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Create Fractal Art With Sterling2- A Video Tutorial

Updated on April 4, 2013

A Free Fractal Generator

I find Sterling2, a free fractal generator, to be much easier to use than apophysis. However, I think many people are hampered by the lack of tutorials on how to use the program. I could not find any guides even on the Deviant Art Website, despite the excellent resources they have for every other software available. I've decided to remedy the matter by making a video about how I use the program.

If you've never used the program to generate your own abstract images, why not try it out. You can download the freeware here. If you need a more detailed reference, I can recommend Tim Hodkinson's very detailed tutorial, although it talks about the paid version of the program.

The program is surprising simple, considering what it does. Unlike all the windows programs I have ever used, there is no need to install it. You just put the downloaded executable file, and the all in the same folder, fire up the exe file, and you can start making fractals.

Generate Fractals by Combining Different Formulae and Render Methods

Sterling 2 depends on combining different mathematical formulae with render methods. Luckily you don't actually need to understand any of the maths involved in calculating the images. As far as I know, there is no system to help you choose the right formula and render, you just have to try different permutations until you find something you like.

There are 55 different formulas, and 29 renders, giving you 1595 different possibilities. You can also add an optional transformation to your image, adding another 5 possibilities to the mix, resulting in 7975 possible combinations. I think it is safe to say that people are not going to be producing the same fractals!

Sad Alien Faces
Sad Alien Faces | Source

Zooming to Find Interesting Patterns

Once you have picked a formula/render/transform combination, you might be somewhat disappointed with the image. There is usually a lot of white space, and all the action appears to crammed in the centre of the page.

The trick to creating fractals with Sterling2 is to "find" the interesting patterns by zooming in on the "busy" parts of the image. This can be done very simply by clicking on any part of the picture that seems interesting, or if you want to have more control, by drawing a rectangle around the area you want to see in the triangle mode.

Much of the image generation can be handled by simply clicking with your mouse in the fractal generation windows. Left clicks zoom in or out of the picture, while a right click opens up the short menu.

In the right click menu there are two other options which can alter your artwork. The Julia mode
will create a different image when you click with it selected on your image. The effect will be different depending on which part of the fractal you click on. In contrast the "inside out" mode is a simple on/off function.

Of course the colours you choose have a great effect on what your final image looks like. With all these different functions you can generate a huge number of different fractals from a single formula/render combination, depending on where you zoom in, whether you choose a transform, the Julia mode, and/or the inside out mode.

For example below you can see some of the images I generated by combining formula5 with render8.

Fractals Created with the Settings in the Video

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Mystery Ferns FractalFlower SatteliteThe Art is Watching You!Pyramid of EyesAbstract BeansFlower Fans
Mystery Ferns Fractal
Mystery Ferns Fractal | Source
Flower Sattelite
Flower Sattelite | Source
The Art is Watching You!
The Art is Watching You! | Source
Pyramid of Eyes
Pyramid of Eyes | Source
Abstract Beans
Abstract Beans | Source
Flower Fans
Flower Fans | Source

Colours in Sterling2

Choosing the colours of your images plays a huge part in how your final artwork looks. I must admit that I usually go for the simple option of using one of the 26 colour presets from the main menu and combining it with one of the six RGB settings.

Although in theory there are 156 colour presets, you will find out that many of them will look quite bad with a particular fractal, with many of the colours terribly saturated or garish. I am quite partial to the default setting of colour 13 combined with RGB option 2, which produces really nice blue and yellow images. Although RGB options 5 and 6, which usually result in green and purple fractals also look good.

If you wish, you can modify the colours to a much greater extent by choosing the "colour controls" from the main menu, and modifying the red, green and blue colours (which make the RGB palette) independently.

Sterling2 Fractals with Other Parameters

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Abstract FirefliesWine StainMan of Light
Abstract Fireflies
Abstract Fireflies | Source
Wine Stain
Wine Stain | Source
Man of Light
Man of Light | Source

Saving Images and Parameters in Sterling2

When I am creating the fractal I usually work with a small image, so I can see the effect of any changes I make very quickly. However once I've finished, I increase the image size (usually to something around 2000x2000 pixels, but maintaining the proportions of the picture). This takes my computer a few minutes to calculate.

You have different options for saving your final image. I like to save them as bitmap (BMP) files, without any compression to maintain their quality, and sometimes I will work on them further in Photoshop. However, many programs can't handle these files, and they do take up a lot of space, so you might choose JPG or PNG formats.

Whenever you save an image, you will also save the parameters of the fractal, the formula, render, other transformations, and the colour information, in a separate file, with a loo extension. This is very convenient since it allows you to work on the fractal at a later date by using the "load from parameters" function from the file tab in the main menu. If you know other Sterling2 enthusiasts, it also makes it very easy to exchange the images, as the loo file, which are small enough that they can be easily emailed.

If you enjoy using Sterling2, you might also like to try the other freeware fractal generators that I use.

Do you use Sterling 2?

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    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 

      3 years ago from Topeka, KS

      I started using Sterling2 just today and really like it! I have used the older version in the past. Reading one of your articles reminded me of this program. I love playing with the colors and being surprised with all the renders. So much fun and way quicker to render than most of the other fractal programs! :)

    • aa lite profile imageAUTHOR

      aa lite 

      6 years ago from London

      Thanks! I hope to see your fractals on bubblews soon!

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 

      6 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Great! Thanks for the tip on Sterlin2 I'm definitely going to try it soon! See you!

    • aa lite profile imageAUTHOR

      aa lite 

      6 years ago from London

      Thanks for reading artandbrain, and I hope you enjoy sterling2. I've found it a fairly easy program to use. I'm now trying out ultra fractal, and getting some nice results, but the problem is it's not a free program.

    • artandbrain profile image


      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks for sharing! I'm an arts and science nerd so this is great for me. I love fractal art and have been meaning to learn how to make it. I will be downloading sterling2 and using your advice! :)

    • aa lite profile imageAUTHOR

      aa lite 

      6 years ago from London

      Thanks Sherrye, I hope you give it a try!

    • aa lite profile imageAUTHOR

      aa lite 

      6 years ago from London

      Thanks Hollie, I do like sterling. Still having no luck figuring Apophysis out. I am amazed, and jealous at the results people are getting with it on deviant art. Either they are incredibly patient at moving triangles around, or they know things that I don't!

    • Hollie Thomas profile image

      Hollie Thomas 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      I've been using Sterling for a while, just messing around with it. Now I've actually learnt how to use it in a different way. Thank you, you explained it so well.

    • Sherrye Barrow profile image

      Sherrye Barrow 

      6 years ago from Duncan, AZ

      Awesome results!

    • aa lite profile imageAUTHOR

      aa lite 

      6 years ago from London

      Thanks Carly, you should give the program a go. You might be able to create amazing stuff with it.

    • CarlySullens profile image

      Carly Sullens 

      6 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

      Fractals are so beautiful. I just like to look at them and admire them. Great job. Voted +++

    • aa lite profile imageAUTHOR

      aa lite 

      6 years ago from London

      Thanks DreamerMeg, and you definitely should try it! It is great fun, every time I use it I see something new.

    • DreamerMeg profile image


      6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Interesting hub. Must try those - it's always great to be able to create something as beautiful as the pictures you have included in this hub! :)


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