How you choose to display (or not display) forests will lend your maps a feeling of realism. Forests are as much a part of fantasy worlds as mountains and seas are and should be treated accordingly.
This post is about skill application. If you want to learn about strategies for placing, sizing, and labeling forests, you should read Designing Fantasy Outdoors Maps (which will eventually point you here).
This article concerns itself mostly with larger-scale forest construction. However, at the bottom, there’s a section titled “Drawing Sparse Forests” which describes a technique that is great for city-scale maps.
Blocking in Forests
You’re going to draw your forest shapes with the Brush tool.
- Create a new layer above Landmass called “Forests” and select it. Use a Normal blend mode for now.
- Select all the pixels in Landmass by holding <command> and clicking on the preview icon for the Landmass layer in the Layers panel. This is so you don’t draw outside of the land.
- Set your paint color to a green. I like
- Switch to the Brush tool. Select a Hard Round brush of decent size (probably 50 pixels or greater) at 100% opacity. Don’t use any pressure sensitivity.
- Draw in the major forests. Don’t worry about making the edges look natural just yet. You’ll do that in the next step.
- Once you’ve got the major blocks of the forest in, change your brush size to something much smaller (say, 10 to 15 pixels).
- Go around the edges of your forest blocks and make them less blocky. Follow rivers, if you like.
This gives you your forest shape. Right now, they’re blocks of color on the map, which probably doesn’t look very good. Now you can apply some styles, and you have a couple of options and what you will do depends on the design style you’re going for.
Take One: Styling the Forest Shapes
If you don’t want to have a “hand drawn” look, you can directly stylize the shape of your forests. When styling forest areas, you’ll almost always want to add a stroke and a pattern. Here are two of my favorite ways.
- Stroke: 1 px inside,
#222222, set to Multiply and overprint, 50% opacity
- Pattern Overlay: “Forest – Black and White – Seamless”, set to Soft Light, 25% scale, 100% opacity
- Set the layer’s blend mode to Overlay
- Stroke: 1px inside,
#6b5427, 100% opacity, no overprint
- Pattern Overlay: “Grunge Noise – Seamless”, set to Multiply, 75% scale, 100% opacity
- Inner Glow:
#6b5427, Overlay blend mode, 100% opacity, noise 25%, Technique: softer, Source: Edge, Choke: 10, Size: 30, with the U-shaped Contour (under “Quality”)
- Set the layer’s blend mode to Overlay
Take Two: Stamping Trees
If you don’t want to style the shapes of your forests, you can add “stamped” trees using the same technique you would use for stamping mountains, as explained in the section titled “Take Two: Stamps” in the drawing mountains tutorial. This method provides a very “old world” feel to your map but it can be very slow and tedious to do it and you can end up coloring outside the lines.
- Rename your Forests layer to “Forest Bounds”.
- Create a new layer, Trees above it and select it. Set it to Normal blend mode for now.
- Set your paint color to
- Choose your favorite tree brush.
- Set the opacity for the Forest Bounds layer to 30% so you can see it.
- Stamp your trees into the Trees layer, hopefully staying inside the lines.
- Turn off visibility of your Forest Bounds layer (or don’t; you may like how this looks).
- Set the blend mode of your Trees layer to Overlay or something similar.
A nice effect sometimes – especially with “stamped” forests – is to indicate the forest’s boundaries. You’ll want to do that with a Shape layer and some effects. You’ll be going back to your original forest layer (which you may have renamed to “Forest Bounds”) but I’m going to call it Forest here.
Make a shape layer copy of it.
- Select all the pixels in your Forest by holding <command> and clicking on the preview icon for the Forest layer in the Layers panel.
- Switch to the Paths panel. It should be a tab above your Layers tab. If it isn’t, Window -> Paths will reveal it (you should dock it in with your Layers panel).
- Click on the “Make work path from selection” icon. A path should appear around your forest areas.
- Switch back to the Layers panel.
- Go Layer -> New Fill Layer -> Solid Color. Name it “Forest Shape”. It doesn’t matter what color you pick; you won’t be using it. It won’t be a perfect match, but that’s okay.
- Turn off visibility on your Forest layer.
- Switch to any Shape tool or the Direct Selection tool (the white arrow).
- With the Forest Shape layer selected, change the shape options at the top thus:
- Fill color: transparent
- Stroke Color:
- Stroke Weight: 5 pixels (or whatever looks right)
- Stroke Style: dashed
- Set the blend mode for Forest Shape to Overlay.
Now you’ve got a nice dashed border for your forest areas.
Bonus Take: Patterning with Tree Stamps
So okay. You want to have that nice old-world feel of a stamped tree forests but you don’t want to spend a lot of time doing the stamps. Well, I have a solution for you that uses patterns of your stamps.
I’ve provided two patterns for you (see “Importing Your Own Patterns” in Photoshop Layer Styles and Effects for how to do import them for use). They are naturally
- Duplicate your Forests shape layer and call it “Pattern Forest”.
- Turn off visibility of Forests. You’ll want it later.
- Set the fill opacity of Pattern Forest to 0%.
- Give Pattern Forest a pattern overlay of the tree stamp pattern you like. Set this mode to Multiply. You should now see the trees.
It looks a bit janky, though, since the pattern cuts off in places. You’ll fix that with an Eraser and Rasterization.
- Duplicate your Pattern Forest layer and call it “Pattern Forest Pixels”.
- Turn off visibility of Pattern Forest. You may want to save this, so don’t delete it.
- >right click< on the Pattern Forest Pixels layer and select “Rasterize Layer Style”. Everything may turn muddy.
- Set the blend mode for Pattern Forest Pixels to Multiply to unmuddy.
- Switch to the Eraser tool.
- Set your brush to be Hard Round, 100% opacity, and around 15 pixels.
- Gently go around the edges of your forest and erase all the “half trees”.
And done. Apply some other tricks (color, boundaries, etc.) and you’re good to go.
Drawing Sparse Forests
At a certain scale (about when a single tree is sized at 2 or 3 pixels), it becomes viable (and possibly desirable) to show a much greater amount of edge texture in your forests as well as drawing areas with sparse trees. At this level of fidelity you probably aren’t going to be doing “stamped” trees but rather fully blocked areas with texture.
You can, of course, set your brush to 3 pixels and just start hammering away at the canvas along the forest edge for a couple of hours to get that kind of texture, but I am here to bring you the magic of Brush Settings and save you a ton of effort. Knowing how to use brush settings correctly will make you a bad-ass.
- Select your Forest layer for editing.
- Set your paint color to the green that you are using (
- Select the Brush tool.
- Select a Hard Round brush (no pressure sensitivity). Set your size to 3 pixels and opacity to 100%.
- Open the Brush Settings dialog. It may be docked on the right-hand side of the canvas. If not, Window -> Brush Settings will open it.
- Select “Brush Tip Shape” and set the “Spacing” value to between 25 and 50%.
- Select “Scattering”.
- Check Both Axis.
- Set Scatter to maximum (1000%).
- Optionally, if you want to make your trees denser from the beginning, increase the Count value.
Now, your brush will paint lots of trees at the same time. Try it! The individual trees will be scattered along the axis up and down randomly. To make an area denser, just draw over it again.
Knowing how to do this will allow you to draw forests with my favorite technique: Inside Out. The principle is the same, except you start with a large brush and work your way down in size.
- Start with a 20 pixel brush and block out the rough areas.
- Go over those areas again with a 10 pixel brush.
- Go over the area again with a 5 pixel brush.
- Handle the edges with a 3 pixel brush.
Forests drawn this way may benefit from removing or altering inner glows and strokes. Without either, it creates a possibly pleasing watercolor effect.