Contour Line Map in Affinity Photo

Hi everyone!

In this Affinity Photo tutorial, I’m going to show you how to create an editable contour lines map. While these are not seamless, they make fun designs for stationary and other products that don’t require tiling. 

I’m working in the iPad version of the app, however the same process applies for the desktop version. 

Let’s get started!

Setting Up the Canvas

Because we’re dealing with pixels, and I want to be able to use this for print products, I’m starting with a 3000 pixel square canvas set to 300 dpi. If you only plan to use this online, 72 dpi will be just fine!

The first thing I want to do is add a white fill layer to my canvas and rasterize it. In order for the next step to happen, adding Perlin Clouds, Photo needs a pixel layer in place, filled with white, to add it to. 

Follow these steps:

  • Set your color swatch to white
  • Go to the layer panel, tap on the plus icon and choose “Fill Layer”
  • Go to the next icon over in the layer panel and choose “Rasterize”

Once you’re done, you will be left with a pixel layer filled with white and you’re all set for the next few steps.

Adding the Filter & Adjustment Layers

We’re going to create this in such a way that you have an editable group to go back to and make adjustments, if necessary. The only exception to this is the very last filter we add, however we will maintain the original, editable group. That means that we’ll either be using Live Filters or the Adjustment Panel throughout the next few steps.

Adding Procedural Texture

While there is a destructive filter that lets you quickly add perlin noise (or clouds as they’re called in other apps), which is what is typically used to create these contour lines, we’re going to use a Procedural Texture live filter to add ours, for two reasons: 1. it remains editable, and 2. it means we can easily try out other presets, other than perlin noise, that can give us some great results.

  • With the new pixel layer selected, go to the Live Filter menu at the side (hint…it looks like an hour glass… if you can’t locate it, tap the ? at the bottom corner of the screen) toggle on “Add Live filters,” and choose Procedural Texture.

It’s going to look like nothing happened and that’s because we need to choose our preset. At the top of the screen, next to where it says “No Split View” you will see an empty drop down box. 

  • Click on it and scroll until you see “Simple Perlin Noise.” This is the preset we’ll use for this tutorial but you could also try out: Oils, Fur, Camouflage and others! This is going to create a separate layer called Procedural Texture. Clip it inside the original Pixel layer.

Quick Tip! Because this is a Live Filter, you can go back to this layer, tap and drag the filter around on the canvas to move it to a different spot. This allows you to try out different “cloud” formations for different results.

Adding Gaussian Blur

In order to smooth out the lines of our contours, we’re going to blur the noise we just added. 

Quick Tip!  After creating your final contour, if you notice jagged lines, this is the filter you’re going to want to try adjusting first. The more blur, the smoother the lines. More on that in a bit!

  • Go back to the Live Filters and, with the last filter selected, choose Gaussian Blur. 
  • Set your blur to somewhere between 20-25%. This is non-destructive, so you can always adjust.
  • Toggle on “Protect Alpha” at the top. This will make sure the edges don’t disappear as you increase the blur.

Adding a Levels Adjustment

The contours are going to be formed with a posterize filter added next but, before we do that, let’s brigthen the whites and darken the blacks to create a little more contrast. We’ll do this by adding a Levels adjustment. This non-destructive adjustment won’t be found in the Live Filters, but rather in the Adjustments studio. (hint… this looks like a circle half filled with black and half filled with white.)

  • Go to Adjustments and choose Levels
  • Bring the black percentage up and the white percentage down until you have a nice contrast.
  • Use the Gamma slider to add or remove mid tone grays. 

There are no perfect settings for this adjustment. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that the white and gray areas are where the contours will form. The black areas are going to create large pockets. Adjust your settings based on how detailed you want the contours to be, taking care to avoid hot spots, like blown out highlights with the whites.

Remember, this is non-destructive, and we’ll be keeping this editable, so you can always come back in and adjust if you want to try a different setting.

Adding a Posterize Adjustment

We’re going to stay within the Adjustments studio and this time, add a Posterize adjustment. This is going to begin to form the shapes that will ultimately become our contours.

  • Go to Adjustments and choose Posterize
  • Drag the levels up until you begin to see the contours form in the whites and mid tone grays.

This is another adjustment where there is no perfect setting. You want to keep your levels relatively low as, the higher you go, the contours will begin to disappear. I find a range between 10 and 14 usually works well, but play around and experiment.

Quick Tip! If you want to add more visible contours, go back to your Levels adjustment and adjust the contrast to add more white and midtone gray. Again, the black areas are going to create large, open areas. Once you’ve adjusted the Levels, you can always go back in and increase your levels on the Posterize adjustment. (see below)

Merging Visible Layers

This is where the road ends for the editable layers. The last filter, which is going to create the lines forming the contours, is a destructive one and has to be performed on a rasterized layer. 

In order to keep all of our editable layers in tact, while still giving Photo something to add the filter to, we’re going to create a single pixel layer copy from everything we just added, including the original fill layer.

  • Select your main pixel layer; you don’t need to select all of the adjustments clipped inside.
  • Go to the second icon from the left and choose “Merge Visible.”
  • Turn off the visibility of the original pixel layer and it’s clipped adjustments. 

Merging Visible is going to create a single layer copy, at the top of the layer stack, that includes the original fill layer plus all of the adjustments. 

The original layer is still in tact, turned off, and set aside so that you can always go back and try different settings but, for now, any further adjustments will be made to this new layer.

Creating the Contour Lines with Detect Edges

This destructive filter is going to locate the edges of all of those wavy little lines and create our final contour lines. Follow these steps:

  • Go back to the Filters Menu and toggle off “Add Live filters” if it’s still on
  • Find, and select, “Detect Edges.”
  • You should be left with thin white lines on a black background (see below)

If you don’t like how it turned out, just delete that pixel layer, make adjustments to your original, editable filter/adjustment layers and follow the process again. 

Inverting and Removing the Background

So, while this is fine, let’s invert this so that the lines are black and the background is white. From there, we’ll use Photo’s “Erase White Paper,” filter to get rid of the background and leave us with a nice transparency. Because this is pure black and white, that process will be super easy.

  • With the pixel layer selected, go back to the Adjustments studio and choose Invert
  • With the Invert layer selected go to the second icon from the left in the Layers panel and choose “Merge Down” to merge the invert layer in to the pixel layer.

Now that we’ve inverted it, let’s remove the white background using one of my favorite filters in Affinity Photo. (so much so, that you can find a whole video about it here)

  • With the pixel layer selected, go to the Filters studio and choose Colors at the top.
  • Find, and select, “Erase White Paper.”

It won’t look like anything happened, unless you created a transparent canvas, but if you go to your layers panel, the layer should have a transparent background and you’ll be left with just the black lines.

You can watch the last several steps in the video below.

You could stop here, if you wanted to, but let’s add a colorful background and a color overlay to our black lines. We’ll also thicken them up a bit, in the next few steps.

Adding Color and Thickness

I’m going to add a colorful background using the rectangle tool. I’ll drag this behind my pixel layer and, because it’s now transparent it shouldn’t show anything but the black squiggles.

Next, I want to change the color of my lines, and make them a bit thicker. Since these are pixels, and not vectors, I’ll need to use a color overlay in the FX Studio and then duplicate them to get a thicker line.

  • With the pixel layer selected, go to the FX Studio and toggle on Color Overlay
  • Tap on the label Color Overlay to engage it’s contextual menu at the top 
  • Choose the color you want to change your lines to… I’m choosing white

Since this is a pixel layer, and I can’t just increase the stroke width, like I could with vectors, I’ll just duplicate my layer until I feel it’s thick enough, then merge my layers.

  • With the pixel layer selected, three finger swipe down and choose Duplicate
  • Repeat this until you’re happy with the line thickness
  • Select all of your duplicates and group them together by tapping on Group in the layers panel
  • Go to the second icon in the layers panel and choose, “Rasterize” to combine them.

Grouping the layers together before choosing Rasterize is an important step. In V2, Serif added the ability to rasterize layers individually, meaning they would stay that way. In order to rasterize and then combine all the duplicates in to one layer, make sure you select them first.

You can see all of these last several steps in the video below.

A Few Final Notes…

That’s it! We’ve created the contour lines map. There are just a few things to remember when creating these…

  • To create a variation in the pattern, turn off the new pixel layer and try adjusting the settings in the non-destructive filters and adjustments in the original group. Just create a new merged layer and go from there.
  • This is not a seamless pattern and, in truth, creating one out of this would take some work as you would have to connect the gaps between lines. That said, this makes a great pattern for non-seamless printables like stationary.
  • If you do plan to print this, setting your dpi to at least 300, and sizing your canvas to the largest size you plan to print, is very important as all elements are pixels.
  • Want to vectorize this? Export as a png, or a jpeg, and bring it in to an app like Adobe Capture, or Linearity Curve. From there, export as an SVG and you’re all set. Just keep in mind, the more complex the contours, the more curves you’ll end up with, which will create a complex document.

Have questions? Please don’t hesitate to ask here in the post! Or, come join me in my free digital creator community, The Creator Collage, and ask there! Find details below.

I would love to see what you create! If you share on Instagram, tag me at @tracey.capone.

Have an idea for a tutorial? Let me know below! Happy Creating!


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