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Texturing skin in Adobe Photoshop

Part 1: creating the base texture By Dave Nagel
Whether you're involved in 2D or 3D, working with UV maps or creating seamless tiles, it's simple to use Adobe Photoshop to create skin textures for your characters. Photoshop's brush dynamics provide you with a means to create deep textures for a wide variety of skin types--from rough, uneven and blemished to smooth and silky. We'll take a look at a method for painting such textures in Photoshop that will be applied to a 3D character.

Texturing skin can be quite an involved process and one that doesn't end with the 2D image map you create in Photoshop. Various parameters in your 3D program will contribute to the effect you're creating--especially specularity and bump settings. But using Photoshop, you can get yourself pretty far along the way to creating a texture that will evince an impression of human skin not just through the use of dynamic brushes, but also through the application of various layer blending modes.

This is a multi-part process, and I've decided to break it into three parts. In this first tutorial, we'll take a look at a process for creating the base skin texture. In future installments we'll look at various other effects, such as translucency, blemishes and other skin characteristics. The examples below show our base model (top left), along with three variations on the texture we'll be creating today.

For this process, we're going to be using the last set of brushes I posted--Nagel Series 27 Photoshop brushes, which you can find by clicking here. That link also includes instructions for installing the brushes in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. So download the brush collection, install it and then launch Photoshop.

For my example, I'll be working with a 3,000 x 3,000 pixel UV map so that I'll know precisely where I'm painting on my character, though, as I say, this isn't necessary for accomplishing the skin effect we'll achieve today. However, if you do have access to a UV map for a character you'll be working on, you'd be better off in the long run using it now--or even just painting over an existing character texture. You'd also do well to use the highest possible resolution that your 3D application supports (assuming you're creating this texture for use in a 3D program).

Creating the base texture
1. Apply a base, underlying color to the texture. This will not be the final or even the dominant color; it's just something to build upon. In my case, I'm applying a light, pinkish tan (H 12, S 16, B 96).

2. Now we're going to rough in some texture into this using NagelSeries27-19. I'm going to set the brightness of my color down to 82 percent, create a new layer and then simply draw on the canvas to get as much coverage as possible without completely losing my underlying color.

And here's what we have when we render it out. Not anywhere near where we want to be, but you can begin to see how something simple like a few swipes with a brush can begin to bring out some skin-like texture.

3. Next we want to add in some lighter elements and eliminate some of the pink from our overall texture. Here I'll switch my color to a more yellowish tan (H 38, S 24, B 100) and, once again, simply go over the entire canvas. Don't worry too much about uniformity.

4. Now we begin to add in some of the more obvious detail, cutting away at the uniformity of the skin tone and adding in a bit of sheen. Create a new layer, and set its blending mode to Color Dodge. Then go lightly over the layer with the same brush, but with a more saturated color. In this case, I'm switching back to pink (H 335, S 19 B100).

Now on my rendered model, I'm really seeing that texture pop out. Probably a bit too much, really, but I can go back and smooth it out later.

5. Then I'm going to add another layer to my Photoshop document. I'll set its mode to Color Burn, and I'll simply fill the layer with a somewhat neutral tan (H 27, S 20, B 83).

And now we have about as much detail as we'd ever need for a skin texture.

6. The final step in creating the base texture for our model will be a smoothing process, on that will tone down the existing texture a bit while still bringing in new types of textures--cellular structures and subtle wrinkles. For this, we'll create yet another layer and set its blending mode, once again, to Color Dodge. We'll switch to the brush called NagelSeries27-08 and then paint over the texture. Again, don't worry about evenness. We're going for an uneven skin tone. Note that if this step removes too much of your texture, you can always adjust the opacity of the layer or go back in with the eraser, using NagelSeries27-06 to erase portions of the layer while retaining the texture of the layer.

If the texture is still too rough for you, you can go back and clean up individual layers, either by blurring them or by adding to or erasing from them. If there's not enough texture for you, you can generally bring texture back in by increasing or decreasing contrast in an individual layer as well. In the examples below, I've added a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer just above my second layer. The first on increases contrast to +47 and decreases brightness to -30. The second one decreases contrast to -8 while increasing brightness to +22.

Obviously there are quite a few variations you can achieve using this method, and I'll leave it to you to find the one that's right for you.

Next time around we'll take a look at adding in more effects to specific parts of our figure, including translucence and blemishes/skin damage. In the meantime, if you have any questions, be sure to visit me in our Adobe Photoshop forum by clicking here.

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Related Keywords:adobe photoshop, skin texture, painting skin

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