Normal map creation from diffuse textures

There are several occasions when we need a tool/process to create normal map textures.
We can do that in various ways.

1. We can make normal maps from high-poly meshes to give additional detail to a low-poly mesh (commonly used for game characters and objects to achieve better performance with the ‘same’ visual quality). This method is called ‘Normal Map Baking’.

2. We would like to create a normal map for general purposes without exact and object specific  UV mapping  information – texturing walls, ground, rocks, trees, etc.
In this case ‘baking’ could be time consuming and – in general – simple not required for our goals.

This is the area, where simple tools can shine, if their features and pricing optimal for professional quality work.

I think, CrazyBump is the most known and highest quality dedicated normal map creation tool on the market.
It makes wonderful textures from a single photo;  it has a simple, nice and fast GUI. It is also stable and has an easy installation procedure, too.

But..  …. this tool costs USD 275.
This is the part where the developer of a great product loses a customer like me.

To judge the affordable pricing is not easy, so I used to use different methods.

Comparing the price to other tools

If there is no other tool on the market for the same task, I used to compare the number of functions and the estimated job involved.
In this case there are several other tools, but – just for fun – take a look on this. I’m not a programmer, soit is not really fair from me, but I think the logic behind the concept is quite obvious…

– For 295 bucks CrazyBump as a 2D texture image tweaking/converting tool offers you the ability of making  some texture types
– For USD 110  Serif PhotoPlus or for USD 126 Adobe PhotoShop Elements offers you a complete 2D image manipulation package with far more features involved
(although none of them is normal map creation, that is a fact)
– For USD 275 MOI3D gives you a full-featured NURBS modeling package
– For USD 70  Sony Studio Platinum offers you a well-established video editing package

All of these softwares has far more work involved.
Even if we count  the number of potential customers (more limited market), CrazyBump is an insanely terrible priced stuff.

Are there any free tools for this?

Yes and no.
‘Yes’, because there are several free tools and ‘No’, because the cannot really compete except of the price tag.
UPDATED: there is a capable free tool, see it later!

Here the list comes
(Of course there are other free tools available with the ability to produce normal maps as output, but I tried to make a list of ‘direct’ competitors and mostly recommended apps by the online communities)

1. xNormal  – one of the most terrible GUIs I’ve ever seen. Not stable.
2. Normal Map Plugin for GIMP  – limited options and GIMP needed
3. nVidia Normal Map Filter for PhotoShoplimited options and PS needed
4. Insane BumpTerrible GUI and programming – I had to install a tons of other stuff (Python) for the standalone version and it halted 2 times from 3 tries. Sad, because it looked promising.
5. SSBump GeneratorNot stable.

So, is there any cheaper tool for normal map creation?

Of course.
And this is the point Crazy Bump loses the battle for customers.

MindTex – for USD 15 you get almost identical GUI and function to CrazyBump.
Theoretically.
For this low price I could live with the blurry GUI text, but the 3D view simple didn’t work work me at all. Pity.

PixPlant2 – for USD 195 offers additionally a seamless texture creation tool, but lacks AO map creation.

ShaderMap 2
  – for USD 40 you get almost the same features in very good quality.  Additional feature:  normal painting tool.
Best offer. I will keep this product in mind. UPDATE: I bought it. It has very fast support and the developer reacts well on suggestions.

Other possibilities:

There are some tools I have to mention related to normal map creation, although they are more complex tools.

MapZone is a free node-based tool and it is awesome, but quite difficult compared to CrazyBump.
NeoTextureEdit is another free node-based tool, focusing on procedural texture creation (and it is cross-platform).

Conclusion

It wanted to write that the winner is clearly ShaderMap2.
But – as it used to happen when you write a post in your spare time and just continue it a few days later – I found a new app.

KNALD – works, produces very good result. FOR FREE (open beta).  UPDATE: NOW IT IS COMMERCIAL and a little bit pricey (200 USD for commercial usage)
Download it from here, it does the job.

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One thought on “Normal map creation from diffuse textures

  1. Pingback: VR Builder | UPDATE: normal map creation

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