Reefs elements Reefs elements

Map elements like mountains and reefs

Landscape Elements: Mountains, Hills, Fields, Cliffs...
As you undoubtedly noticed
you find a couple of useful elements in the Map Elements file. If not, read up on Understanding Textures, which - aside from textures - explains where to download the elements and what is all contained in this file. Santharian Map Elements are constantly expanded, so make sure to check back again later if you're interested in those.

If you've followed the Layer and Texture lessons closely, you've already learned the most important things, so no big surprises here. What you should do when you want to use map elements is to open the Map Elements file alongside your main map, and look for the kind of element you're interested in, e.g. mountains or hills. Ideally activate the white background layer, so that the elements clearly stick out. All you need to do now is to go to the layer with your desired element on it, encircle an item with the Lasso Tool (L) or the Rectangle Selection Tool (M) and copy (Ctrl+C) and paste (Ctrl+V) it to your own map. It helps if you select the layer on your map first, which will eventually contain that element, e.g. Mountains, Bottom. The pasted element will land on an own layer on top of the one you selected, thus you can eventually easily merge the layers.

Before you join layers you are free to move the element around until you've found the best spot, or in case of structures like mountains, stretch them in the one or the other direction, make the element you've copied smaller, wider, higher etc. or even combine it with another element. Especially in the case of mountains it helps to have a decent library of mountains at hand, from which you can grab just parts and then combine the used part with other mountain elements to eventually get some mountains which have their own character.

Copying only parts of mountains once again is ideally done with the Lasso Tool (L) and a feather setting. Paste the part on your map, place it as an element sitting alone on the map or combine it with another, but most likely - due to copying only a part, there are hard or soft edges, which need to be fixed.

Eliminating Unwanted Parts
If you need a hard edge (e.g. to make sure that a mountain ridge doesn't have an unwanted texture next to it, resulting from a bad cut of the element), use the Lasso Tool (L) without feather and cut that part off. Remember to zoom in (Ctrl and +, Ctrl  and -) to get close to the problem, also keep in mind to add and substract from your selection by using Shift and Alt while you mark what you intend to select. If the edges are then too rough, grab the Smudge Tool (R) with a small brush and smudge the line, thus making it a bit blurrier.

Selecting mountains with feather Selecting probematic parts without feather The proper mountain outlines

Left: Cutting and then pasting a mountain part with a feather setting.
Center: Selecting the probemaltic parts without feather.
Right: The proper mountain outlines after you've hit Delete.

Fixing Hard Edges
You might wish to select an element part the "hard way" - instead of choosing a soft feather (which mostly works for parts you'd like to blend in nicely with the background) you can also do it without the feather setting of course. The result will be a hard edge however, of which you need to get rid of. See the example below - if you look closely you can see that the sides of the pasted mountain part differ. The left side doesn't fit propertly to the background.

As mentioned above,
I recommend to zoom in and use the Smudge Tool (R) in such cases in combination with a small brush (2-3 pixels or or so should do) to make the outlines blurrier.

Selecting mountains without feather A not very nice looking hard edge Smudging the problematic hard edges

Left: Cutting and then pasting a mountain part without feather.
Center: Notice the hard edge of the element on your map.
Right: Zoom in to smudge the problematic hard edges.

You might also come across the problem that a pasted element doesn't work properly once placed in front of a certain background, because it still fades out too roughly at the supposedly soft edges (e.g. the bottom parts of the mountains in the example above), which just doesn't match a specific texture. The Smudge Tool (R) will help here as well, using a larger brush works best in this case. Smudge the soft edges further, so that they extend better into the background texture, or try it the other way round and smudge from outside into the soft edges. Another thing that might help here of course is to make a feather selection of the problematic parts and get rid of the problems by hitting Delete.

Making transitions work might sound like it has only to do with small details, but they make a big difference overall, so make sure to get the edges right! You don't want to have your map look like a badly put together collage.


Tree and ruins elements Trees and a stone circle

Individual map elements: Ruins, trees, stone circles

Symbols: Buildings, Trees, Mines, Bridges...
While landscape elements like mountains, hills, reefs and cliffs have to be composed to form something unique on your map (if you don't want to have the same mountains over and over), other elements can be seen as symbolic representations. Thus they have the license to be repeated and don't have to be as individualized like whole landscapes. A few houses might represent a village for example, or a couple of trees represent a forest, a hole in a mountain can stand for a mine entrance.

Symbolic items like buildings are therefore much easier to handle. Simply go to the layer on your
Map Elements file, copy one after the other by using the Lasso Tool (L) and use Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V to copy and paste, join them with the appropriate layer on the target map, and that's it. You'll soon see nice results with whole settlements forming, especially as the Map Elements offer already entire sets of houses put together forming a village, so you don't need to place them one by one. On the other hand you should try to make everything you add as individual as you can, so feel free to add an extra house here and there, use different kinds of houses - and so on.

Elements and Layers
Keep in mind that working on layers helps you as well to embed your items nicely, to make it all look like it fits together. For example placing houses below the Trees layer allows you to have trees standing in front of a settlement (see picture to the top right), and you could also tuck in a house behind a couple of hills by placing it on the right layer, and have another house in front. All these elements don't interfere, and yet this adds to the impression of a very complex composition, which looks very realistic.

To expand on the latter: Even layers of the same "type" can be used for great effect, and if layers  containing the same elements don't exist - feel free to add them. For example: You have three Buildings layers in your example map for buildings alone already, Buildings, Top, Buildings, Main and Buildungs, Bottom. Use them! If you put all your buildings on the same layer you lose the ability to give the whole map the illusion of depth in places where it's easy to accomplish. The Buildings layers are great to place e.g. a high tower (bottom layer), add houses directly in front of it (main layer), and two more windmills directly in front of the other houses (top layer).


Buildings on three different layers The Free Transform tool The bridge in place

Left: Example of buildings placed on three different layers.
Center: A bridge treated with the Free Transform tool.
Right: The bridge finally in place with the correct angle.

Transforming Map Elements
As has been mentioned already at the Textures chapter, manipulating is key to get the desired look. The same applies when using elements to make a mountain appear different, a hill smaller, and so on. The Free Transform tool is your friend in this regard - just select an element or part of it, right-click and choose Free Transform, then you can alter the content of the selection, e.g. by pulling the displayed handles in various directions. Do this regularly to get mountains and hills out of existing ones, making sure that they don't look all the same.

Transforming map elements is especially necessary if you want to place elements, which need to be adapted according to the background on which they are used - take for example bridges. Depending on the environment you need to have a bridge pasted in a special angle on the map. To do this, move the bridge on the map from the Map Elements file, then select
Free Transform and move away from the bridge and the handles, as then Photoshop will display a mouse cursor showing a curve with an arrows at each end, indicating that you can turn your selection in the desired direction. Left-click and stay on the button while moving the mouse, and you can adjust the angle of your bridge. Finally confirm with ENTER to actually make the change happen.

Creating own Map Elements
Feel free to create your own map elements and share them with us! As long as they fit to the rest of the map's look, new elements are always a treat - as you can use them again and again. Just make sure to also embed them properly. Below you can see the difference when you just place objects on the map compared to the same objects that are properly prepared to really fit to the background.

Not properly embedded buildings Properly embedded buildings Properly prepared elements

Left: Map elements placed, but appearing not to be embedded.
Center: The same elements, now actually looking part of the map.
Right: A selection of elements which were properly prepared.

Proper preparation means that you need to add transitions to the background below the element you want to place, so that the element looks actually connected to the ground. This is really very simple, but has a big impact when things are done wrong. All you need to do is draw some brush strokes with a darker colour on a layer behind the item and use the Smudge Tool (R) to smudge it a bit to the left, right and front. Once you're satisfied, join the layer with the smudges with the map element. Your map elements should look like the ones shown to the right above.

By the way: On the Buildings layer of the Map Elements file, at the bottom right, there are actually some smudged backgrounds available. You can also use these if they fit the size of the element you've drawn.
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 Date of last edit 3rd Frozen Rivers 1671 a.S.

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