Making parchments and parchment scrolls, Part 1 (by Sue Daniel)

I am delighted to accept an invitation from Profantasy to present the methods I use to make parchment and parchment scrolls for use as backgrounds in CC3. I hope that you will find the information useful.

Both these methods require you to have and make basic use of the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). GIMP is a free application and can be downloaded from this page:

Once you have installed and opened the software, it will be easier for you to follow this tutorial if you set it up so that it looks similar to the screen shots I’ve included. To do that click the Windows menu, and then Single Window Mode.

Your screen should now look like this:

(You won’t have the Script-fu menu item, since this is an add-on I’ve downloaded separately to the main program.)

PART 1 – Making the parchment

To keep this simple we will work on a square piece of parchment and complete the job in just three layers, with an optional fourth layer for anyone wishing to add a bit of polish to their parchment.

  1. Click File/New and change the width and height to 1000 pixels. Ignore the template dropdown and the rest of the options. Default settings will be perfectly ok for this exercise.
  2. Click OK. You should now have something that looks like this:
  3. The dots around the edge of the new file are visible by default. I don’t like them because they are only rarely useful and I find them distracting, so I switch them off. This can be done by clicking View on the menu and unticking Show Layer Boundary.

  4. Pick the bucket fill tool from the tool box on the left hand side of the screen and leave the tool options as they are (those are the details in the box below all the tools – bottom left of the screen).
  5. From the colour picker on the bottom right of the screen, choose a pale warm coloured grey as the background colour for your parchment by moving the slider up and down the vertical hue chart, and dragging the crosshairs in the coloured square to pick the exact shade of your chosen colour. /li>

    You don’t have to use exactly the same colour as I have. You can use any colour you want, as long as it’s roughly a couple of shades lighter than the colour you want your parchment to be when you’ve finished making it. However, if you want exactly the same colour as I’ve got just type the hex code for it, d3a96c, into the same box in the bottom right corner)

  6. When you are happy with the colour, click the bucket tool once on the new file in the main window, so that you have something like this.
  7. Now we need to add a new layer on top of this background and start adding a bit of texture to the parchment. A layer in GIMP is equivalent to a sheet in CC3.

    To do this…

  8. click the new layer button in the layer panel above the colour picker (1). Name the new layer “PLASMA” (2), and click OK (3). The new layer should appear in the layer panel above the Background layer (4).
  9. Make sure the new PLASMA layer is active by clicking it just once, then go to the Filters menu and choose Render/Clouds/Plasma…
  10. This dialog will appear.

    I’m going to use the default pattern for demonstration purposes, but you can click the New Seed button as many times as you want for different random patterns. (Please note, the colours don’t matter because the generated plasma is about to be turned into a greyscale.)

    Your file should now look a bit like this:

  11. With the PLASMA layer still active, go to the Colors menu, and pick Desaturate.
  12. In the dialog box that opens, choose the Luminosity option and click OK.
  13. Now we need to find a way to combine this dirty blotchy layer with the background colour. There are a number of different ways of doing this, but I prefer to change the PLASMA layer mode to Overlay. This is a bit like adding a Blend Mode to a CC3 sheet and setting it to ‘overlay’. In fact the end result is the same.

  14. The GIMP layer mode is located at the very top of the layer panel. It has a drop down arrow, which lists all the different modes you can use to blend the active layer with all the layers underneath it. So, and making sure you still have the PLASMA layer selected in the layer panel, click the dropdown arrow and pick Overlay.

  15. Your file should now look a bit like this:

    “Marvellous!” I hear you say “We’ve done it!”…. But it’s not quite finished just yet.

    The large scale blotchiness has been provided in a single exercise, but if you zoom into the image by pressing the CTRL key on your keyboard and rolling your mouse wheel forward until you are at 100% zoom (the zoom factor is visible on the bottom bar), you will see that it’s all a bit fuzzy. There’s no real texture to the parchment just yet.

    Here’s a snippet of mine at 100%. It just looks like a brown cloud.

    What we need is some kind of grain to give the parchment a surface of some kind that will define it as being a parchment, and not just a brown cloud.

  16. To do this right click the Background layer in the Layers panel and choose Duplicate Layer from the drop down list.
  17. Double click the name of the duplicated layer (which will have been created with the default duplicated name “Background Copy”) in the Layers panel, and type “NOISE” as its new name. Then use the green up arrow at the bottom of the Layers panel to move NOISE to the top of the stack of layers.

  18. This will hide your PLASMA and Background layers in the main window, but not for long.

  19. With the NOISE layer still selected, use Colors/Desaturate in exactly the same way as you did with the PLASMA layer, choosing Luminosity as the conversion option like before. This will give you a flat grey layer over the other two layers.
  20. Then go to the Filters menu and choose Noise/HSV Noise…
  21. Adjust the settings in the dialog that opens to match the settings below and click OK:
  22. If you zoom in to 100% (CTRL + mouse wheel forward), you should now have a file that looks like this:

  23. Click the NOISE layer’s Mode (1), and set it to Burn (2).
  24. You should now have something that looks a bit like this:

    This is the fine texture for your parchment, but it is a bit on the sharp side – a bit like sandpaper at the moment, so we need to blur it just very slightly, and make it more transparent so that it’s not so harsh on the eye.

  25. With the Noise layer selected, Chose Filters/Blur/Gaussian Blur… from the menu.
  26. Set the Gaussian Blur to have a radius of 1 and click OK (the default is 5.0, so don’t forget to change it).
  27. Then with the NOISE layer still selected, double click the number in the Opacity slider (1), and type “30”.

  28. Now the view in the window at 100% should look something like this:

    At this three-layer stage we are nearly done, and you could call a halt to work right now, but I like to give the surface a bit of depth to go with all that texture.

  29. Make sure you still have the NOISE sheet selected in the Layer panel, and from the Layer menu pick New from Visible.

  30. This will produce a new layer on top of the other three layers that is a combination of all the other three. This layer is called “Visible” by default, and since that name is quite apt there is no need to rename it for future reference.

  31. With the new Visible layer selected in the Layers panel, go to the Filters menu and select Map/Bump Map.
  32. Leave all the settings as default except the Map type (1), where you need to click the down arrow and pick Spherical, and the Depth (2), which needs to be set at about 5. (the preview window on this filter is pretty bad. Just ignore it. The effect it will have on your file will look a thousand times better than that.)
  33. Click OK and you are done.
  34. Exporting the finished texture.

    This basic 3-4 layer parchment should be suitable for most maps, although it’s possible to add a lot more layers with things like dirt and water stains, at which point it all gets really quite a lot more complicated. Since I anticipate that the majority of readers will never have used GIMP before, I feel this is as far as we need to take this tutorial to demonstrate the basic principles of making parchment textures.

    If you do feel that you want to carry on and learn how to do the whole parchment job there will be instructions on how to vary the basic technique, add things like folds, wear and tear in part 2 of this tutorial next month.

  35. If you want to keep this basic parchment GIMP file just click File/Save and give it a name. The file extension will be .xcf, and not usable in CC3. It is purely a GIMP file in exactly the same way that a CC3 file is .fcw and purely a CC3 file.
  36. To export the parchment in a form that can be used in CC3 you will need to export it from the GIMP file in a similar way to exporting a CC3 file to a jpg or png file.

  37. Click the File menu again and choose Export. Give the png a filename and click OK. Unlike CC3 you won’t be shown the process of export, but if you check in the folder where you saved the exported png you will find the file right where it should be – ready to be imported to CC3 as an image.

Please note – the textures made this way are not seamless, and will not function very well as texture fills. While GIMP does have a filter called “Make Seamless”, it doesn’t work all that well compared to other apps. I am working on a way to do something similar in Krita, which is another free app like GIMP, but which allows the user to create completely perfect seamless tiles.

You can download this article as a pdf file from this link.

About the author: Sue Daniel is active as a cartographer and artist both on the Profantasy community forum and the Cartographer’s Guild. There, she has won 1 Lite Challenge and 3 Main Challenges, and just recently one of the annual Atlas Awards for most creative map in 2017. She has produced many beautiful art assets for CC3+ (such as the “Sue’s Parchments” Annual issue) and mapping in general that are free to use for anyone.

9 Responses to “Making parchments and parchment scrolls, Part 1 (by Sue Daniel)”

  1. Thank you for this tutorial Sue! I’m sure many people will find this incredibly useful. I know I will!

  2. You’re welcome, Tony. It was a pleasure to share 🙂

  3. Thanks. Really useful tutorial.

  4. Thank you for this great tutorial! I started getting value from it right at the start because I’ve been trying to find Single-Window Mode in GIMP for awhile. I knew it was available, but I was looking in Settings. And turning off the border around the image? Didn’t even know that was possible but am so glad to get rid of it. That was all before getting to the parchment part! And then I learned other new things (and I’ve been using GIMP for a long time, but it’s easy to stick to what we know).

    I like the parchment result from this and look forward to another part that adds even more refinements. Thanks again!

  5. Thanks for sharing your technique, Sue. It was really interesting, particularly the different effects you used to make a solid color look like parchment (plasma, noise…). That’s very clever. It also helps that your instructions are clear and informative. Believe it or not, many fiction writers have difficulty writing instructions! You clearly aren’t among them.

    Rock on!


  6. Thank you all 🙂

    Stuart – That single window mode and the layer boundary ant trick took me 3 weeks to find out, and then it was only by asking other people over at the Guild. The GIMP is not an intuitive app 😛

    Dogtag – I use plasma and HSV noise for practically everything from parchment through grassland textures to nebula backgrounds. As for the instructions, I’m beginning to think the reason I just can’t seem to get the book written is because I’m more of an instruction set writer 😉

    Hope you all enjoy and get some use out of this and the other two parts 🙂

  7. This was Excellent! I’ve had GIMP for a while, but this was the first time I’ve had clear instructions on how to use its many features in a complex (and useful) project. I look forward to the following parts of this. (BTW, what parts of this procedure should I use for leather and brushed metal textures starting from a flat color background?)

  8. Thank you Dalton 🙂

    I haven’t tried brushed metal or leather, though I expect brushed metal might involve an extremely long narrow file and several layers of *mostly* desaturated plasma (leave a bit of colour by using the Colors/HSV filter, or the Colors/Colorize… filter to grey it down instead of totally desaturating it) overlaid on a plain grey background.

    Like I say, however – I’ve never tried it.

  9. Sorry – I didn’t explain that very well!

    Plasma distorts in the long direction of the file, so the longer and narrower the file the more stretched out and ‘brushed’ the plasma will appear. That’s why this first parchment is square 😉