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GPU Shader Tutorial
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Shader Intermediates - Mapping

A major concern when rendering objects in shaders is that all object details that can be defined and passed to shaders have to be defined on a per-vertex level.

This makes it harder to define detail inside a polygon, unless the polygons are small enough to represent a pixel on screen. This also means that any detail has to be easily interpolatable by the GPU when passing to the fragment shader.

However, GPUs accept another form of data, one that is directly accessible in fragment shaders - textures! Textures are images, i.e., array of color data, whose values can be read at specific coordinates and then used in various operations.

Textures are used in multiple ways when rendering objects in an image. They are useful for:

  • Defining normals of individual fragments, which can be used to improve lighting detail.
  • Defining color of individual fragments, to provide better color definition in cases where interpolation of color values isn't possible.
  • Define velocity of individual fragments, which can be used for motion blur.
  • Define shadow information of the scene, which can be used to darken parts of the object that are in shadow.
  • And a lot more...

Simply put, textures can be used to add more detail to an object that cannot be expressed through vertex data.

In order to use textures on objects, we first need to learn how a texture is overlayed onto on object.

UV Mapping

The process of overlaying, or "mapping", a texture (2D plane) onto an object (3D system) is known as UV mapping. Just as how the axes of a 3D system is denoted as X, Y, and Z, the axes of a texture are denoted as U, and V.

By mapping a vertex of an object to a particular texture coordinate (giving the vertex a "UV coordinate"), a texture can be overlayed onto an object by pinning points of the texture to their mapped vertices.

For example, suppose we have the following triangle:

Triangle - UV Mapping Example

And we wish to map a part of the following texture onto the triangle:

Triangle Texture - UV Mapping Example

We can first overlay the triangle on top of the image and adjust the corners of the triangle, such that the triangle covers the area of the texture that needs to be used to color it. The corners are also placed in the correct positions that represent what color they should be.

Mapped Triangle Texture - UV Mapping Example

Note: For the sake of simplicity, in this example we've overlayed the triangle with no modification in position of the corners.

We can then note down the coordinates of the corners of the triangle within the texture, relative to an origin. Generally, the origin is either the top left corner or bottom left corner of the image, depending on the graphics API you use.

These become the UV coordinates of the vertices in the texture.

The UV coordinates can be passed along with the rest of the vertex data. When passing the coordinates to the fragment shader, these values can be easily interpolated by the GPU per fragment, providing an accurate UV coordinate of the fragment within the texture.

The value of the texture at the interpolated coordinate can then be read within the fragment shader and be used for any operation.

Textures used for operations other than coloring are referred to as "maps", since they act as a map upon which the fragment being drawn is present within, and needs to be found using the UV coordinates of that fragment.

In the next chapter, we'll look at the use of texture mapping to color objects, the process being called color mapping, or texturing (for simplicity).


  • GPU can only be provided with raw data at the vertex level. This creates a problem when more detail is required in the image.
  • However, GPUs also accept a separate type of data known as textures, which contains an array of color data.
  • A texture can be overlayed onto an object through the process of UV mapping, where each vertex of the object is mapped to a coordinate in the texture.
  • By passing the UV coordinates as part of the vertex data, the fragments inside the polygons can have their UV coordinates interpolated by the GPU. These can be used to read values from the texture, which can then be used during operations and rendering.