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LONG BLOG

Tutorial: Making Custom Images for Steam's Grid View

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After talking to gamers on r/steamgrid I decided to make a more detailed tutorial about the process I go through to make images for Steam's Grid View (and Big Picture Mode). If you don't know what grid view is or why you should use it, check out my previous blog about it. It's really the best way to enjoy browsing your game library.

I use an old program to make these - Photoshop 7 - so if you are using a different program like GIMP or a newer version of Photoshop you might have to figure out how to mimic certain things on your own. A lot of this applies to anyone making images, though. Note that the program you use must be able to handle layers for this tutorial. Simple programs like MS Paint will not work. This tutorial assumes that you already have a basic familiarity with your chosen image program.

Step 1: Procure Art Assets

Before you can make grid images, you need something to work with. Luckily, we have the internet for that! While sometimes you find wallpapers that already have the game's logo, most of the time you'll need to add the logo manually to the image. To do that properly you'll need a version of the logo that has a transparent background. Typically these are .png files. They should be the first thing you look for because without them your options are severely limited. Here are three good ways to find assets to use.

Google Image Search - This is a really useful tool since it sifts through everything on the internet for you. To access it, just do a normal Google search. Then pick the "Images" tab. Sometimes it's hidden under a drop-down menu labeled "More". Search for the game's name, adding keywords to narrow down what you get: "wallpaper", "logo png", "advertisement", "box art", "cover", "concept art", "art book", "screenshot", "manual", etc. Depending on the game, screenshots and promo shots can work well, too.

Steam Trading Cards - If a game is already on Steam these are a great way to get art to use. Individual cards have wallpapers, and you also have the profile background images. You can get the artwork for both on Steam Card Exchange. The profile backgrounds are often darkened, so you might need to boost the contrast on those before using them.

Official Websites - The official websites for games often have a "media" section with wallpapers and other art assets. Also look for press kits, those tend to have asset bundles and logos. And pay attention to the website itself! Often it will use a transparent .png to display the game logo on the page. And background images from the website can be useful as well. Cannibalize it all!

There are other ways to find artwork, such as GoG.com extras or game manuals, but those are the three main ways I use. Spend a little while getting whatever you can and downloading it all to a folder on your PC. These are the raw materials we'll be using next. Note that the one thing I try to steer away from is fan art. It doesn't seem right to take someone else's work like that, unless it's a grid image I'm not going to share publicly.

Step 2: Prepare a Template

If you are making several grid images for the same game it's more efficient to make a template to use for all of them. First, make a 460x215 (or 920x430) pixel image in your image editing program. If you have a .png logo with transparency, open it as well and resize it (if necessary) to fit within the template's dimensions. Then copy it and paste it (as a new layer) into the template image you created. Save that (with layers). This will be our "template" for making the batch of images. If you couldn't find a logo with transparency you can sometimes "cut out" the logo from its background. That's a bit more advanced that we're going here, though.

Whether you want to make 460x215 or 920x430 sized images is up to you. At 1080p 460x215 is the biggest Steam scales the images, but at higher resolutions the 920x430 images are preferable. If you have art assets that are high quality and high resolution I’d say make 920x430 sized images. If not, 460x215 works just fine in most cases.

Step 3: Add Art To The Template

Now for the real work - putting our art assets together into new grid images. Sometimes you get lucky and find a wallpaper with the game logo already on it that you can easily crop. That's kind of the exception, though. Usually you need to crop and place an art image - from the cover art, wallpapers, etc. that we already downloaded - into the grid image template. Then you put the logo on top of that as a separate layer.

Start by picking out what you consider the best artwork you came across - both in quality of the original image and the size/quality of what you found. You don't want stuff smaller than 460x215 because blowing up an image makes it blurry. Images that are more horizontal/widescreen in shape are best if you can find them.

You can crop and resize the image in its own file, then copy-paste it into the template. Or just paste into the template and resize from there (control-T in Photoshop). Grid images are a very narrow aspect ratio, but box art is often vertical, so you aren't usually going to be able to fit everything on the grid image. Don't succumb to the temptation to warp the art to fit. That looks just awful. Lock its aspect ratio when resizing.


The most common scenario here is that you take the artwork, resize it to 460px width, then paste that into the grid image template. Then you move that layer up or down until you're happy with how it gets cropped. At that point, you want to move the layer with the game's logo to the top. Once it's there you'll want to resize (control-T in Photoshop) and move it to where you want it to be on the artwork. There is no rule for this, and I'm not a graphic designer so I can't give a lot of advice. I will say that if you can keep it centered along either the X or Y axis it tends to look better to my own eye. That's not always possible without covering up the artwork too much, though. So use your own best judgment here.

Sometimes you're done at this point - you just need to flatten/merge the image layers and save it as a png or jpg file. Often, though, you'll need to do a little more work. Why? Because sometimes the game logo won't be as legible as we'd like when placed on the artwork. This is going to vary based on where you place it and the color/makeup of the logo itself. Simple example - if a logo is orange, and you place it on an orange background, it's going to be hard to read. Luckily there are a couple ways to deal with this.

It can be a little excessive, but adding a drop shadow to the logo often helps it pop and become more legible. You'll actually find that many logos have a drop shadow already applied to them, in fact. This technique can be really helpful if the logo is being placed on a "busy" part of the image.


A more subtle way of helping keep the logo legible is to use an "outer glow" effect. A lot of the worst default logos abuse this effect by adding an excessive bright white glow behind a logo. While sometimes a lighter glow is your only real option, a dark "glow" is usually more subtle and effective. It helps keep the logo legible, but unlike drop shadows or light glows it also makes the logo look like it belongs there by blending it into the background. Take a look at the example from Remember Me above. The dark outer glow helps the logo stay legible without making it looks pasted on and flat.

To use a dark glow you may need to change the render mode of the effect (to "normal" in Photoshop). I usually start with a 15% Render Amount and 12 pixel width, then adjust from there. One other trick with this - instead of black or white, sample a dark color from the surrounding art. That can sometimes help the logo and the effect look more natural.

Overall the goal is to balance aesthetics with legibility. It can be very difficult with some art, but with practice you will get better at it.

Finishing Up

The final thing you will need to do is "flatten" the image, merging the logo and artwork layers down into one image (look for "flatten" or "merge down" type layer options in your editor). After that you'll need to save the image. You can use either .jpg or .png file format. I recommend .png. You will have bigger filesizes, but .png's are more or less lossless, whereas a .jpg is more compressed and may not look as good. The 460x215 images are especially small so you really want them as crisp as possible.

Variant Styles of Grid Images

In addition to the standard grid image style – the game logo placed on box/promo artwork – there are two other image styles that are fairly popular.

The first is “blurred”. These feature the game’s logo centered on top of game art that has had a “Gaussian blur” filter applied in Photoshop. If you are going to make these, I suggest first blowing up the artwork layer slightly (say 5-10%) so it goes outside the margins of the image. Sometimes the edges get weird and this hides those imperfections. I used a factor or 11 for 460px grid images and a factor of 15 for 920px ones. How strong a blur you use is a matter of personal taste, though, as is the scale of the logo. Remember that you can still use drop shadow or outer glow with blurred grids to help the logo stand out.

The second common variant is “textless” images. They are what they sound like – grid images with no logo applied at all. Why would you want these? Because grid images are also used in Big Picture Mode, and in that mode the game’s name is shown below each image. Since the name is already displayed some people prefer not to have it on the image as well.

Both of these variants are easy to make. I don’t use them, but I try to add them to my sets for other people who like them. If you have time I’d say do the same, especially if you are making images for less common games that may have no grid images available.

Share You Grid Images!

You may be making images for your own personal use, but I’d also recommend that you share them with the community. There are a few ways to do this. Some people host images on Imgur, others upload to the Steam Banners Booru. I’d strongly recommend that you use SteamgridDB instead, though. Unlike Imgur, it’s easily searchable by other gamers looking for grid images. It’s also far easier to use than the Steam Banners site, which requires you to do a lot of extra work tagging each image. Finally, feel free to post on r/steamgrid to let everyone know what you’ve recently done.

I hope this tutorial has been helpful. I’m sorry that I can’t give more detailed advice for people using different programs, but hopefully this is enough information to point you in the right direction (e.g. searching “gaussian blur gimp” on Google). I’m considering making a YouTube tutorial. If/when I get around to that I’ll add a link here and post about it on r/steamgrid.

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About Jinx 01one of us since 4:26 PM on 11.18.2011

I love gaming, and I have followed the industry and its technology since I was a kid in the 80's. I have gamed primarily on PC since 2000, though I still follow console news and hardware as well.

I worked as a mapper and beta tester for the mod Action Half-Life. I also make custom images for Steam's grid view, those are over on my website.
Steam ID:cryotek


 

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