Painting Realistic Trees

Great looking trees can be the bane of illustrators and architects alike. Photographic cutouts, simplistic clip art or time consuming renders never seem to match the look of the rendered building. Then again, most artists don't realize just how easy it is to paint realistic trees now.

It may sound too good to be true, but highly realistic trees can be painted in just a few minutes. That's because now you can actually paint with realistic foliage, limbs and branches, even in print size resolutions. All you need is Jungle DVD and a paint program.

It's about as easy as making a sandwich because you paint on three layers. You simply spray realistic foliage clusters onto a background layer, spray branches onto a trunk layer in the middle, then add foreground foliage to a top layer. If that sounds too simple, see for yourself.

Most any version of Painter will do, from 5 through 8. This tutorial is for the Painter 6 & 7 interface. If you don't own Painter, download an evaluation version and use the Painter 8 tutorial. We've provided the tools (Mac) you'll need, including a finished tree and shadow texture.

Before you begin, display the Tools (Ctrl+1), Brushes (Ctrl+2), Objects (Ctrl+4) and Controls (Ctrl+5) palettes and arrange them similar to what is shown on the following page.

1) Launch Painter and expand the File menu. Select New and enter 512 x 512 pixels to make the file dimensions square.

2) Open the "Birch Trunk" file found in your Jungle DVD tools and Click and drag the trunk layer into the working tree image, then close the Trunk file.

3) Choose the Load Library command on the Brush palette and select the Tree Tutorial brush library included with the Jungle DVD tools.

4) Select the Textures Brush.

5) Finally, Load the "Birch Branches" nozzle included with the tutorial by using Ctrl+L or calling the Load Nozzle command located on the Nozzle pull-down menu at the top of the Brush palette.

6) Set Nozzle Scale using the menu above to insure the brush size is set to the default 100%. Click OK.

7) Paint some branches along the trunk and limbs. Scale the brush size to paint smaller branches as you get near the top. Be sparing. A little goes a long way.

It's okay if the results are not perfect. The foliage will cover most errors. If you want to do a little touch-up, use the eraser or clone brushes to connect to the branches to the trunk correctly.

8) When you're finished painting branches, choose Load Nozzle again (Ctrl+L) and select the "Birch Shadows" nozzle from your Jungle DVD tools.

9) Since shadows only apply to the trunk and limbs, select "Lock Transparency" on the Objects: Layers palette. That limits the paint to the visible part of the tree only.

10) Adjust the shadow nozzle size by choosing Set Nozzle Scale again. Make the setting 40%. If you don't remember how, you can scale nozzle size using the Controls: Brush palette. Try a size near 28.

Since shadows are semi-transparent, set Opacity to 65% as shown above.

11) If you don't have a tablet, use individual mouse clicks to paint with dabs. Make the shadows depict dappled lighting along the tree trunk and limbs.

12) Turn off Lock Transparency and create a new Background Leaves layer. Position it below the trunk layer.

13) Load the "Birch Foliage (aut)" nozzle (Ctrl+L) and set Nozzle Scale to 80% (or simply adjust the brush size to 15 on the Control palette).

14) Open the Art Materials: Colors palette (Ctrl+3) and select the secondary color to make it active (see below). Set the color to a dark yellow as shown.

15) Reduce brush Grain to 70% and return brush Opacity to 100%. Reducing the Grain setting will tint the foliage with the secondary color.

16) Paint some background leaves using dabs or individual mouse clicks. Be very sparing.

17) Now create a third Foreground Leaves layer and position it above the Trunk layer.

18) Reset Grain to 100%.

19) Using dabs or brief strokes, paint some leaves on the front of the tree. Remember to be sparing. You want to see parts of the trunk and branches as well as the shaded leaves from the far side.

20) When you're done painting, hold the Shift key down and select all three layers on the list. Group the layers using the Group button or Ctrl+G, then Collapse the group to a single Birch Tree layer.

21) You can use Brightness/Contrast to enhance the illusion of depth between the background and foreground leaves. Sharpening will bring the tree into clearer focus as well.

22) Both filters tend to increase Saturation, so use Adjust Color to lower Saturation. If the tree looks a bit too dark, increase the Value as well.

23) If you want to try adding a modeled or rounded look, choose Effects: Surface Control: Apply Lighting.

24) All that's left is choose how to save the file, and that depends on how you plan to use the tree. If you plan to use it as 2D art, you're done. Simply save the tree layer as a Photoshop .psd file. Using the Photoshop format preserves the layer while letting you open the file in most any image editor.

25) If you plan to use the tree as a texture in 3D, you need to save an alpha channel mask of the tree before merging the layer with the Canvas background. Saving the alpha channel insures the tree will be the only part that is visible when the texture is mapped to a model in your 3D scene.

26) Use the Eye Dropper tool to sample the darker leaves on the tree, then Fill the Canvas background with that color. Filling the Canvas with the foliage color prevents a white halo from appearing around the tree when it's used as a texture.

27) Choose Drop and Select on the Layer menu to merge the tree with the Canvas background.

28) Use the Save Selection command on the Select menu or click on the Save Selection button located on the Masks palette. Click OK again to save the selection as a New Mask.

29) Save the flattened file using PSD or the file format preferred by your 3D application. (Painter doesn't save alpha channels for TIF formats unless you tell it to. When saving to TIF, be sure to select the "Save Alpha" checkbox or the mask will be lost.)

30) A few last words.

If your first tree didn't turn out as well you would like, don't be discouraged. The tutorial is about getting familiar with the painting process and technique. It's hard to control everything the first time through, especially if you're new to Painter. Just repeat the tutorial until the sequence and commands become familiar. We've included different kinds of foliage to keep it interesting. Once you get the hang of it, you'll see how easy it is to paint highly realistic, dimensional looking trees and foliage. Great looking trees will soon follow.

This tutorial uses only the smallest versions of nozzles found in Jungle DVD. Larger nozzles translate to bigger trees, plants and foliage with greater detail and more striking results. You'll want to keep those.

Try some of the other Jungle DVD tutorials as well. Painting Shadows demonstrates how to paint realistic shadow textures, as shown below the tree pictured here. Painting Structures demonstrates how to work with larger foliage structures, and how to paint trunks and limbs that match. Painting Terrains demonstrates techniques for creating dimensional looking foliage textures that map to irregular terrain models. Painting QTVR Panoramas shows you how to paint a QTVR panorama using Painter's tiling brush stroke effect.

To find out more about Jungle DVD and other DigArts products, visit us at

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