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Tools: Getting Texturized

Tools: Getting Texturized

Originally Published February 2009

In web graphics, grunge is in. Grunge and highly textured designs are probably some sort of reaction against the highly-polished, shiny plastic Web 2.0 look. Retro’s in again, too, no doubt for the same reason. To achieve those realistically worn-out backgrounds, designers rely upon the growing collections of Photoshop brushes available on the web.

ic:A typical collection of grunge brushes for Photoshop.

These brushes are really images applied much like you would a rubber stamp. Complex and natural-looking textures can be achieved by slowly building up these images, using low opacity and lots of layers. There’s a real art to it, and it can be very time-consuming. Here’s a few links to some good brush collections:

If you’re interested in creating textures, though, don’t overlook a relatively new and very powerful tool, Filter Forge. Filters typically run as plugins inside Photoshop, or come bundled with it, such as the Artistic Filters, or Blur and Sharpen. These take an existing image and modify it, so that it looks like stained glass or a woodcut, perhaps. But Filter Forge is capable of much more. Filter Forge runs as a Photoshop plugin and as a stand-alone application. It will generate, from nothing, images, textures, and patterns that rival photographs. Here’s a quick tutorial that’ll show you Filter Forge in action. And here are some images produced by Filter Forge. No photographs were involved here.

ic:Created by a member of the Filter Forge user community, this image was created completely inside of Filter Forge with no photographic input.
Created by a member of the Filter Forge user community, this image was created completely inside of Filter Forge with no photographic input.
ic:A realistic wooden weave created in Filter Forge.
ic:This was created by a filter, though you'd never know it. There's nothing mechanical about it at all.

Filter Forge comes with free access to nearly 6000 filters available for download. Most likely, whatever texture you’re looking for is here. If not, you can modify (using the Professional version) any existing filter, to tweak it to fit your needs. This brings us to the “but” part. Yes, it’s a wonderful, exciting, powerful program, BUT it has a learning curve that there’s no getting around. Filter Forge uses a node-based editor, and it’s very well designed. You won’t need to write one line of code. But there are over 80 different components that can be combined in countless ways, and your filter can quickly become very complex. Here’s what one looks like:

ic:A section of a complex filter definition inside of Filter Forge. Yikes!

Before you run screaming out of the room, let me just point out that you most certainly don’t need to know how to create one of these Rube Goldberg monsters from scratch just to use Filter Forge. Far from it. As I said, there are close to 6000 filters already out there, available for use. Some will have a few user-modifiable parameters, and even a n00b such as myself figured that part out quickly. But if you’re interested in becoming a filter master, help is at hand. In fact, it’s the Help system, which is quite good. There’s also a terrific user community forum, as well as a how-to manual, in the form of a wiki. Node-based editors are becoming the norm, and this one is about the nicest I’ve seen. Each node has a preview thumbnail, so you get instant feedback as you add each new node and make adjustments. The alternative is to maintain a huge library of photographs of every conceivable surface and pattern. Personally, I’d rather spend hours up front learning this tool rather than hours every time I need to hunt down a specific texture.

For 3D modelers, Filter Forge is a dream come true. It creates seamless textures with a single mouse click. The professional version creates the following map types for any texture: bump, normal, specular strength, specular exponent, diffuse, metallic, and alpha. The same filter can be used to generate any resolution, since filters are procedural.



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