Photoshop Tutorial

Article written by Jan dc
Published on 08-17-2014; updated on 08-17-2014
Tags: Beginners, Building Modding, Graphics Modding, Photoshop

Tutorial On Basic Photoshop Techniques for Age of Empires II Graphics Editing


Welcome to the Photoshop tutorial. Here I'll talk about the basic tools that you'll need in order to change Age of Empires II graphics. In this tutorial I will mainly focus on aoe buildings and copy and paste methods but the methods used here can also be applied to units. If you have any suggestions/remarks or corrections either contact me on or on

NOTE: I will talk only about tools and options that I think are useful for making aok graphics. There are a lot more options available but for that you'll have to consult one of many Photoshop tutorials available on the internet.

Basic Hotkeys

When working with Photoshop, hotkeys can be a very useful help tool. Get to know them and you'll see you can have things done a lot quicker. You'll find most hotkeys by hovering over items or by looking it up under Edit/keyboard Shortcuts. In the chapter "tools" you'll find the hotkeys for most basic tools.

Zooming: There is a tool for zooming but it's a lot easier when you use hotkeys. To zoom in, hold the shift button and scroll up to zoom in and scroll down to zoom out.

Moving: To move your screen vertical, hold the shift button down then scroll using your mouse scroll. To move horizontally hold ctrl and use the scroll.

Undo/redo: To undo your last step press ctrl and z simultaneous, to undo more steps hold shift as well while pressing ctrl and z. To redo a step use the combination alt, ctrl and z.

Menu: To access the menu hold Alt and then press the button of the first letter of the menu's name.

Saving: To save your image use ctrl-s.

Closing: To close a window use ctrl-w.


Here is a list of basic tools used in the tutorial.

Move Tool (V): This tool allows you to move your image or a selection of the image. Just hold the left-mouse button on your image or selection and drag it to its new location.

Rectangular Marquee Tool (M): With this tool you can select rectangular shaped parts of your image. Go with your mouse to the starting point where you want the selection to begin, click the left-mouse button and drag until you get to the end point. Then release. Hold shift to add to your selection or ctrl to remove from your selection (alternatively you can select those options in the tool option menu). Other tools under this item are Elliptical, Single Row and Single Column Marquee Tool.

Polygonal Lasso Tool (L): This tools provides the possibility to make a selection with its own unique geometrical shape. This comes in handy when you want to cut out certain parts, colorize some specific area or color with the Pencil Tool in a certain area only. After selecting the Lasso Tool you must choose a starting point and left-click. Then go to the next point on the outline of the area you want to select and click again to make an anchor point. Repeat this until you have got around the area and are back on the starting point. Now either click again on the starting point to finish the selection (if you're not on the starting point you can also double click and it will automatically complete the selection for you with a straight line). Adding to, subtracting from and intersecting with the selection also apply here just as it did for the Rectangular Marquee Tool. Other tools under this item are Lasso and Magnetic Lasso Tool. With the former you are able to select while dragging without having to click to make anchor points and with the latter you are able to create selections which will automatically cling to the edges of contrast objects. The Magnetic tool can be very helpful if the contrast between colors is high enough.

Magic Wand Tool (W): The wand tool is used to select within a certain color range. The width of the range is set with Tolerance in the Tool option menu. The bigger the number you put in, the more colors that will get selected. Putting its value at zero will ensure you that only the color you selected will be included. The next option is Anti-alias. This will minimize the distortion but it's not really applicable in Indexed Mode (in fact I don't even think they had heard of it back in 1999 when this game was made). Another option is contiguous. This will define if the colors you select should border each other or not. Aside from the Magic Wand Tool there is the Quick selection tool. This tool helps selecting big surfaces in a fast way. Set the options for this tool under the size option and then start going over your image to select the area you want. As you will see it will make big selections for you based on color contrasts.

Cropper tool (C): This tool is used to change the size of the canvas. Left-click and then drag over the image until you reach the end destination. Then press enter to crop the canvas. To cancel cropping press esc.

Eyedropper Tool (I): This tool helps you to copy a color. instead of adjusting the color yourself you just select a pixel on the image with the color you want (this will be for the primary color, for the secondary color hold shift when clicking. Alternatively you can access this tool when you're using the pencil by holding alt. The other items here available are Color Sampler Tool, Ruler Tool, Note Tool and count Tool which are pretty self-explanatory.

Pencil Tool (B): With the pencil you can color pixels by hand and is best used for fixing details and correcting small areas. You can adjust the size and if you're working in RGB mode you can also change transparency/opacity which will allow you to add more diversity to your colors.

Clone Stamp Tool (S): The clone tool is probably one of the most useful tools out there. With it you can copy one section of the image and paste it somewhere else. Also here you can change brush size and opacity in the tool option menu. So to use this tool select the size of your brush and go to the area you want to copy. Then hold alt so that your mouse pointer changes and left-click. Then go to the point where you want to paste your copy and either click or hold the left-mouse button while moving your mouse in the area you want the copy to be placed. As you can see the area you are pasting moves as well.

Eraser Tool (E): This tool allows you to change a color (using the secondary color) or make a pixel transparent but the latter only works when you work with PNG and not in indexed mode so this isn't very useful to us. It's actually the same as a pencil for the mode we use.

Paint Bucket Tool (G): With this tool you can color a bigger area with one click. After you made a selection of the area you want to color, click on the area with this tool and it will color the selection with the primary color. You can also not select something first and then it will color everything with the same color. Be aware though that this tool can also color more than you anticipated as it will color more than you selected.

Line Tool (U): With the line tool you can draw lines. If you use this you'll be sure that your line will be straight as opposed to when you'd do it with the pencil tool. The other tools under this selection can also be useful for when you want to make a skeleton for a new graphic.

Zoom Tool (Z): With this tool you can zoom in and out on your image. It's faster though if you use hotkeys to do this.

Color related Tools: If you select the button in the upper left corner your colors will change back to black and white. The button on the upper right corner on the other hand allows you to switch between colors. The color on the left is the primary color and the one on the right is the secondary color.

Menu Options

On the top of your screen you'll find several menu options. Like this:

These are pretty basic and I'll go through them step by step.

File: Under file you'll be able to make a new files, save your existing file or open a new one. You'll need this to manage your projects.

Edit: The most important things here are redo/undo, transform and keyboard shortcuts. With transform you can flip and rotate parts of your image.

Image: Here Mode is something you'll use regularly to switch between RGB and Index mode. Also Adjustments for when you are in RGB mode and want to change or the colors of your selection. And then there is image size, canvas size and image rotation. Image size is to change the size of your image within the canvas while canvas size will change the width and height of the window you are working in. Image rotation is the same as transform but applies to whole your image.

Layer: When you are working in RGB mode you can use this. You can make different layers and make sure your work does not affect other parts of your image. A faster way to make layers is using ctrl-c ctrl-v after making a selection.

Select: Select can do exactly the same as your selection tools but probably not as accurate. An item that does come to our attention is the Color Range item. You'll need this if you want to select very specific parts of your image which would else take a lot of time to select using the tools.

Filter: Can be used in RGB mode. Basically what they do is bring texture, special effects onto your image. The ones available aren't very interesting for what we do but you can download other filters from the internet.

Analysis: Can't find a real use for it in what we do.

3D: Not usable for AOE II graphics.

View: Changes the view of your Photoshop program.

Window: You can change how windows are displayed here. Or add parts to your window (make sure layers, colors and tools are selected).

Help: No need for an explanation.


These are the modes that you'll find helpful.

RGB-Color Mode

In this mode you can adjust selections, change its color, work with layers,... Much is possible in this mode but it has some disadvantages as well. When in this mode pixels adjacent to the pixels you are editing will change as well so be aware (especially when working with a white background and when you are editing the edges of your image). Another disadvantage is that you can't save your file in 256-colors or use the Age of Empires II palette which is of course what we want. But you can always fix that by going back to indexed mode after you are ready. So what you can do is use this mode to adjust certain sections of your image, go back to index mode and save it as an 256-color image. The side-effect is that there is a great change that colors will change when adjusting it to match with the AoE II palette so you should keep that in mind.

Index Mode

With Index Mode you are able to save your image all ready for use in Age of Empires II (after taking some steps which will be explained under "getting started" but you can't use many of the features that RGB-Color Mode has. Always change back to this mode when saving your file.

Right Sided Interface

This is mostly used for editing colors and layers (Layers are not available in Index Mode).

Some examples of color values:
Black (0,0,0)
White (255,255,255)
Pink (255,0,255)

Getting Started

An example of how to make a new building. The building I will be editing is the Asian Feudal Age market.

So this is how my Photoshop interface looks like. I'm not sure if it looks different in other versions but you'll probably have the most important of the tools and options I have.

First of all we have to make sure we are editing in the right palette. If you don't already have the standard AoK palette you can download it Here. To load the palette into Photoshop go to Image/Mode/Color table (First make sure you have index selected First. Image/Mode/Index) then press load and select the AoK palette. Press OK and you're done.

PS: As you can see the palette has all of the eight player colors.

As you could see the background of our image is black, which is kind of horrible cause you can't see the shadow (just like a white background isn't a very good idea cause some images will have white on it). There are ways to fix this but it's easier to make the background pink (RGB-value 255,0,255) cause this color probably hasn't been used anywhere on the picture.

You could use the paint bucket tool but the big disadvantage of this tool is that it will color more than just the one color you want even with tolerance put on 0. That's why I use the magic wand tool. So select the magic wand tool, select contiguous, put tolerance at 0 and select the black background. As you can see it selected some things we didn't want selected and other things we did want aren't selected. This is because it's not contiguous. First we'll go over the things that you wanted to select but aren't included.

To fix this hold shift, while still using the magic wand tool, and select any surfaces you want to add to your selection. If you selected something wrong just press ctrl-z to undo your selection (you can use this for anything actually and even go back a couple of steps by adding shift) you can also hold alt and deselect a surface. It's important here to see the difference between what's shadow and what's background.

Now to deselect the black parts that you don't want selected. There are two ways to do this. You can either use the pencil tool to draw a line in a blackish color (not 0,0,0) between what you want to keep black and the rest of the black background (it's better to do this before starting selecting). Or you can use the polygonal lasso tool.

Selecting another tool won't undo your selection so don't worry. After you selected it hold shift to add to the selection and alt to remove from the selection. Just click at a point where you want to start from. Then go to the next point and click, and so on until you have selected the area you wanted. By clicking twice on the same spot or by clicking again on the starting point the selection will be complete.

Now put pink as your secondary color (you can easily switch between first and secondary colors using "x") and press the delete button.

What you can do now is select black as your primary color and use the pencil tool to draw shadows. You're only able to draw within the selection though.

It would have been easier if the image already had a pink background which can easily be achieved using MPS but it's a good exercise to learn how to use Photoshop.

Fixing the white background issue

If you want to use a white background, first check if there is any white on the picture. If there is select it using the magic wand tool, adjust the white to something near white (e.g. RGB 252,252,252) so it still seems white but won't get selected using the wand tool. Put is as a secondary color (use x) and press delete. This will prevent it from being transparent in game. Next use the magic wand tool to select the pink color (make sure contiguous is off), put white as your secondary color and press delete. Now you're background is white.

Next we'll do some copy-pasting to make a new buildings out of the existing market. What you should do first is make a new file (File/new). You can name it and change the size of it. Make sure you make it big enough. Then you change mode to Index (Image/Mode/Index) and you make the background purple (or keep it white if you prefer this) using either ctrl-A and delete or the paint bucket tool. When changing to index make sure that you are working with the AOE palette.

Now go back to the original picture.

You should think of what elements you want to copy and what kind of building you want to make. For example I'm going to use the upper part of the building to make a new house.

First we select the piece that we want from the old image by using the polygonal lasso tool. Click on the starting point and then just go along the sidelines until you get back to the starting point. It's not a problem if you have pink color in it. Single colors are very easy to take out of the selection later. Don't click twice too fast or you'll have to start over.

You can see that I have included pink but that's not an issue cause my new picture also has a pink background. If you want to remove it though (when you want to paste this section next to another one for example) select the magic wand tool and hold alt when selecting the purple background (make sure contiguous is off). Then press ctrl-c to copy (or ctrl-x to cut it out), go to your new window and press ctrl-v. You can position it using the move tool.

As you can see the building is still missing some parts. So that's what we'll do now. There are a couple of ways to fill gaps or to make a new section. You can copy it from another building, use the clone stamp tool to clone apart or you can use the pencil to fill it yourself. When using the pencil you must make sure that you keep the same color variation as resembling parts in the building (I also tend to change to RGB mode cause here youhave more variety to do this).

As you already know how to copy from other buildings we'll now go right to the clone stamp tool. Select the tool, move to the part that you want to clone, hold alt and click. Then go to the part where you want to past it and click again. As you can see you have successfully cloned a part. You can hold the mouse button and move around but don't forget that the part where you are cloning from also moves with it. Watch out though cause cloning can look very repetitive. So clone from different parts, mix it a bit and use the pencil to add variation to your new piece.

We'll repeat these steps until our house is complete...

PS: When drawing with a pencil you can use the eyedropper tool to change to a color on the picture. When in a selection you only want to select something within a certain color range you must take the following steps. Go to Select/Color range. Then select the color you want to include in your selection. Then OK.

And finally we do work on details and shadows.

That's it. We've made our very own building. Now to make the canvas smaller, we use the crops tool. Click and drag until you have selected the piece that you want. Then press enter.

Save the file as an bmp file (File/Save) with dept 24.

That's it. Now the graphic is ready to be added to the game. For more info on how to put graphics into the game go here.


How to Change Colors

Changing colors is something that you'll often do after you've made a big part of the building. Coloring something can make your building more unique or can make it just look more appealing. To do this go to Image/mode and select RGB Color. Then make select the part you want to colorize. After you've done that go to Image/Adjustments and select the effect you want to achieve. There are a lot of options here but it's best if you experiment with it yourself to find out how to work with it. The most important effects are in my opinion: Brightness/Contrast, Hue/Saturation, Color Balance and Variations.

How to Make Something Darker (e.g. Shadows)

To do this you'll need to change to RGB mode first. Then select the area you want to darken. Next go to Edit/.../Level. This will open a new window. Make sure that preview is on. Now click on the right button on the scale (the white one) and drag it to the left until your selection has the darkness you want it to have (I suggest 100% for shadows on the ground and 70-80% for shadows on other parts of the building). Now press okay and you're done. I advise you not to make something brighter using the same tools. It will make that part look gray and pale.

How to Rotate

Rotating parts of an image or the whole image may come in handy in many situations. An example that comes to mind is when you want to use a selection for another side of the building and want it to face another direction. Thus using this tool and with the appropriate changing of brightness you can accomplish this with rotating.

To rotate first make a selection of the part you want to rotate. Then select the Move Tool and go to the outer bounds with your mouse. You'll see that your mouse will change to a curved arrow. Now click and drag to change the angle of your selection. To rotate a whole image go to Image/Image Rotation in the menu. Here you have more options than with the Move Tool. You can rotate by giving in a certain angle or flip it vertically or horizontally.

How to Work with Layers

Working with layers can have several advantages. You make a new layer of a subsection and work on that section without doing anything to the layer or background beneath or next to it, you can copy the layers to anew image file once you are done editing (for example in case of the town center cause this building is made out of a lot of parts which overlaps and by using layers you can adjust them separately) and you can change the order in which parts of and image are shown (for example you can bring one part of the image to the foreground). So it's actually a very handy thing to use and it will certainly make your work easier. There is one thing that you must keep in mind though and that's layers will not work in Index Mode. So whenever you change to index mode the layers will flatten and you won't be able to use those layers anymore so keep this in mind when working with them.


In AOE light comes from the South-East. So always make sure your shadows are on the North-West side of the building.

AOE graphics are drawn from an Isometric perspective with a small adjustment of the angle. For more information about this: and

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