Using clouds to create ripples

Creating ripples from clouds

I’ve had a lot of requests for tutorials on drawing water recently so I’ll be covering some different techniques of indicating water on maps this week. Today I’m going to cover how to create a rippling water pattern in Photoshop using the clouds filter. This is a little technical, but it’ll become clear why we’re doing this over the next few days.

As light hits the waves on the surface of the sea it’s distorted and that creates a pattern of light and dark across the sea-bed that’s very distinctive. We can replicated this pattern in photoshop with relatively little trouble, but there will be some new concepts so I’ll take it step by step.

1. In a new document, create a new layer, make sure the colours are set to black and white, and run Filter->Render->Clouds. You should get something like this:

Clouds - the result of Render->Clouds in photohop

This creates an automated collection of noise with a characteristic scale – you can see the overall pattern of dark and lights across the panel above. Note that you’ll get a subtly different pattern every time you run the Render->Clouds filter.

2. Run Filter->Render->Difference Clouds. This will give you a pattern like the one below. This still doesn’t look much like a wave pattern, but bear with me.

Difference clouds used in photoshop
Clouds + Difference Clouds

3. Invert the layer (Image->Adjustments->Invert or command/ctrl + I)

Difference clouds after inversion
Difference clouds after inversion

4. Adjust the levels on the layer – it’s currently very light and we need a wider range of lights and darks for it to be useful. To do this either go to Image->Adjustments->Levels… or add a new adjustment layer. I’ve taken a screenshot of the levels panel after I’ve tinkered with it to get what I’m after:

Applying levels to difference clouds
Applying levels to difference clouds

5. Now we’re getting somewhere. Finally I stretch the layer – in this case horizontally by arond 200-250%, depending on what looks good:

Clouds after a +240% horizontal stretch
Clouds after a +240% horizontal stretch

Now I agree that this might not look that exciting right now, but tomorrow I’ll be showing you how to use this to turn any map into an underwater sunken vista.

I’ve also uploaded one of my own ripple textures here – 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!

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