by no means the best technique or the worst technique. It is simply another technique that I find easy to do and produces nice results pretty quickly. I will add posts for each step that will have pictures to better demonstrate the process.

    For the purposes of the tutorial, I will be doing a small island, but you can scale up to as large as you want to go.

    What you will need:

    - Photoshop or software that has a lasso selection tool (allows you to draw selections)
    - A little time

    First, fire up your graphics program and create a new, blank canvas, take the Paint Bucket, and select a nice blue color for your ocean. Fill the canvas with the blue color.

    Second, create a new layer on top of your ocean and call it "Land". Select the layer.

    Next, get your lasso tool and draw the general outline of your continent or island in the "Land" layer. Some tips:
    - Draw as much up as down, as much left as right, and as much in as out. You will not want all of the peninsulas pointing one way, you don't want all the bays shaped the same way. If you mess up, de-select and go again.
    - You can make corrections to it later, you're just getting a rough shape for now. Make it as wild or simple as you want.
    - I always keep an open mind when drawing a new landmass; I don't think about the way I want anything shaped or placed when I am making the landmass itself; just go with the flow and don't worry about where cities/towns/nations will go yet.

    Once you have your selection made, pick a sandy-yellow color and fill with the paint bucket. This will turn your island yellow. (Note, you can skip this step if you don't want a beach outline on the map, or you can change it to brown or whatever color you want, really)

    Now, goto Select->Modify->Contract. It will popup a box asking how many pixels you would like to contract. I am using 8 pixels for mine. I would recommend using somewhere between 4 and 12 for most maps, unless you only want an outline or you want to accent vast sandy beaches. Hit OK to apply.

    You will now notice the selection has shrunk down to a little smaller than the continent. Now, select a nice light green color (for plains), or any color you want for your next terrain feature. Fill the current selection with the color.

    Now, you may notice a couple of strange places that were filled on your map. You can either touch it up by hand or undo/retry with different settings to see if you can generate the desired effect.

    The first two examples are shown below:
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by kittrellbj; 07-28-2009 at 06:30 AM.

  2. #2


    Continuing on, you can continue contracting your selection to make the additional inland features.

    Next, I'm going to add a forest towards the middle of the continent, so I will select a darker green and contract my selection by 24 pixels. (I want the plains to be wider).

    Select->Modify->Contract-> 24 pixels, Ok. Fill with dark green. Now, I will touch up the southeast part of the continent by hand since some of my forest looks strange and contrived. I'll go ahead and round out a couple of other places with a hard-edged brush (I used the 13-pixel brush at 100% opacity, 100% flow).

    You can see the different below:
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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  3. #3


    Continuing on, now I want some mountains in the middle of the island that conform, generally, to the shape of the rest of the island. So, with the magic wand, select the dark green forest. Contract it down (I used 24 pixels again). This time, I took a brush and filled in the selection that I wanted in the middle. (The paint bucket will fill everything selected).

    So, I colored in a dark grey color to represent the base of the mountains. Then, I contracted the selection just a few pixels each time and filled with a lighter grey color each time to represent change in elevation as you get closer to the top.

    When I got to the top, I decided to paint it orange, instantly turning it into a volcano. Then I took my dark green forest brush and touched up the mountain a little (rough and quick) to take a few of the strange edges off.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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  4. #4


    That's basically it. With this technique, you can generate entire planets in less than an hour. Populating it, of course, will take more time, but getting the basic layout is quite fast and easy with this method.

    Some optionals that may help:

    - Add each new terrain feature as a new layer. This will allow post-editing of the map for different terrain types to make them uniform and allow you to quickly "pretty them up" with layer styles, filters, and textures.
    - After you get the basic layout, hand-draw some features for variety, such as smaller outlying islands or rocky outcroppings. You can also use this technique in another layer for outlying islands to generate them, as well.
    Last edited by kittrellbj; 07-28-2009 at 06:30 AM.

  5. #5


    Thanks, while the style may not be to my liking I did learn about the select -> contract. (Yes I am still very new to PS and learning all the time)

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