Converting to/from cubemaps

Written by Paul Bourke
Original November 2003. Updated May 2006. Updated July 2016

See also: Converting cubemaps to fisheye.

The source code implementing the projections below is only available on request for a small fee. It includes a demo application and an invitation to convert an image of your choice to verify the code does what you seek. For more information please contact the author.

Converting from cubemaps to cylindrical projections

The following discusses the transformation of a cubic environment map (90 degree perspective projections onto the face of a cube) into a cylindrical panoramic image. The motivation for this was the creation of cylindrical panoramic images from rendering software that didn't explicitly support panoramic creation. The software was scripted to create the 6 cubic images and this utility created the panoramic.

Usage: cube2cyl [options] filemask
filemask can contain %c which will substituted with each of [l,r,t,d,b,f]
For example: "blah_%c.tga" or "%c_something.tga"
  -a n   sets antialiasing level, default = 2
  -v n   vertical aperture, default = 90
  -w n   sets the output image width, default = 3 * cube image width
  -c     enable top and bottom cap texture generation, default = off
  -s     split cylinder into 4 pieces, default = off
File name conventions

The names of the cubic maps are assumed to contain the letters 'f', 'l', 'r', 't', 'b', 'd' that indicate the face (front,left,right,top,back,down). The file mask needs to contain "%c" which specifies the view.

So for example the following cubic maps would be specified as %c_starmap.tga,
l_starmap.tga, r_starmap.tga, f_starmap.tga,
t_starmap.tga, b_starmap.tga, d_starmap.tga.

Test pattern
Note the orientation convention for the cube faces.

cube2cyl -a 3 -v 90
Note that in this special case the top of the face should coincide with the top of the cylindrical panoramic.

cube2cyl -a 3 -v 120

cube2cyl -a 3 -v 150

As the vertical field of view approaches 180 degree the representation as a cylindrical projection become increasingly inefficient. If a wide vertical field of view is required then perhaps one should be using spherical (equirectangular) projections, see later.

The mapping for each pixel in the destination cylindrical panoramic from the correct location on the appropriate cubic face is relatively straightforward. The horizontal axis maps linearly onto the angle about the cylinder. The vertical axis of the panoramic image maps onto the vertical axis of the cylinder by a tan relationship.

In particular, if (i,j) is the pixel index of the panoramic normalised to (-1,+1) the the direction vector is given as follows.
x = cos(i pi)
y = j tan(v/2)
z = sin(i pi)

This direction vector is then used within the texture mapped cubic geometry. The face of the cube it intersects needs to be found and then the pixel the ray passes through is determined (intersection of the direction vector with the plane of the face). Critical to obtaining good quality results is antialiasing, in this implementation a straightforward constant weighted supersampling is used.

Cubic map

Cylindrical panoramic (90 degrees)

Cylindrical panoramic (60 degrees)

Cylindrical panoramic (120 degrees)


  • The vertical aperture must be greater than 0 and less than 180 degrees. The current implementation limits it to be between 1 and 179 degrees.

  • While not a requirement, the current implementation retains the height to width ratio of the output image to the same as the vertical aperture to horizontal aperture.

  • Typically antialiasing levels of 3 are more than enough.

Addendum: Top and bottom caps

One can equally form the image textures for a top and bottom cap. The following is an example of such caps, in this case the vertical field of view is 90 degrees so the cylinder is cubic (diameter of 2 and height of 2 units). It should be noted that a relatively high degree of tessellation is required for the cylindrical mesh if the linear approximations of the edges is not to create seam artefacts.



The aspect of the cylinder height to the width for an undistorted cylindrical vies and for the two caps to match is tan(verticalFOV/2).

Converting to and from 6 cubic environment maps and a spherical map


There are two common methods of representing environment maps, cubic and spherical, the later also known as equirectangular projections. In cubic maps the virtual camera is surrounded by a cube the 6 faces of which have an appropriate texture map. These texture maps are often created by imaging the scene with six 90 degree fov cameras giving a left, front, right, back, top, and bottom texture. In a spherical map the camera is surrounded by a sphere with a single spherically distorted texture. This document describes software that converts 6 cubic maps into a single spherical map, the reverse is also developed.


As an illustrative example the following 6 images are the textures placed on the cubic environment, they are arranged as an unfolded cube. Below that is the spherical texture map that would give the same appearance if applied as a texture to a sphere about the camera.

Cubic map

Spherical (equirectangular) projection


The conversion process involves two main stages. The goal is to determine the best estimate of the colour at each pixel in the final spherical image given the 6 cubic texture images. The first stage is to calculate the polar coordinates corresponding to each pixel in the spherical image. The second stage is to use the polar coordinates to form a vector and find which face and which pixel on that face the vector (ray) strikes. In reality this process is repeated a number of times at slightly different positions in each pixel in the spherical image and an average is used in order to avoid aliasing effects.

If the coordinates of the spherical image are (i,j) and the image has width "w" and height "h" then the normalised coordinates (x,y) each ranging from -1 to 1 are given by:

x = 2 i / w - 1
y = 2 j / h - 1
or y = 1 - 2 j / h depending on the position of pixel 0

The polar coordinates theta and phi are derived from the normalised coordinates (x,y) below. theta ranges from 0 to 2 pi and phi ranges from -pi/2 (south pole) to pi/2 (north pole). Note there are two vertical relationships in common use, linear and spherical. In the former phi is linearly related to y, in the later there is a sine relationship.

theta = x pi
phi = y pi / 2
or phi = asin(y) for spherical vertical distortion

The polar coordinates (theta,phi) are turned into a unit vector (view ray from the camera) as below. This assumes a right hand coordinate system, x to the right, y upwards, and z out of the page. The front view of the cubic map is looking from the origin along the positive z axis.

x = cos(phi) cos(theta)
y = sin(phi)
z = cos(phi) sin(theta)

The intersection of this ray is now found with the faces of the cube. Once the intersection point is found the coordinate on the square face specifies the corresponding pixel and therefore colour associated with the ray.

Mapping geometry

Usage: cube2sphere [options] filemask
filemask should contain %c which will substituted with each of [l,r,t,d,b,f]
For example: "blah_%c.tga" or "%c_something.tga"
   -w n     sets the output image width, default = 4*inwidth
   -y n     rotate by n degrees about up axis in degrees
  -w1 n     sub image position 1, default: 0
  -w2 n     sub image position 2, default: width
   -h n     sets the output image height, default = width/2
   -a n     sets antialiasing level, default = 1 (none)
   -s       use sine correction for vertical axis

Sphere to Cube

The reverse operation, namely converting a spherical (equirectangular) image into the 6 faces of a cube map is most commonly used for some navigable virtual environment solutions, but also to edit the north and south poles of spherical projections.

Usage: sphere2cube [options] spheretexture
       -w n   output image size, default = spherewidth/4
       -a n   antialiasing level, default = 1 (none)