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Creating Specular & Normal Maps

Adam Fransson -

I noticed some people are using Crazybump to generate their specular-maps. which really let's down your piece. So I decided to write a short tutorial on how to create them in PS, and compare it to the specular map generated from Crazybump. Don't get me wrong, Crazybump is a great application, but not for handling your specular maps. let's start off by showing the Diffuse: Yes.. horrible.. it looks like shit.. If you have a weak stomach you probobly don't want to see the result given by these two together in a max scene. As for you who just run your diffuse through Crazybump to create a specular map; this is what your metal textures would look like in-game. Fancy metal texture, isnt it? (ironic)

Horrible result:

Looks pretty bland, eh? Well, that's because you can't really see the tons of subtle details. You don't want to make the details too obvious in your diffuse, some are actually better off to be put in the specular map. So, what kind of specular do we get if we run this straight through Crazybump as some do without tweaking?

Well then, don't run off yet.. I've only shown you how it's not supposed to look, so it won't get any worse. You could actually get an OK specular map in crazybump. But it doesnt compare to properly doing it in Photoshop. With a simple bit of fiddling with the adjustment-layers in Photoshop with my diffuse as the base, this is what we get.


Neat, huh? And to the right you can see what it looks like in my 3ds max scene with realtime rendering. Looks ok, could be improved but, atleast you should get the ida. So, now you might be wondering: Why the heck is his specular-map colored, and how the heck do I create this thing then? So in order to answer your questions: Why is it colored?

That's because the color in the specular map will affect the highlights in your material. In other words, make a specular that's completely red and you will get a red specular. But why is your specular colored blue, does metal have blue highlights?

And as said, giving your specular an inverted hue isn't a must or some kind of rule at all.. give it any color you want as long as it looks good or realistic, depending on what youre after. For example, copper should have a pink'ish specular color while having a brown'ish diffuse. And a human skin specular should be blueish to avoid intense and shiny highlights. And how the heck do I create this kind of specular? It's really simple. Note however that I'm using Photoshop CS3 on Windows Vista, so it may look a bit different.

That differs, but in this case, not quite. The reason as to why its blue is because it's the negative hue of the diffuse. Im not sure how to put this.. but.. let's say you got a red material, and your specular color is blue. And since blue is the opposite color of red (well, almost) you will get a more white and matte specular.

I invert the hue and desaturate it a bit, since the colors going to be stronger once we increase the contrast with the "Brightness / Contrast" Adjustment layer. These were my settings. Note however that these are not any magic numbers and wont always work depending on your texture. Youll have to experiment with it. Hue: -180 Saturation: -65 Lightness: 0

Once you're happy with it, add your "Brightness / Contrast" Adjustment layer which can be found in the same place as the "Hue / Saturation" Adjustment layer. Then I increase the brightness, or the specular would be awfully weak. I also increased the contrast to bring out all the details hidden in the texture. These were my settings. Brightness: +63 Contrast: +89

I usually start off by creating the "Hue / Saturation" Adjustment layer which can be found in your layers tab.

Now please note that your specular is most likely not going to come out perfect the first time, you may have to do a lot of tweaking and experimenting before you get a great result. And for different engines and shaders these maps will be giving different results. There's also a lot of different ways of creating your specular maps, though this is the one I prefer.

Use Legacy: Enabled (CS3 Option)

To preview this in 3ds max, simply put your diffuse in the diffuse slot, and the specular in the specular level and specular color slot. Then turn on DirectX Display.


Using DirectX display isnt the only way to go though. You may also use different types of DX shaders. These can be found free on the internet by searching on google.

Personally I prefer using shaders as it tends to give a better result. It will also work as a fix for the bug in some versions 3ds max where it takes a long time to undo an action while DirectX display is enabled. If you're using Maya however, Do the same thing as mentioned with 3ds max, putting your diffuse in the diffuse slot, and the specular in the specular color slot. Then hit (6) to enable textures in the viewport, and set your renderer to High quality rendering in your viewport menu.

Well, if you now wanted a shiny, bland, rock wall, you've done a great job. But I think its about time we learn how to do some normal maps and how to show them off properly. So how do I create a proper normal map in Crazybump?

If you want an even better result, then you should use a custom lighting setup, rather than your applications default. And in order to create a good, yet basic lighting setup, if you dont know how to already, then have a look at my lighting setup tutorial which also can be found on my portfolio at: Part 2 Creating Normal maps in Crazybump / PS

After doing so you could play a little with the contrast to bring out the fine details in your texture. And once you're done, it's time to save this map.. what do we call it? Well, call it whatever you want really, though myself I usually save them as a "heightmap" to keep some order in my directory. Now you can finally open up Crazybump. And if you've read this far in the tutorial, then don't stop now, or you'll miss the whole point. And if you haven't read anything above, then do so! Once you're in Crazybump, click "Open Photograph from file". Open heightmap from file probably works too, although I prefer using the photograph tool.

Open up your .psd containing the diffuse and specular map. Then start hiding all those details which should not have any depth, such as stains, text etc. Then you invert all the scratches and other bright surfaces which would have an indent rather than the opposite.

First off, we got to make sure the things which are to have a depth do, and that the things which shouldn't wont.

While I were at it I thought I might write a bit about the creation of normal maps, and how to show them off aswell. Cause not only are people still using Crazybump to generate their specular, they're also using it to generate horrible normal maps which they then eliminate in their beauty render by doing a clayrender... now what's the point of that? So what do people do? They open Crazybump > Open their diffuse in Crazybump > save it as it is without tweaking the settings. Then they render it out with a clayrender, being content with their normal map not showing at all. But how would this metal plate look if we didn't use a clayrender, and actually made the normals show?

Select your heightmap and open it up. And then select the better of the shapes. When you selected one of the shapes and get to the part where you edit your settings, it should look quite similar to the image below. Does it look like the surface of a metal plate? ...nope.

It'd look like... well.. a shiny rock wall perhaps?


Then, eventually, it'd look something like the image to the right. (Don't mind the lighting, I just moved and changed the color of the lights in order for you to see the depth better.)

So, what we want to do is to bring out the subtle and fine details in this heightmap. The most important thing while doing so is obviously removing the shape recognition and all the large/medium details. Leave only the "Fine details" at 99, and the others at 0. Then you adjust the intensity slider while keeping the words "Metal plate" in mind.

And now you could copy your normal map and put it in your .psd containing the textures, or just save it as a normal map right away, whichever you fancy. How do I show off my normal map without eliminating the depth?

But if you want an even better result, simply use DX Display/High Quality Rendering or a shader as explained in part 1 of the tutorial. To the right is how my normal map looked in the viewport with DX display. Alright, that wasn't perfect.. looks a bit like concrete.. but hey, aslong as it doesn't look like a shiny rock wall and the normals actually work I think I've made a good point!

That's quite simple really. As long as you don't use a skylight or GI lighting etc. in your scene, the bump will be visible while rendering. That's why a clayrender is such a bad thing to do on objects with normals, and the same thing goes for specular maps.

Hope you enjoyed reading this tutorial and that you learned something valuable!

Some will most likely tell you that you shouldnt use such normals for metal plates or wood textures. Although I find that it usually enchances the quality of a texture while done right. Especially for engines like UT3.

Autor: Adam Fransson (Tiros) Environmental Artist -