The Making of a Texture Series – Part 1

I’ve been meaning to take a Country Tour for a while. In the area where I live, the houses, landscape, and other various farm-related buildings make up a veritable treasure-trove of rustic textures. I personally can never get enough wood textures and other vintage, distressed backgrounds for my designs. I’ve also discovered, with my other texture collections, that the process of creating a texture from a three-dimensional item is a whole lot of fun, start to finish. It seems that in a fairly short amount of time, I can make something very useful for design projects. The effort that goes into it is hands-on, adventurous, and rewarding. Today I’ll be re-exploring my texture-making process, and you’re invited along for the ride. Please forgive the technical geekery. I hope my process gives you a few ideas!


  • Part 1 of this series will cover the scanning process and photography process involved in my texture-making adventure.
  • Part 2 of this series will cover post-processing in Photoshop. (coming soon!)
  • Part 3 of this series will show you how to use Photoshop to completely alter the look of your new textures. (coming soon!)

For A Country Tour, I began my adventure around my own house with a tripod and camera. Walking through the house and outside on the property, I was able to find lots of interesting examples of wood, concrete, stone, and other old, grungy surfaces. Here are a few before/after scenarios, outlining a brief process on each one:

IMG_1497
The scene: If at first you don’t have much success with the floor and the four walls around you, look up! This is an old piece of siding being stored in the rafters of a garage.
Painted Wood
The result, with post-processing
For this texture, I used my camera/tripod. Positioning the tripod head so that the camera faced up at the board, I took 3 photos and stitched them together in Photoshop. This texture is included in Sign Painter’s Studio, a smart PSD by Ian from Vintage Design Co.
IMG_1498
The scene: a wall in a garage.
BarnA1
The result, after post-processing.
For this texture, I used my camera/tripod. Since it’s a fairly dark environment, I opened up the aperture and the camera chose a long shutter speed (I used Av mode as I usually do.) Pretty straightforward: point, focus, shoot, and I got two textures out of it. There was minimal processing involved in Photoshop as well. This texture is included in A Country Tour Vol 1: The Barnyard, my latest texture collection on Creative Market.
IMG_1503
The scene: an old stairway that could use a bit of love. It got some. In fact, both the wooden stairs and the peeling yellow paint made excellent textures.
DistressedWood4
The result: 1:30-2:00 hours of post-processing later…
For this texture, I used my scanner. The electrical outlet in this case was in a completely different room but was close enough that I didn’t have to bring out a long extension cord. A total of fifteen scans were stitched together in Photoshop to create this texture, and it was easily one of the most time-consuming textures I’ve made. Each of the five steps I scanned required three different shots, which were stitched together. Then, each step was combined in a separate Photoshop document to create the final texture. The resulting PSD was quite ridiculous: it weighs in at 1.04 GB and is 15,912 × 10,800 px at 400dpi. A more reasonable size of this texture is included in Sign Painter’s Studio, a smart PSD by Ian from Vintage Design Co.

Scanner or Camera?

Scanner

As you can see, for some textures, I use my scanner, a somewhat old Epson Perfection V30. Here is an example of a typical scanning setup:

IMG_1506
The setup includes a surge protector, which in this case doubles as an extension cord, the power cord to the scanner, the scanner, the USB cable, and my laptop. I’ll discuss the drawbacks of this particular situation below.

Mostly, I prefer to use a scanner to create textures, as it has these benefits:

  • I can scan at very high resolution (I usually scan at 600dpi, but release product files at 400dpi. …Oops, you just found out about my 600 dpi stash!)
  • If I want, I can scan at 16-bit. However, since the files turn out so extremely large, I usually scan at 8-bit.
  • I can choose from a number of file formats, including PNG, PDF, JPG, etc
  • It captures everything within its approximate 9 x 11 inch area. Everything. The detail is amazing.
  • The lighting is always perfect, even if for some reason I would need to scan in the dead of winter on a moonless night. (Near an electrical outlet, of course.)
  • I usually don’t have to worry about a flat surface warping as it often does when snapping a photo.

However, there are several drawbacks to using a scanner:

  • There’s not always an electrical outlet.
  • If there is an electrical outlet, I’m lugging around the scanner, a number of cords, and my laptop. My laptop doesn’t have the best battery life, so there’s another cord. Plus, length of cords doesn’t always allow me to get close enough to the desired surface, so sometimes an extension cord is also necessary. So, basically, a tangle of wires. Oh, for a wire-free scanning operation.
  • Scanning a surface gives me a detailed extreme close-up of a roughly 9 x 11 area, complete with dust specs and stray fibers, etc. Sometimes this is highly desirable, but when there’s a 50-foot area I see that I like, a camera does a better job of capturing the whole area.
  • Because of a small ledge at the edge of the glass on my scanner, I can’t always lay the scanner completely flat on the ground. As a result, I have to do some extra color correction in Photoshop. Depending on the texture, this may or may not be worth dealing with.

Camera

For some textures, I use my camera, a somewhat old Canon Rebel T1i with my trusty 50mm lens, on a very trusty, very old Bogen tripod. I don’t have the latest and greatest equipment, but it has served me well so far.

IMG_1510
The Setup: the camera on the tripod. No big deal.

For many of the textures, it is necessary to use my camera and tripod. I consider a tripod completely essential for these reasons:

  • I can shoot in low light, with a slow shutter speed, a low ISO, and any aperture I want. Here’s a great article with some more tips on shooting in low light.
  • I don’t have to worry about camera shake, even in optimal lighting conditions, and I can get the clearest focus. Using a 2-second timer and/or my camera remote virtually eliminates this problem as well.
  • I can use the level on my tripod to make sure everything is lined up. It’s really a much more precise setup.

Using a camera to make textures has these benefits:

  • A camera can capture a large area. I can zoom in as much or as little as I want. Using a fixed-focus lens, as I often do, helps the photographer burn a few calories while “zooming.”
  • A camera and tripod setup is quite portable, without the added stress of extension cords or tangled wires.
  • With my 15 MP I usually get pretty high-quality files around 4752 × 3168 at 300 DPI, and I can shoot in RAW format.

However, the camera/tripod setup does have these drawbacks:

  • Sometimes you just don’t fit into a small area. In tight spaces, a tall tripod becomes rather cumbersome.
  • It’s hard to position the camera completely perpendicular to the area I want to capture. As a result, images taken with a camera sometimes turn out slightly skewed or warped, or in focus in one corner, out of focus in the other. Some of this is easily fixable in Photoshop, and sometimes the problem can be avoided by adjusting the aperture.
  • Shooting in mid-low light is usually not much of a problem if you know a bit about shutter speed and aperture, but getting a quality image in low-no light is difficult at best.

Determining what setup is best depends on the texture I create. For example, on our back deck, a study of weathered wood needing a fresh coat of paint, I experimented with both. Here’s what happened what I used my scanner:

Wood 3
Unprocessed file, saved for web

Ouch. The silly little ledge on the scanner cast a shadow on the upper half of the image- so bad that the image was almost unusable. Also, I was only able to capture a small area of the delightfully weathered wood. It’s like looking through a magnifying glass. I decided to try the camera setup instead:

IMG_4731
Unprocessed file, saved for web

Except for a bit of the background showing through, I was able to come up with a usable file that was easy to work with.

Thanks for following along! Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll outline my post-processing in Photoshop.

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