INFO on how to use custom skins post-patch 7.0: http://forum.worldof...-camo-patterns/
This mini guide is intended for folks who have at minimum a basic knowledge of their software (e.g. Photoshop, GIMP, etc) and have done at least a couple of skins before. So I won't be explaining all the beginner stuff already mentioned in other guides. In other words, don't ask me where to find DDS plugins or how to install and view your skins in game! For all the basic stuff you need to have a look at leofwine's excellent thread instead: http://forum.worldof...k-skinning-faq/
There are plenty of good custom skins out there in WoT currently, whatever I didn't or couldn't bother to make I download and use these great skins so that the battlefield looks less stale. But there's even more skins out there that are just plain cut-and-paste jobs or ones where the author didn't bother to mask parts of the tank that shouldn't have camo paint on it. Even if you're not good at painting, the software you use to create the skins are quite powerful and if you know its capabilities, just as you know the capabilities of your favourite tanks, with a lil' bit of practice you can do great stuff with 'em.
In this guide you'll learn (with any luck) some techniques on how to:
- Identify each part of the texture
- paint patterns on them with precision
- avoid minor errors
- add weathered effects
- paint on tanks that already have paint on them (especially them green Russian tanks)
- and create crash versions of your tank skins
So lets get on with it shall we?
Colour inside the lines!
A phrase often used on crayon wielding kindergartners equipped with copies of xeroxed cartoon linearts. There are times going outside the lines can be a good idea but this time I'm going to invoke it upon the skinners here. Things like the shovel and pickaxe strapped outside your tank should not have a camo pattern on it. That SMG in the cabin of your SPG shouldn't be covered in paint either, good grief, what kind of soldier are you?
Right, so how do we figure out what parts of the the texture are what? There are so many small bits and they don't necessarily make any sense just by looking at them! Most of you should already know that you can preview what your tank looks like in the garage screen by switching between tanks, so lets use this to our advantage. Fire up your graphic editing software and load up the base DDS file. First thing we're gonna do is create a new layer set on overlay mode and add some coloured stripes in it to partition the UV map.
Solving a jigsaw puzzle
Next, we create another layer (mode: normal) to put in notations and markings to help you identify each UV island (the bits and pieces of the texture). It'd be advisable to use some sort of vibrant/contrasting colour such as red to write your remarks with. Scribble in some patterns on to it, save your DDS file and refresh your garage to see your tank with the partitioning and scribbles on it to see what is what.
I usually spend more time identifying parts of the texture than I do in the actual texturing process. However, this process is very important as it'll help you not only with determining which parts should be painted and which should be left alone, it'll also help you in blending colours across seams so that it appears continuous and unbroken. If only we could open up the mesh in a 3D program and view the UV data our work would be much simpler.
Note: I've started a new thread collecting ready made templates for tank skinning purposes. You can download or contribute templates so it would be easier for a skinner to make a new skin instead of starting from scratch trying to figure out the UV map. http://forum.worldof...ate-repository/
Painting the kit before assembly
After you're done figuring stuff out, make a new layer and fill it with your base colour. Using the remarks/notations you have made, mask/delete parts of the texture which should not have any paint on it. Make adjustments as you go along with your tank preview.
Once you're satisfied with how the paint will cover your tank, lock the transparency of your base paint layer. In PS, the button can be found in your layers panel (it's the checkered box icon). Now you can create whatever pattern you like on it without worrying about going over the lines. Using the notes/remarks you made earlier try to keep any patterns you draw continuous across the seams.
Another thing to keep in mind is the bits and pieces that share the same space in the UV map. Usual culprits are things like hinges, wheels, hooks... anything that is found in duplicates on the tank. Sometimes you end up with one piece on one side of the tank that has a different colour/pattern on it while its counterpart is sitting on the other side of the tank where the colour/pattern is different. Usually if you can't match the colour of these bits to the base paint satisfactorily you can give it a different colour instead so that it looks like it was intended to not share the same paintjob as the rest of the tank.
And now you have a decent looking tank :-)
It still needs a little bit of je ne sais quoi to it
What? We're not done yet? Oh aye, there are some decent looking skins around here but unfortunately a few details were sometimes left out. Sometimes people use a solid opaque layer to apply their paint job, this makes their tank look spanking brand new... but if that's the way they like it I wouldn't argue, I prefer a bit of a "used" look meself. Something that says my tank hasn't been sitting in a museum all this while would be nice... so some people would use the overlay mode and let some of the well made original texture show through the new paint job, revealing some bodywork defects like dents, rust, scrapes, etc to make it look more realistic.
But the thing with overlay mode is that dark colours are multiplied onto the lower layer while lighter colours are added (dodge). So bits of your tank are going to appear brighter or darker and more saturated than it should be. Some of the more experienced skinners will compensate for this effect by playing around with the opacity setting or add other layers to temper the muliplications/additions so it doesn't appear too extreme. Personally I'd use different shades of a colour palette on different parts of the tank. The colours I plan to use on the tank is placed in a separate layer so I can refer to it while painting in the colours onto the paintjob layer; I will keep adjusting the colours I'm applying until it matches the one in the reference layer.
Now we have a tank with a new paintjob and some defects visible here and there but we can still improve it a bit more, actually. If you take a close look at the weathered parts you'll see that these parts now take on the colour of whatever paintjob you applied on it. On dark rust and grime this is not so noticeable but if you look at where bare metal should be revealed, it doesn't look like bare metal. Have a look at the gif animation below to see what I mean and pay close attention to the edges of the tank:
Blend if what?
And now let me introduce to you... "Blend if". A rather obscure layer setting that can be found in Photoshop (I'm not sure if GIMP has an equivalent in its layer settings). You can play around with this setting by bringing up the "layer style" dialog by double clicking on a layer.
There are three main settings as you can see from the screenshot above, the first is the drop down box. You can choose Gray, Red, Green or Blue but for now we'll just stick with Gray for the explanation. Simply put, if you choose the default "Gray" the dialog becomes "Blend if Gray is..."
Does it make sense to you yet? Hold on, let me explain the other 2 sliders. The first slider is for the layer you're foolin' around with the settings of, the second slider is for whatever is visible under the layer you're working on (meaning it doesn't take into account of only the layer directly under it, unless you used some sort of knockout setting available above the "blend if" settings).
Now, lets say you have 2 identical base images. You're thinking it might look spiffy if you add a metal texture over it, no? So lets put a metal texture on it as a separate layer set at overlay 100% opacity.
w00t, lets call it a day then! But no! Just as you were about to punch out and head for home your lead designer says he doesn't want any of those scratch marks on the dark parts of the texture. Whatever shall we do? I know! We'll erase bits of the metal texture from the dark parts (or if you're a bit more photoshop savvy than that, you'll use the layer mask to do the job). Ahaha, but why get rid of the scratches manually? You can do it easily simply by using "Blend if"!
But alas! The cutoff is too sharp, you can see an outline around the dark part where the metal texture is now absent. We need to make the transition more subtle somehow, so here's another obscure tip: Hold down ALT key and drag the slider, it'll split into two separate triangles thus creating a fade-off range for the cutoff.
So now that you know what is and how "Blend if" works I'm guessing you already have some sort of idea how we can apply it onto our tank textures. If you look back at the gif animation earlier, the second frame shows the paintjob layer using the "blend if" setting, already you can see some of the original defects showing through the paintjob. But still, this isn't enough! If you set the "blend if" to be too extreme or have a too wide fade-off range it wouldn't look good. Too many patches of paint will become slightly transparent, it won't just affect the parts where you want it to be.
Nit-pickin' out the details
The original dev-made textures are already pretty detailed, could there be another way we can single out the scratches and worn out parts of the paintjob so we can show the bare metal underneath? Hmm... bare metal ought to reflect more light than a coat of paint, right? Lets open up the specular map (identifiable by the "_SM" suffix of the DDS file). Aha, they did mark out all the parts that are bare... along with some other parts that aren't admittedly, but this should still be usable.
Copy and paste the specular map into your paintjob file, you'll need to rescale it to fit the whole canvas. Check your specular map, some tanks are quite shiny and have light areas even on parts of the tank that still have a solid coat of paint (the 38H was particularly shiny, for example. Which is why for this part of the guide I switched to the Leo which has lots of battered bodywork). If there's too much gray adjust the contrast so that the grey parts become darker. If there's too much white, decrease the brightness a bit. If the highlights aren't bright enough, use the dodge tool to increase the brightness of certain parts, you can also use the burn tool to darken other parts.
Now lets give it a "Blend if" test.
Great! Now we have the "bare metal" parts isolated, or at least most of it is, we can apply them onto the layers below to make the paintjob transparent where it should be. Simply change the layer mode to "Saturation" and it'll desaturate the colours below it, giving an impression of bare metal as found on the 3rd frame in the earlier animation. Below is an example of how I usually manage my layers while working on a skin.
Just because you use GIMP doesn't mean you're gimped!
I don't really like GIMP, but for the cash strapped folks this graphic editing software can do most things Photoshop can and do them just as good... as long as you know how to use the various features it has to offer. What was it people often say, "A tool is only as good as the person using it"? Something like that anyway.
For this part of the guide we'll be using locopyro's StuG III which he has kindly provided to use as a working example.
As you can see from the image above, and from locopyro's own comments on the skin, it doesn't look worn out. Nothing actually wrong with that, but what if you want to see some of the original texture's wear and tear?
Fortunately GIMP does have a similar feature to Photoshop's "Blend if"! The feature we're looking for is called "Colour to Alpha" (from now on referred to as CoA). What it does it what it says on the can, it converts the specified colour to transparency. In Photoshop's "Blend if" we specify what should be transparent and what should be opaque using sliders, in GIMP we use the colour picker to specify what should be transparent. However, GIMP's CoA has limited control; you can't specify a fade-off range and you can't set the transparency for multiple channels (instead you have to use CoA multiple times to filter out the multiple colours). A further downside is that it is a destructive form of editing, meaning the CoA process does not preserve the layer's original state like "Blend if" does (this makes it difficult if you want to preview how your texture looks like before and after).
The colour layer by locopyro was in "Normal" mode as he didn't use the overlay method, I didn't change the layer mode though I reduced it's opacity a bit. However, if we look at the original texture it had quite a lot of rust so we'll use "Colour to Alpha" to isolate it. The game's original texture was duplicated and all instances of gray was removed by converting them to alpha (making them transparent). Now we have a layer consisting mainly of rust that was left behind from the CoA process. We'll place this layer above the colour layer and the mode was set to "Darken only", this is because some white parts were left over from the CoA process as it doesn't get rid of colours perfectly and lacks the fade-off manipulator which PS has. "Darken only" works just like "Normal mode", but only pixels that are darker than the visible canvas below will appear.
Alright! Now we're cookin' with charcoal. Next up is the bare metal areas. All that needs to be done is to copypasta the specular map into the file and apply CoA so that only the whites and light grey areas are left. Then, change the layer mode to "Saturation" and tweak the opacity accordingly.
End result: We have a layer that desaturates the colours to expose bare metal, a layer of rust (pun not intended) and locopyro's colour (camo scheme) layer. Conclusion: You can do amazing stuff in GIMP. If you haven't explored all of its features yet, do it now and realise its full potential!
In Soviet Russia, tank desaturates you!
Okay, so what about Russian tanks? Or any tank that isn't just a grey hulk of metal? Using the overlay method on tanks that already has a coat of paint on them can be tricky as the colours you add will mix with the green. So the best way to do this is to scrape the paint of them first. Wait! Don't go grabbing that wire brush yet, there's an easier way of doing it. First, lets open up the KV's base skin for our demonstration purposes. I've extended the canvas and duplicated the skin so that it is side by side to show you the initial difference. Then, a new layer is placed over them and filled with white so that it covers one half of the canvas. Set the layer with white to "Saturation" mode and... voilà!
But why go through all that trouble when I could've simply opened up the skin, go under Image>Adjustments>Desaturate (the actual menu may be different for GIMP) to desaturate the original skin layer? Well, for one thing this method is destructive i.e. irreversible, you'll have limited ways to edit it later on. What if somewhere along the way you suddenly wanted some of the original colour to show through? In fact, this is what I wanted... I want the original rust colour to remain. So by using a separate layer to influence the original skin I can dictate which parts I want desaturated and which parts I want saturated. And thanks to "Blend if", we can fine tune where we want the saturation to be affected quite easily. After we tweak things to our satisfaction we can then put a new overlay layer over it and paint to our heart's desire.
If you don't have Photoshop, GIMP or its equivalent and if it doesn't have anything resembling "Blend if" or "Colour to Alpha" there's still another way of revealing the rust and grime underneath. All you have to do is take a soft edge brush, set it to paint with low opacity, pick a somewhat saturated hue (maybe around 8-12% saturation), and manually paint in the saturation layer the areas where rust and other things not coated with paint should show through. You could also use a layer mask instead, which basically makes parts of the saturation layer transparent depending on how much black/gray/white you paint on it so that whatever is under the saturation layer will not be affected by it... however this is unnecessarily complex and I don't want to confuse you too much by explaining it in detail. If for some reason your software doesn't even have the "Saturation" mode for layers, ditch it and get something decent like GIMP. If you refuse to use GIMP or anything else you can use the aforementioned but not recommended desaturate whole image method, and then re-colour the rust and grime manually.
Beauty in death
Quite often I find some really exceptional skins only to find out that they don't have the destroyed versions included. If you know how to make skins for your tank you should know how to make skins for the destroyed version quite easily. The destroyed tanks use the texture files with the "_crash.DDS" suffix. All you have to do is load it up, copypasta your paintjob over the original crash skin and set the layer mode to overlay. Some minor editing would be required but since most details are obscured by the burn marks it shouldn't present you with much of a problem. However this does depend on your paintjob for the base skin being a separate layer from the start to finish, so if you're doing skins some other way than using the overlay method a few other major tweaks may be necessary to composite it with the original crash skin. Please let me know if you particularly have problems of this nature so I can figure out a workaround to it.
It'd be a shame to see an otherwise nicely textured tank you worked hard on exploding only to leave a different looking tank burning in front of you. Lets not do a halfway job of it, eh?
Epilogue (and shameless plug)
With that, I hope that more skinners will be able to produce higher quality custom skins for WoT. If there's anything I may have missed or have been too vague about just let me know and I'll try to explain it to my best of abilities. In closing, I'll leave you with a link to the thread where the skins of the tanks found in this guide (except for the KV since I didn't actually own one to be able to finish texturing properly) are showcased :-P