Adding Light/Shadow to a Map

How to add light and shadow to a map

A small guide by the Kobold GM

Here is a generic map that we would like to enhance

You can notice some points of interest on the map:

  • 6 stone pillars that will cast some shadows

  • 1 bright torch

  • 1 slightly glowing gem

As it is the map is quite uninteresting to look at, but hopefully we will change that. 

Side note: I’ve placed a light window to show you how my layers are organised in top right corner, the only important thing to note is that the light source are above the light/shadow layer so that they aren’t obscured by the colours we will put later on. You can do it differently of course if you want to. 

Step 1 - Adding the shadow

I apply a dark blue color to my light/shadow layer. 

Colour used #292e3a

Opacity 80%

Step 2 - Erasing the shadows

At this stage, I erase the shadows around the light sources and try to keep in mind the way light travels. 

Use the eraser and take your time: 

First I slightly define the light area around the light source.

To make it easier to define the way the light travel, especially for a bright light like the torch, I used the lasso tool to create a selection of my “light-able” area (where the light might go), see below:

Then I gradually erase my shadows.

You should arrive at something like this:

Note that I choose to make the light area really small for the gem, as it is not shining super duper bright.

Step 3 - Adding some colour

At this step I add some colour around my light source, go light on the opacity. 

For the gem I used these shades of red:

#e21414 (wide area) #ff9393 (near the gem) 

For the torch, I did it in three time using these colours:

#ed7b3f (wide)#f8c046 (closer)#f8d589 (closest)

The opacity was set to around 7% (I used the aerograph tool)

This guy ->

Step 4 - Deepening the shadows

If you are already here, your map should already look pretty good at this point. This step and the next are just the cherry on top.

I used the aerograph with a blue that was darker than the one used previously and started to gradually add some deeper shadows where it made sense. Try to keep in mind that shadows are pretty dark away from a light source but also close to it (not gonna get into the physics of why, but it has to do with light radiation, etc.).
Anyway, in practice you get something like this:

Note that you don’t have to go as heavy handed as I did, again whatever suits your personal taste.

Step 5 - Blurring the shadows

If you look at our map, you’ll see that the shadows of our pillars are pretty straight, but in real life the further you are from a light source the blurrier the shadows get (again physics and stuff). For this step, I use the smudge tool to blur the shadows a bit as they go further away from a pillar. 

Smudge tool is this guy


Congratulations! You’ve made it all the way to the end.

Now you just have to practice, try some stuff and figure out what works or not for you.

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