How to turn a map into an underwater landscape

How to create a fantasy underwater map

I’m going to take an existing battlemap and turn it into an underwater ruin. Here’s the map I’ll be using – a simple ruin from this Ruined Library map pack. Ruins work well as they can easily be the remains of a unfortunate city subjected to an Atlantean cataclysm.

Starting fantasy ruined library map
Starting map

1. Add a colour layer

The first problem is that the map is definitely not the right colour. We need to desaturate the map, and add an over-all blue cast to the map. I create a new layer above the map and fill it with a grey blue (#3e526a to be precise). It’s not too saturated, so it’ll do both jobs at once. I set the layer blend mode to Color, and set the opacity to 75%. For more on blend modes, see this post. That gives this:

Adding a colour layer
Adding a colour layer at 75%

2. Add an overlay layer

Note that you can still see colour variation in the map – that’s because we set the colour layer to 75% rather than 100%. You don’t want to wash out all the prior colours. The map looks a bit like a moonscape rather than an underwater map. To bump up the blues a bit I duplicate the colour layer, set the blend mode to Overlay instead of Color:

Fantasy map after adding an overlay layer
Overlay Layer

Here’s the layer stack:

The Layer Stack - Colour and Overlay  Layers
The Layer Stack – Colour and Overlay Layers

3. Adding Ripples

So we could leave it there, but I want to add some ripples to the map. As light hits the waves on the surface it is distorted and that creates a pattern of light and dark across the sea-bed that’s quite distinctive. Yesterday I covered how to create a ripple pattern. You can follow those steps, or just download one of my ripple files here (note the file is CC-BY-NC licensed, so if you want to use the ripples in a commercial product you’ll have to follow the tutorial and make your own!).

I select a large region of the ripples texture and paste it into my working map – it will show up as a new layer. Once there, use the transform tools (ctrl/command – T or Edit->Free Transform) to spin it round and make sure it covers the whole image. Add a color layer above it, find a nice blue and merge down so that the black parts of the texture are now a good sea-blue color. Finally I set the blend mode to Multiply and drop the opacity right down to 30%:

Adding a cloud layer to create an underwater maps
Adding a cloud layer

4. More Ripples!

You can immediately see the difference that the ripple pattern makes to the map. I like this so much, I’ll do it again. The second layer is coloured with a greener blue to add some colour variation to the map, and it’s been rotated so that the ripples aren’t going in quite the same direction:

Adding A Second Layer Of Clouds
Adding A Second Layer Of Clouds

And we’re done! The ripples give a convincing under-the-sea feel to a map that started off as an arid blasted desert ruin.

Final Under The Sea Fantasy Map
Final Under The Sea Map

You can find more tutorials under the Tutorials section of the blog

This tutorial is also available in video!

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