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TOPs are texture operators – in computer graphics the term ‘texture’ is used to describe a 2D image. While we typically use the term texture to refer to a color image or video, we sometimes use pixel data to represent other data like “depth” in a TouchDesigner network. In most cases we can think of texture operators as being in two dimensions of data that contain up to four channels – in other words, an array of pixels.
We often use TOPs when creating or modifying visual elements – this makes TOPs the family of operators we work with when generating any visual output. For artistic applications that can be anything from original artworks to post-process effects and procedural designs. TOPs are also used for highly technical work when it comes to pixels like building compositing pipelines, image layouts, video routing, or even computer vision applications.
Most TOPs are GPU-accelerated, meaning that you can create quite complex networks that are still highly performant. You can author your own TOPs in a number of different ways. The GLSL TOPs allow you the ability to write your own shader code both for visual and general compute applications. If you’re familiar with C++ you can author a ‘dll’ which can be used to make custom operators. Finally, the Script TOP can be used to manipulate images with python (as an important note, the Script TOP is not GPU accelerated).