Napoleonic, WSS & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday 1 September 2012

The Klutz’s Guide to Flag Texturing

Plain, untextured, “flat” flag

I’ve been drawing and printing my own wargaming flags for a few years now. It’s fun, it’s cheap, you can print them whatever size you want, and it doesn’t matter if you mess one up during the fiddly job of gluing them onto 20mm scale flagpoles – just print another!

Recently I’ve started doing some ECW flags, which – again – is fun, but the flags tend to be more plain than the Napoleonic ones I’ve done before, and the commercial stuff you can buy (and the best of the freebie downloads that are available) look all the better for a bit of texturing. Three personal observations about texturing:

(1) A mixture of textured and untextured flags on the battlefield doesn’t look good

(2) ECW flags were taffeta (which is sort of silk), so it is not going to be possible to get that effect by curling the paper flags a bit at the corners

(3) Although I’ve played around with graphics tools for years, I’ve never found out how to do textured flags. There are tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere which I’ve sat through, but they are always presented by enthusiasts for enthusiasts, and mostly I don’t even understand the jargon they use. If someone mentions “layered objects” or “the feathering tool” I find my attention starts to wander.

So I’ve produced some pleasing, but plain, flat flags, and I’d really like to be able to use some ready made ones as well, so I set myself I little objective – I have Photoshop 7, why not learn how to do texturing? Then I would be able to mix my own flags and other people’s with cheerful abandon. First big help here was that one of my grown-up sons does a lot of graphic design as part of his job, so I commissioned him to come up with a short tutorial which even I could understand.

And he delivered. I felt it might be a nice idea to share my new knowledge here – if you wish to have a go then you will need Photoshop or some graphic editor of similar functionality – what follows explains the job in terms of Photoshop. I will mention some types of graphic files, but only because I need to, not because I’m an enthusiast. OK?

The first picture, at the top of this post, is a flat flag called YellowTest. My flags are 1270 pixels wide by 600 pixels high, as it happens, which – as you will see – gives me a wraparound flag with a bit of sleeve in the middle (to go around the pole). If you want to try this out, right click on the flag picture, choose “open in a new window”, then – when the big version opens up – right click on it again and select “save image as”. That will give you a full size copy of my flat YellowTest flag, called YellowTest.jpg

Texture Samples

Now you need a texture sample – you can easily find good examples on the internet. You need one that has the right sort of look, isn’t too violently textured (if it looks like it has come out of the washing machine spin cycle, don’t use it). You also need one that isn’t watermarked, and is large enough to have decent resolution. At this stage, it doesn’t matter much what file format it uses, either, though it will have to be in Photoshop psd format before we finish with it. Oh – and it doesn’t matter what colour it is, as long as it is only a single colour.

You need to download your texture sample, and you will need to crop out a piece which is about the shape of one half of your flag – try to get a fairly calm side edge where the pole will be. I’ve supplied one here – it is the texture for the right hand side (or obverse) of my flag, and I’ve chosen a calm side for my left hand (pole) edge. I’ve resized it (that’s “Resample” in Paintshop Pro) so that it is 635 pixels by 600 (half-flag sized), made it grayscale, and darkened it a lot more than you would expect – it’s important that there is no white at all left in the texture sample, or you get some very strange highlighting effects in the final flag.

Right (obverse)

Righto – first really nerdy bit. Because Blogger does not allow me to put a psd-type image file on here for download, I’ve had to upload it as a bog standard jpg, but otherwise it is correct. If you download it (same way as for the flag image), you will have to open it up in Photoshop and then save it again as a psd file – keep the name the same, just choose psd as the file type when you save it. My file is called Flagtexture1_R.jpg (for Right).

[By the way, the small versions of the images on this blog post will not be to a constant scale – Blogger makes the images the same size – but the big versions you download will be fine. That is why the half-flag texture samples on this screen are not half as big as the full-flag one.]

Left (reverse)

The next thing I had to do was to produce a mirror image of my texture for the other side of the flag – here it is. It is Flagtexture1_L.jpg (L for Left), but you’ll have to resave it as Flagtexture_L.psd using Photoshop. Keep both the Left and Right versions. Next step is to make a big new blank image, say 2000 pixels square and white, and carefully copy and paste the right-hand texture and the left-hand one next to each other, so that the left one is on the left (duh!) and the join is the calm edge. I cropped it and resized it back to 1270 x 600, and I’ve now got the full flag texture file. The downloadable one is called Flagtexture1.jpg, but again you need to re-save it from Photoshop as Flagtexture1.psd. Here is my version.

Full texture pattern

Textured Version of the Flag

My flag – just textured

In Photoshop open up both YellowTest.jpg (the flat, basic flag) and Flagtexture1.psd and click on the Flagtexture window – from the menus at the top, choose Select > All and a dotted rectangle will appear around the edge of the texture image. Now choose Edit > Copy.

Click on the flag image, and then choose Edit > Paste, and your yellow flag will suddenly look exactly like the texture sample.

Now the clever bit – on the right hand side of the Photoshop screen you will see a series of little editing screens, and the bottom one should have a tab with the word Layers displayed on it.

There is a little pull down menu on that bit, which will probably say Normal. Click on that pull-down and select Hard Light. And you will get a nasty mix of the two images. There are two slider controls in that same area of the screen for Opacity and Fill – adjust them to 50 and 50 and things will look much better. Try 80 and 40. When you are happy with the textured flag, save it under a new name as a jpg file.

Displaced and Textured Version of the Flag

Displaced and Textured

The textured flag is fine – that is what most of the downloadable stuff is. There is an additional step you can take to distort the pattern a little, so that the ripples on the flag show both in the lighting and in a slight stretching of the pattern.

We have to do the distortion before we do the texturing. Now it would be nice if you could do this for the whole flag in one go, but unfortunately the distortion will probably cause the middle of the flag to shift a bit, which will give odd results when you try to fold it around the pole. So we have to do it as two halves – which is why it is good we kept the Right and Left halves of the texture files.

Open up the original YellowTest.jpg in Photoshop, choose the pointer tool (you should get a little cross for your cursor), and draw a rectangle to select the right hand side of the flag – doesn’t matter too much if the middle is not quite exact, as long as you get the whole of the right hand side.

Now if you choose Filters > Distort > Displace a little menu appears. Keep the settings at 10 and 10 with 'stretch to fit' and 'repeat end pixels' highlighted.

Photoshop will then open a new window looking for a file to use for the displacement. Select the Flagtexture1_R.psd file you saved, and something a bit nasty will happen to the right half of the flag.

Now choose Select > Inverse and the other half will be highlighted. Go through the Filters > Distort > Displace bit again – just the same, but select Flagtexture1_L.psd this time. Your flag is now definitely looking a bit distressed.

Now choose Select > Deselect (so that the next job is done to the whole flag), and open up the full texture file Flagtexture1.psd. The rest of the job is the texturing, exactly as I described it above – copying and pasting the texture pattern on top of the (distressed) flag, then working with the Hard Light option in the Layers window and adjusting the sliders to 50/50 (or whatever you prefer). Job done – save your finished flag as a jpg under whatever name you like. You can lighten/darken it or alter the contrast to taste, and you can even use a Blur filter to soften the wrinkles a bit if you want – that is getting into the realms of playing with it.

I do not want to get into online support here, but if anything really doesn’t work get back to me.


  1. Excellent! Just wish I had Photoshop!

    1. Ray - send me a flag and I'll send it back textured - email it to me through my Blogger profile.

      Cheers - Tony

  2. I think I actually understood that but suddenly hand painting flags doesn't seem so bad and my interest in late 19th C games (ie post flags on the battlefield ) seems like a really good idea. But great post and thanks for sharing it.

  3. Wow! Likewise - I need Photoshop before I can practice, but a very useful tutorial Mr. Foy! I'm midway through a CAD course (passed levels 2/3 in 2D AutoCAD and starting 3D on Monday) so will see what I can do there, trouble is I think I will have to use absolute dimensions rather than pixels X pixels and then scale down but it should be possible and we have tools for scaling and shading...using jargon! (layer control and viewports!!!)

    Co-indecently; we were designing Nazi flags the other day, for humour not far-right politics, I'll chuck them on my blog in a day or two!


  4. Neat.

    One small but non-trivial point - the button and stitch counters will point out that your flag seems to billow out on both sides. What I do is copy the texture, mirror it, and then use 'Invert' in photoshop or equivalent to swap black for white on the mirrored copy.

    1. Hi Mike - very true. I started out with the same logic, and did an inverse for the mirror image - complication I found was that you really have to fade to very smooth grey at the pole (hoist?), and have to darken until the inverted shades match, or you get some strange effects at the fold. I chose to go with identical sides, since

      (1) it was easier

      (2) very few of the button and stitch counters will have their eyes so far apart they can see both sides of the fitted flag at the same time

      Many thanks - cheers - Tony