Part of the Multimedia and graphics glossary:

Texture mapping is a graphic design process in which a two-dimensional (2-D) surface, called a texture map, is "wrapped around" a three-dimensional (3-D)object.Thus, the 3-D object acquires a surface texture similar to that of the 2-D surface. Texture mapping is the electronic equivalent of applying wallpaper, paint,or veneer to a real object.

The simplest texture mappings involve processes such as that shown below. Three identical squares, each covered randomly with dots, are directly mapped onto the three visible facets of a 3-D cube.This distorts the size sand shapes of the dots on the top and right-hand facets.In this mapping, the texture map covers the cube with no apparent discontinuities because of the way the dots are arranged on the squares.

texture-mapping.gif (4074 bytes)

In some mappings, the correspondence between the 2-D texture map and the 3-D object's surface becomes "messy." An example is the application of a pattern of squares to the surface of a sphere. It is impossible to paste checkered wallpaper onto a sphere without cutting the paper in such a way as to create discontinuities in the pattern. This problem occurs with many texture mappings.

A complex pattern can, in some cases, be seamlessly wedded to the surface of a 3-D object using a sophisticated graphics program.The pattern is generated directly on the 3-D rendition, rather than using a texture map.For example, a sphere can be given a wood-grain finish.The squares-on-a-sphere problem cannot be solved, but it is possible to fit a pattern of triangles onto a sphere by adjusting the sizes of the triangles.

This was last updated in June 2010
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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