Skyward's Updated DCS World Livery/Skin Creation Guide
Updated: Jan 14
This idea has been in my backburner for a while now. I started making liveries for DCS:World in 2019 when I finally got my hands on a PC that could run it, but I have been creating liveries for different flight simulators for the past decade or so. And as time passes, I have realized that I have not really seen many tutorials or detailed guides on this aspect of games and that most of what I know has come from teaching myself how to do things from experimenting.
In this guide, I will try and teach you everything that you might need to get started with livery/skin creation for flight simulators but more specifically for DCS: World. I will provide you with tools, explain basic concepts and guide you through the creation of a complete livery for the Community A-29B Super Tucano mod. Let's get started!
THIS IS VERSION 2 OF THIS GUIDE: -ADDED MODELVIEWER2 TUTORIAL AND SETUP SECTION.
STEP 1: BASIC CONCEPTS AND NECESSARY SOFTWARE
To start, I would like to explain what a "texture" is and how it interacts with the model of the plane we are going to texture, in our case, the Super Tucano. This also applies to any other 3D model you might encounter out there. A texture is nothing more than an image consisting of pixels (a bitmap) that carries color or some other information (such as reflectivity, bumpiness, etc.) in which a 3D model is unwrapped over. Usually, this unwrapping process is done by the 3D artist while creating the model. The best way to visualize this would be with an example most of us are familiar with: A candy/chocolate bar!
To the left, the "textured model"
To the right, the "unwrapped" texture for model.
See how the 2D plastic wrapper (right) bends to form the complete wrap (left)? That is essentially what a texture is. The chocolate, in this case, would be the untextured 3D model; hence why textures are sometimes referred to as "skins" that envelop this model.
Now that we all understand what a texture is, let's start creating one by downloading an image manipulation software of any kind. This will be our main tool to work with textures as well as with any other images we wish to edit for it. I will recommend two for our use case:
GNU IMAGE MANIPULATION SOFTWARE (GIMP)
Free and open source, this is the best alternative to Photoshop available at the moment. It has all the tools we might need for texture creation with one particular exception: It's lack of options for DDS compression. I will explain what DDS is in the next part of this article, but let's just say that it is important.
Aside from that, GIMP is an excellent platform with a very friendly and intuitive UI that resembles that of some Photoshop versions. This is, in my honest opinion, the ideal tool for those who do not want to pay for Adobe software. This will be the software we will use throughout this tutorial with only one exception which you will see in the guide.
Utilizing the .NET framework, this image manipulation software is also sufficiently useful for what it offers. Despite having a less intuitive UI, it has almost complete feature parity with GIMP and surpasses it in some very specific aspects.
We will use it for a single aspect of our creation but feel free to use it for all your livery creation needs. Just know that most examples throughout this guide will be depicted with GIMP.
Now that we understand what a texture is and we have the software we will need, let's get started!
STEP 2: KNOWING YOUR SOFTWARE, WORK ON THE BASE TEXTURE AND INITIAL TESTING
For the purpose of this tutorial, you will need to download the following things before we start:
Install the module in: Users>user>Saved Games>DCS>Mods>aircraft. Example:
Now, open a-29b-community and go to the Textures folder. You will find a single file named A-29B.zip. Delete this file and replace it with the one you downloaded from the Improved Textures link. IMPORTANT: Do not unzip the new file, just delete the old zip and replace it with the new one. The DCS side of things is done, so let's proceed to creating our first livery. Open GIMP and load the template you downloaded. You should be greeted by something like this:
It might look a bit intimidating at first, but let me break it up a bit so you can understand what you are seeing a bit more:
GREEN: These are your tools, most of them are self-explanatory so try them out to see what they do.
BLUE: These are your tool options. This is how you configure the active tool (brush, paths...)
RED: These are your layers. You will have several layer groups that can be opened by clicking the PLUS sign to the left of the name, the one next to the image preview window.
Group and layer names change between templates, but usually you will find:
WEATHERING: These layers will usually have wear and tear effects such as carbon residue from the engines, oil leaks, panel line accents, etc.
MECHANICAL: These are usually parts are are left untouched. They include landing gears, wheels and other mechanical elements of the plane that are not as crucial for the look of the skin as they are not part of the fuselage. In general, you can also find parts that might be optional such as radio antennas, formation lights, etc.
PD: You usually find these at the top of the template, seeing as they will need to be over all other layers to be visible
PAINTABLE PARTS: These are self-explanatory. You paint in these. In the case of the template that I created for the Tucano you can also paint certain parts of the aircraft inside of the Mechanical folder, such as the propeller blades and propeller hub.
Now, remember when I explained what a texture was and how 3D models are laid-out over them? There is a better way to see that now that we have the template open. On the layers tab (RED) find the "FULL UV LAYOUT" layer and make it visible by clicking the eye icon. You should see this: