Designing Forging Ahead With ASP.NET Core

in Design

Good news: In our upcoming .NET MVC course, Forging Ahead With ASP.NET Core, we haven’t left the medieval times you first saw in our Try ASP.NET Core course — but this time, it looks quite different. There are no more 8-bit pixelated characters and Lego-looking weapons. In this course, we’ve moved more toward a Game of Thrones-esque medieval theme, with some photorealistic, hardcore forged-metal styles!

Bad news: I’ve never worked with photorealistic illustration techniques before. It wasn’t easy, but with the help of a supportive creative team, hours of online tutorials, and lots of trial and error, it all came together.

Today, I’m going to walk through the first of many digital metal pieces I forged for this course. With the help of a very patient Justin Mezzell, I created a sword. Not two swords, a shield, cloth banner, and metal forged letters that make up the finished theme. Just one. One. Stinking. Sword.

Note: A good lesson to learn right away is that it’s easier to create photorealistic elements separately rather than in a whole composition. Another lesson is that this stuff takes a long time.


First, in order to create a believable illustration, I did an image search for medieval swords to get a feel for some of the common elements. From these images, I moved into Adobe Illustrator and made a simple, symmetrical vector sword shape.

I went ahead and split up the blade into different colors. I’m going to do the same thing with the blade inset, but reverse the colors to get the desired dimension.

Do you notice the triangles at the top of the inset? It’s details like this that make something believable as a final product. I left the handle for a later time and took the separate vector shapes into Photoshop for texturing.

Meanwhile, in Photoshop

A key to making things photorealistic is overlaying photos of the actual material you are creating. I was introduced to sites like CG Textures that contain libraries of high-res texture images for just this purpose. For the blade of the sword, I chose a distressed metal image that was large enough to cover the whole sword and gave it its own layer.

I left this layer here for reference and turned it off.


Next, I took each vector shape layer (which I labeled to avoid confusion) and laid the texture over them. I used a clipping mask with each to isolate the shapes. I then set each texture layer to “Overlay.” This gave me a transparent metal texture on top of each shape layer.

Soft Lights

This next step was easy (finally). I duplicated the texture overlay layer for each shape and set it as “Soft Light,” which allowed me to keep the transparency, but pick up some other tones from the texture image. (This image may look pretty similar to the one above, but I promise it makes a difference at the end!)

Gradient Shadow

Next, I made a black-to-clear gradient from the bottom right corner. I used a clipping mask so it would only affect the right side of the blade. There are now three layers overlaying the right side pieces of the sword blade.


Working my way up, the crossbars are next. Since these are metal as well, I started by overlaying the texture. Because there are some curves in this metal, I painted some hard shadows and highlights to get the effect I wanted.

When placing a shadow, I try to think about where the dips and raises are in the surface I am painting. A dip makes a shadow, and a raise makes a highlight. There are some other subtle nuances to it, but that’s pretty much it!

I did the same thing here, but with white to make highlights on the left crossbar:

Additional Dimensional Shadow

I selected the pixels for both sides of the crossbar (which you can do by Ctrl + Click on the little image by the layer name) and filled a new layer with black. I moved this shape under the crossbar layers and bumped it down slightly, about two to three pixels. This gave just a bit more dimension, showing the crossbar is not part of the blade, but sits above it.

And There You Have It (Sort Of)

I’m going to omit the handle instructions, since it’s essentially the same steps over again. I took a leather texture and experimented with how that would look wrapped around the handle, overlaying the texture and painting on shadows and highlights.

The moral of this post is that there is a huge amount of time and work that goes into this style of illustration. Not everything looked great starting out — it takes experimentation and a lot of patience to create these images. I don’t know that I’m switching my usual illustration preferences to photorealism, but it makes me appreciate the work that goes into it.

Now prepare yourselves… Forging Ahead With ASP.NET Core is coming!

Code School

Code School teaches web technologies in the comfort of your browser with video lessons, coding challenges, and screencasts. We strive to help you learn by doing.


About the Author

Cher Cloude

Designer at Code School. I am always drawing and sometimes running long distances. I love all things art.

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