Texturing: Part 3 – The Big Picture

Last week I talked about photo-manipulating textures and the week before I talked about finding images to work with. This week I’m going to talk about the bigger picture: design. Or how to integrate textures into your work, whether two or three dimensional.


Sometimes a simple texture is better than a complex one.


I’ve talked before about the dangers of tunnel vision while designing. A texture might look beautiful close-up the entire time you’re working on it, only to wrap it on a 3D object or slide it beneath some text to find it’s too much. If you can’t focus on the content on a page design, or if every rock and brick in a game is screaming, “Look how textury I am!” you’ve overdone it. Every pixel should not be screaming for attention.

For example, I remember when the game Oblivion came out, starting a fad among modders to make everything look mucho crinkly because somehow people thought more texturerered equals bettererer. That game was fuggin ugly, and part of that had to do with everything looking like someone left the plastic wrap on before baking it in an oven – that and the weird potato people.

Also, too-interesting patterns will more likely give away your tiling textures for what they are.


You should aim for blending in, but not completely.


It’s ok to reuse textures, using one or two to unify a larger set of elements. If you’re designing an interior (this applies to real-life interiors as well), you don’t want your furniture to visually disappear into the floor and walls. Neither do you want everything to be so horribly mismatched it looks like your blind great-aunt Agatha when nuts at a jumble sale.

The same applies to 2D design. In a good layout, the important elements have to stand out against the background. As mentioned above, you don’t want your texture fighting with every other element on the page. It’s there to add a subtle pattern, not an overbearing one.


If a layer effect is noticeable, you did it wrong.


Remember the first time you got a photo editor and had to try out all the tools, making a total psychedelic mess? Come on, I’m sure we’ve all done this. Mucking around with a new toy is fun and all, but when it comes to making something you actually want people too see, leave that stuff out of the portfolio.

Probably the worst, and yet most overlooked offender: drop shadows. Drop shadows are not your friend, nor fake embossing, nor lens flares, nor rainbow gradients and etc. Most pre-made effects bundled with photo editors are as hokey and overused as Comic Sans. This is why pro designers and photographers make their own or buy better ones. A drop shadow should only be used to make text stand out against a background. More often than not, the need for a drop shadow indicates a bigger design problem. If you need a ginormous drop shadow to make your text readable, you need to either change the type, tone down the background, or use a text box to block it out (especially for whole paragraphs).


Use real objects or photos for reference and scrutinize them for details.


If you’re going for mimesis, look up how an object made, how it functions, and how it wears out. For example, to recreate gilding on a book, notice how it looks when it wears. Reproducing that it will add an extra layer of verisimilitude.

(Just for Alicia) To recreate stained glass, studying how it’s made, the different techniques, and when they’re employed will help you make a more realistic image. The stained glass in church windows, for example, use lead rather than copper foil because lead is stronger for larger and longer-lasting applications. You’ll only find beads of solder between each joint, where the lead strips meet. For the most part, they’re relying on snugness of the lead fit to hold in the glass.

3D models, as I’ve mentioned before, look more realistic when they appear used, so you have to examine objects that have been used for how they wear. If you’re making a model of a hammer and your only references are brand new shiny tools from an online hardware catalogue, it may look fantastic as you’re recreating it in a 3D program, but then you stick it in a game and sticks out like the sore thumb you can’t literally hit with it.

Studying how something is made is also helpful. I never noticed how stupid putting rivets on a video game barrel was until I looked up barrel making (while making my own video game barrel) and noticing that barrels never have rivets. Barrels are made by carefully cutting the wood into a perfectly fitting staves and then warping them with water and heat while bound in half their hoops. Rivets never come into the equation, because all that would do is make them leak.

Last of all, consider how anachronistic your objects and textures are in the setting they’re intended for. Some anachronism is inevitable in a fantasy setting, because it’s hard to imagine a world without everything we take for granted. But adding fluffy pink towels to a world where dye is hard to come by and fabric softeners are unheard of is silly. As is industrial-age printing on designer labels for every amenity. Keep in mind a world where soap is just soap – there’s no supermarket where you can buy different kinds in fancy packaging. Someone rendered fat and stirred in lye in a disgusting old pot in a farmhouse somewhere. Everything we consider an amenity now was a luxury then.

That wraps up my series on texturing, for now anyway. Let me know if there’s something you think I missed.

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Sarah Dimento

The only thing interesting about me is my interest in interesting things – and sometimes I make cool shit.

2 thoughts to “Texturing: Part 3 – The Big Picture”

  1. Hey, thanks!

    I’m going to look up some pages where artists will make you a stained-glass window for your bathroom, or in my case, for the space in the loft in your tiny house (bucket list) over the front door.

    Which makes me think that it would be really neat to have my logo done up that way, if the writing ever makes enough money to buy said tiny house.

    I appreciate the advice.

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