Does this sound familiar?
“I don’t know why, but this render looks bland, it’s like i’m missing something.”
Here’s the trick: Imperfection Maps.
Every good render has its fair amount of mess and chaos.
To err is human, so what’s more real than that.
This is not some boring manual.
This is a complete guide to create your personal and original Imperfection Maps,
without any nodes or 3D softwares.
In other words, I’m going to teach you how to make your own imperfection surfaces, by taking them from reality itself.
This method requires 3 simple steps:
Most people struggle with nodes, and so did I in the beginning.
I wrote this simple guide to make Imperfection Surfaces to help you discover different ways to improve your workflow and develop new skills.
You don’t need me to tell you how much realistic materials, surfaces and maps in general can drastically change your project.
So, let’s get started!
The Fun Part
What do you need:
Set up the scene:
Have your black flat surface laying horizontally.
Any black surface would work. I use a LACK coffee table. IKEA 7,50€.
It’s 55x55cm (=21,6535 inches if you come from Liberia, Myanmar or US) and stands on its own. Just about everything we need right now.
Lights: you can find semi-professional lights for 60€-80€.
The light must be at 20°ca on both sides (shadows are no friend of yours now), and relatively far away from the surface depending on your lights luminosity to prevent any unwanted reflections.
Try not to have any ceiling light sources either.
Also, if you have any windows wherever you are, I recommend closing them.
You only need the light you can control.
Mix chalk with water (i’m sure there’s a better alternative but nobody can tame my bad boy temper).
Can be every color you want, when it dries up it should make a decent contrast with the surface. But keep a glass of clean water to (indeed) clean.
Depending on which kind of imperfection you want, you’ll need different “brushes“.
Example #1 – Glass Stains – you need a tiny brush and glasses
Example #2 – Wipes – you’ll need a cloth to dip into the chalk
I recommend using the real thing to simulate its stain: real wine glasses, real towels, real BLOOD.
Keep it simple, but practical.
Once you figure out what you need, start painting one stroke at a time, in different places so you can be sure they don’t overlap.
Make a few and remember, to err is human: mistakes and inaccuracy are frequent in reality.
Smearings, drips, scratches, you can’t “organize” them.
Grab your beer, it takes a few minutes for the paint to dry.
If you’re a cold hearted monster who doesn’t respect it’s own art, a hairdryer may help.
Just make sure not to blow the paint all over. Been there, done that. Rookie mistake.
Ok, Pollock, take out your camera.
“I Once Dated A Model“:
If you’re familiar with a camera, this next part should be pretty simple.
But let’s say you have a budget camera, setting it up is all about compromise.
I recommend having a good amount of light in your set because ideally, you need lots of resolution and brightness without any noise.
Sometimes it can be terribly difficult to get that result though.
But you’ll get there eventually. And if you don’t, there’s still photoshop. *finger guns*
Vertical, plumb line camera (or such as), shoot your strokes.
Make sure not to miss the focus (happens to the best of us) or your neighbours are gonna learn a lot of new cursed words.
Digital cameras have virtually infinite memory so don’t be afraid to take a few more shots.
But be careful, you wouldn’t like to have 253 pictures to look at of the same stroke.
IMPORTANT: If you can, take your pictures as RAW files and not JPG.
It is way better to edit raw files than jpgs.
If you don’t know how to set up your camera for it, try to find it out on the internet.
If you can’t find any answer, feel free to text me directly.
If I’m dead and cannot answer you, don’t worry I’ll cover the .jpg part too.
Once you’re done with taking pictures, either you gather up everything and leave, or just clean your black surface, dry it and Picasso your way to another masterpiece.
𝘠𝘰𝘶 𝘸𝘰𝘯’𝘵 𝘯𝘦𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘴𝘦𝘵 𝘶𝘱 𝘢𝘯𝘺𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘦.
𝘛𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘬 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘧𝘭𝘺𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘏𝘢𝘳𝘥𝘸𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘈𝘪𝘳𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘦𝘴.
2. Growing Bald at 24
The Not-So-Fun Part where I like Acronyms
This second chapter is about piracy.
Hide and wait in the closet for the FBI to come. When the door shuts again and the helicopters are gone, you may go back to work.
Plug the SD card in your PC, or connect the camera via USB. Copy and paste your RAWs in your SSD or HDD if you have one.
In the meantime prepare yourself a cup of tea to balance the beer you had before.
The more pics you have, the more tea you’ll need.
Launch PS and Spotify.
I know you’re special.
You do not listen to what everyone else listens to.
So go get your favourite lo-fi hip hop/skrrrt/harcore/flamenco/synthwave/eastern-european-folk playlist or those mongolian guys everyone loves now and start skim through your fresh pics.
Ok, once you’re done skimming (or just when you find a good take), drag and drop it into Photoshop.
I’ll show you on this particular pic how to edit your strokes.
If you’ve been a good boy and took the pictures in .raw, Camera Raw window should pop out immediately and you can skip this next tiny part.
If it doesn’t, you’ve been a bad boy and I respect that.
In the Layers section, unlock the “Background” by clicking on the lock icon and
CTRL-C CTRL-V the hell out of it.
Then, in the upper menu, in the Filter dropdown select Camera Raw Filter (with the Layer 1 selected).
Alright, back to work.
Basically, you have to turn This (left) into This (right).
First, and the only “must do” thing:
on the right, click on the “Profile:” tab and select Monochrome instead of Color.
For the rest of the iter: if you already know how to do it, do it your way.
There’s no step by step path to follow, but I’ll show you what I usually do in this picture.
Alright, click on OK if you had the jpg (low right corner) or Open Image if you’re the Raw Gang.
Shortcut “C” for Cutting the image, and isolate the stroke from the useless black surroundings.
Shortcut “L” for the plygonal selection, and trace an approximative path along the shape of your stroke, close the path and mask your layer.
If you prefer, in the upper menu, dropdown Image, in Mode select RGB. “Don’t merge layers” and make a new color layer underneath the mask, to better visualize the mask and work on it.
I usually prefer a red background but it doesn’t really matter.
Double click on the mask to edit it.
Or you can just use the brush with the mask selected. Take notice that brushes modify the mask by color range. If you have a black brush, it hides pixels, the opposite for the white. If you’re able, use grey to have more details.
For strokes like Wipes and such, use the “hair brush“ (left side menu) while editing the mask, WORKS GREAT!
Just brush roughly on the edges of your stroke, it makes overlapping strokes way more realistic on the final texture.
Be sure to leave a “black” background around the middle of your stroke: It makes overlapping strokes way clearer.
Cool, if you have multiple layers, delete everything except the masked layer. You shouldn’t need them.
Or merge them, but you still have to keep the transparency as background.
Upper Menu again, Edit dropdown, “Define Brush Preset“. Name it and save.
Same, upper menu, edit, “Define Pattern“. Name, save.
If you want (recommended) also save it as a PNG file, you never know.
If you took more than one picture, repeat this process how many times you want with the other pictures in order to have different files.
3. Hocus Pocus
Let the Machine do its thing.
We’re almost done, as you can see by the scrolling bar.
Create a new file in Photoshop. Square, Dark Background.
It’s going to become your texture, so choose the size carefully.
I, for this example, will create a 4092×4092 px square.
Alright, New Layer, Shortcut “M” for the rectangular selection, select the entire area.
Shortcut Shift-F5 for Fill
On contents dropdown, select Pattern
Select your custom pattern, if you don’t recognize it click on the little gear icon and select “large Icon”.
Check the Script box and select Random Fill.
Play a bit with the values, but remember to set a fairly high Brightness Randomness to add a displacement difference and have a deeper texture in the end.
You won’t like the first result, CTRL-Z and do it again until you’re satisfied.
In the end you should come across something like this as result:
I usually make a few layers for different patterns, even repeating some patterns in different layers in order not to have just one stroke type above the others.
But you may not like randomness as much as I do.
Maybe you would prefer to have the chance to control every pixel as you like.
Don’t worry, that’s why we made the Brushes earlier.
To properly control the brush, open the Brush Settings Panel (hotkey F5) and play around with Shape Dynamics, Scattering, Color Dynamics and Transfer.
Shortcut B for brushes, select a percentage of grey and paint as you please. It could take longer, but that’s the price of fine work.
So there you have it, a b/w map to use as your Roughness map, Specular, Metallic, Opacity, Ambient Occlusion, Displacement, Bump or even Normal.
If you don’t know it, I’ll easily explain how these maps work:
basically just like a photoshop mask.
Black and white represent a value that goes from 0 to 100 percent for every pixel. The more white it is, the greater is the value.
4. A Step Further
Well, if you look up on the internet on how to make seamless textures, you’ll find a ton of tutorials. Here’s how I deal with this problem in this particular context.
In this final chapter you’ll discover how to make seamless textures without almost any effort. You just need Photoshop and a free plugin, called Free Seamless Texture Generator, so make sure you download and install it before continuing this last chapter.
Personally I don’t really like making seamless maps, doesn’t feel “messy” enough for my workflow. I get it becomes very useful when you want to use it in softwares like Substance Painter though, or just scale it. So let’s see how it works.
If you closed it, launch Photoshop again and drop in your imperfection map.
In the upper menu, under Window and Extension, you should find FX Box, open it. A tiny window should pop up, not very user friendly but no worries.
Shortcut M again and select the whole space of your image, then click X-Free-SeamlessTexture, and eventually select Tile.
Couple of seconds and there you go.
This is the quickest method i’ve found so far, but please feel free to text me and show me how you do it, because i’m genuinely interested.
Your final result will look similar
but now you can tile it without any problem.
That is it, you now have your seamless, original surface imperfection map.
There are different ways to use it:
You have now come at the end of this incredible, adventurous, Tolkienian journey.
It’s been a tough one, but in the end, was it all worth it?
You tell me.
Making your own maps not only improves your skillset, but it also makes you look at maps differently. Like a true craftsman, your touch will be a realistic, personal addition to your workflow.
Like a carpenter who gently blows on wood, your render will grow with just your craftsman touch.
But, like any fairytale, there’s an Ogre waiting under the bridge.
Our Ogre is called Deadline.
Deadlines are any designer’s nightmare,
we’ve all struggled with it since the beginning.
We all know that feeling: when stress catches you in the eleventh hour, and you end up making a mess.
And the worst part is, you can’t get rid of them.
When it all comes down to timing issues, all you can do is save time by skipping unnecessary steps in your workflow.
Don’t worry, you might be just in the right place.
Check out our gallery and find out yourself!
You can now focus on what you really love to do, without stumbling into dull maps.
Here you can find hundreds of textures, surfaces and more!
If you have any kind of question, don’t think twice and text me directly.