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Fine Detail Becomes Texture


Explanations > Perception > Visual Perception > Fine Detail Becomes Texture

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



What we call 'texture' is often detail that too small to see. In other words, if we get closer to it, we would see individual blocks and sub-shapes with different hues and shades.

Texture is detected by the eye as variations in light, hue and saturation across a surface. We can see that there are separate 'bits' though we cannot see exactly what those bits are. An area of similar texture can be seen as a block or 'thing' itself when the patterned area has a distinct edge.


A bird's wing is seen as textured, but close up the different parts of feathers and with different hues can be seen as separate zones. Further away, the only thing that makes the bird recognizable is its outline and movement patterns.

A cityscape has recognizable houses in the foreground, but these get smaller and smaller into the distance until they are just a texture made up of blobs of different shades and hues that all blend into one.


Texture adds interest and information to objects. Rather than expanses of single hues, texture helps the mind identify things more accurately when it is pattern-matched against familiar textures. Texture can also be pleasant.

Multiple recognizable things when viewed from a distance appear as texture rather than distinct objects. This includes such as trees, houses and people in crowds. Texture with varying shades is often used in camouflage in order to break up outline. This is seen in prey such as sparrows.

Even when there is no 'things' involved, when we get closer to the textured object we can see the elements that make up the texture, for example in a variegated rock face or mottled carpet.

Note that a felt texture, such as rough hair, is not visual texture though the principle of sensing separate 'bits' is related.

So what?

Adding texture to a visual image makes it more interesting and often quite pleasant. It also tends to require more cognitive effort as the eye scans the textured area for further information. This is one reason why many products use single hues rather than textured surfaces, as manufacturers go for the aesthetic pleasure of simplicity. It can also be cheaper to use single hues.

When you use texture, consider how much additional cognitive effort this will consume, what distraction this might be, and whether this is desirable. Also note the distance at which things such as text becomes unreadable and hence appears as texture rather than something with functional value.

See also

Texture Makes Surface


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