Understanding Texture Quality

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As a mod author that has always tried to produce work of a high standard, it pains me to see mods get featured on the Hot Files when they are incorrectly labelled and quite frankly, of atrocious quality.

You may often see a mod that contains the words "HD", "High Definition", "Ultra HD", "UHD" and so on, but how many of them are actually high quality? Very few. I've spoken with numerous amounts of mod authors about this and many of them didn't seem to understand that a large canvas doesn't automatically equal high quality. Similarly, most of the community will see these words and believe the work to be of a high standard. This isn't their fault, they just don't know or see the difference until it is pointed out.

So how does this happen?

For example, a mod author wants to re-texture (a word used incorrectly 95% of the time) a monster from Skyrim, but finds that the texture that Bethesda packed with the game is only 1024x1024. They want to release the new texture as a 4096x4096 (4K) but how can they do this when the original texture is much much smaller? The solution, is up-scaling. They take the low resolution image and physically increase it in size until it is stretched and fits within the new, larger 4K image space. By doing this, every pixel is increased in size, becoming blurry and actually worse in quality. Details are lost and prominent bad edges will stand out more.

To counter the obvious decrease in quality, they will start trying to cover up the most noticeable areas with surface noise. This gives the illusion that the image is now of high quality, however the bad quality image still remains. As the entire image is not of high quality and the pixel density is all over the place, it cannot be considered HD. If anything, it would be a kind of "pseudo-HD" given that the overlayed noise/texture was of a 1:1 ratio (sometimes even the overlayed noise is up-scaled too)

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Now, I know there are many new up-scaling techniques out there, but the fact remains that bitmap imagery still cannot be effectively up-scaled without a loss of quality. When striving to produce work of a high standard, it should never be a consideration unless you are working with vector.

If you're going to create a HD texture, make sure all of your imagery is high quality to begin with and if you can't get what you need in HD, then you're going to have to bake it or remake it yourself from scratch.

Don't just keep pumping out bad quality mod after bad quality mod and giving it the "HD" label in hopes of enticing users into downloading your mod. Not only are you deceiving your users, but you are also wasting their VRAM and disk space by providing files that are of a larger resolution and file size, but consist of low quality up-scaled textures. There is zero quality benefit by doing this.

Also, if you can't accept feedback & criticism, then you will never ever ever improve on your work. Take what somebody says and use it to make your next mod better. It really is something very valuable.

20 comments

  1. billyro
    billyro
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    Totally agree - and something to add: running the diffuse through a normal map generator doesn't automatically equal high quality. I've seen a few mods with excessive depth in the normal maps to "appear" HD, when all it does it make the texture look fake.

    One thing I need to bring myself up on is releasing mods with textures higher than they need to be - I like to work with 4K textures, but a lot of them only really need to be 2K. Gotta work on that...
  2. zzjay
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    i think it also depends on the engine....some game slike skyrim r fallout 4 are heavily influenced by normalmaps,and therefore you really need an high quality one...

    but games like fallout new vegas and oblivion,the normalmap has little to no effect in the final result,sadly,so you have to resort to fake shadows on diffusemap...but well they have other positives.

    The fake HD textue works well enough there,since you just do it to remove blockiness from te map.the upscale prevents from more artifacts being created while compressing.

    But it's true that alf of the HD retextures you find on the site are just crap.
    1. johnskyrim
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      The vast majority of modders don't understand how important they are. It's not enough to just have a noisy "retexture" ran through a generator, because you just lost all of the original bake, the part that defines the surface and the part that matters the most. That's why most retextures look completely flat.

      In Skyrim, normals are the most important map. You could have a solid colour diffuse, but if you have a high quality normal map, it can really make all of the difference.

      A pixellated/blurry 4k normal map will be no better quality than a 2k and even then, if the 2k is bad, 1k might be the only resolution is looks good in. It's just a waste of VRAM.
    2. zzjay
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      yeah...512 is more than enough in most cases,like clutters and s***

      reason why i mostly use vanilla textures or SMIM...
      changing only the diffusemap is the best solution,then adjust over the deails you want to erase from original normalmap
  3. graywinds
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    Wow i couldn't ask for more , a beginner's guide with advices
  4. Rohganictus
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    Hello,
    I do agree with all of this.
    But like ShinglesCat pointed out, this is how I started out doing the textures for myself.
    I do agree that people that "lure" people into "fake 4k retextures" is bad.

    I don't download all those mods because I run my skyrim on a low-end computer so I can't handle heavy mods, not even ENBs.

    But as I see in the comments below here, there is a misundersting also.
    This is not "a guide" like some people say it in the comments.
    You do not explain how to do it properly and how to paint, starting from scratch.

    I quit modding a long time ago because it was time consuming and there is always have been a "mainstream" vibe on here.

    I always did the things for the "wrong reasons", as I don't have it irl, I always seek for acceptance and like everyone else I like when someone gives a compliment or give an endorsment.

    But here I notice most of the time, it's often the same generic skimpy busty half-naked companions with the same generic anime faces with a tiny nose and big eyes that gets all the attention in Pictures or Mods.

    Anyway, I lost myself. Back to the topic.

    As a noob, when I tried to make my own textures, I took the original texture and re-scaled it as you say it.
    But I tried to repaint over it, from scratch to make it look better.
    What would be useless as a noob is maybe a guide on how to do it properly.

    And yes, I do accept critism and feedback. I even welcome it!
    Because most of the time, I got none, back then when modding.
    But your post seems more like critisizing in an elitist way without guiding on how to do it properly.
    You just say how to NOT do it.

    (Sorry if this sound aggressive or whatever, it is not intended as such, just got my first cup of coffee only, so I might not be on the best social and diplomatic way of communicating yet ^^)
    1. johnskyrim
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      As you said, it's not a guide into how to create something. It's a post to raise awareness and understand what is going on, because many simply do not know the difference between good, bad and mislabelled textures.

      There are plenty of video tutorials on YouTube on how to texture a 3D model, none of which teach up-scaling. With tools like Substance Painter, 3D Coat, Modo and so fourth, you can paint directly onto the model, which makes it even easier than before. I think even Blender offers such features now.
    2. pinkhanyou
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      Hello, I just want to jump in and say I am aware this is not a guide as in being a literal guide on how to do x, so there is no misunderstanding on my end. When I refer to it as a guide, I mean it as being a general guideline to remember.
  5. clauDA
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    A nice idea. Should you do more often. (-;
    You are certainly right and I understand your reaction.
    Does it bother you when a beginner provides a still deficient mod?
    Or is it specifically the misleading information?
    On the one hand, I see it quite loose. Everyone starts small.
    On the other hand, it is annoying. Anyway. Thanks to all modders.
    1. johnskyrim
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      Beginners are beginners and in most cases, can accept criticism and want to learn and improve. I've had many many messages from people starting out, asking questions, advice or just showing me their work. This is fine, they want to learn, they know they aren't a master of modding (nobody is!)

      The issue is with those that have been modding a while and consistently put out multiples of these low quality mods per week. They have no intention of getting better, they don't want to learn and they can't accept criticism. It does bother me when they mislabel their mods, but I feel bad for the users too because they will download and endorse the files without knowing the issues at hand.
    2. clauDA
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      Then I hope we all learn something. Can not hurt. Have a nice week. (-;
    3. TeofaTsavo
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      Even the newest of new modders should heed the evidence of their own eyes.
  6. rudy102
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    Good to hear a wise man Unfortunately Bethesda does the same. If you ever look at textures from the SE version, you will see that some of them are upscaled to 4K resolution form a 1K source (probably already compressed), in a very lazy way, without any filtering or adding a noise. For what, I have no idea.
    1. johnskyrim
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      The thought of double up-scaling makes me cringe! It doesn't make any sense to me why bethesda didn't offer a 4K package. I've seen some of the artists raw zbrush models, they could easily just bake out a 4K map!
    2. rudy102
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      I can only guess, but in such cases always the word "money" appears on the horizon
      Unless they really are so lazy.
    3. johnskyrim
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      Gotta pump out the next Skyrim port on the Apple Watch!
    4. TeofaTsavo
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      Yes, the upscaling is one of the biggest turn offs for me with SE. It's a lie and it's lazy, I assume they just batched them.

      It adds vram budget while actually lowering visual quality.

      The most common reason I reject mods is finding out that excessive upscaled textures contribute nothing but a 4k! 8k! blurb in the mod description.
  7. ShinglesCat
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    I think I know what or who exactly made you make this post.

    Tbh, I think upscaling and adding some noise is fine, unless, as you said, labeled as HD or desired amount of K. I personally use this method a lot for myself when I want quick results with little to no effort.

    What bothers me the most is that people usually forget about the mesh, they work primarily on maps, layering random textures on top (bones, scales, fur), then mindlessly processing merged everything at once through normal map generators (and then they wonder why everything looks stretched, has a lot of seams and no difference between some of the parts, like everything is made from a single material, idk how to call that). I must admit, I used this method in the past with some of my armors, but at least they had good UVs to work with - I really enjoyed this workflow, and it helped me understand some things better.
    1. johnskyrim
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      That's one of the reasons why these bad mods are churned out, because these authors don't want to put in the effort, like you said, they want quick results with little to no effort. The results speak for themselves.

      You're right about not thinking about the mesh either and one of biggest hates are people that make their textures, then run the final COLOURED BITMAP through some garbage software like CrazyBump or even the Nvidia thing.
  8. pinkhanyou
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    Thank you so much for creating this guide!
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