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An Introduction To Livery Painting With Layers Part 1

An Introduction To Livery Painting With Layers

Part 1 - Introduction to GIMP

By Robin Tannahill


For some time, I have been doing repaints for the Virtual Airlinewith whom I fly. I was asked by one of the pilots, who had neverattempted repainting liveries, if I could introduce him to the methodof doing repaints. So I wrote this first "Introduction to "GIMP"tutorial to try and help him along. I would say that shortlythereafter he produced an excellent livery for our Virtual Airline, soI must have done something right!

I then started doing many liveries for the X-Plane Plugin "TrafficGlobal". After seeing my repaints, a fellow user of Traffic Globalasked me for advice on how he could start painting Traffic Globalliveries. I sent him the "Introduction to GIMP" tutorial, and shortlyafter that, he contacted me to say he was finding his way around GIMP,and could I tell him how to paint a specific livery for TrafficGlobal. So the second tutorial was written "Painting liveries forTraffic Global using GIMP".

I would however draw your attention to the first paragraph of"Introduction to GIMP". I make no claims to being an expert, but atleast this should set you on the path to livery painting glory!

Part 1 - Introduction To GIMP

This tutorial is an attempt to introduce the "art" of repaintingaircraft to those who would like to develop that skill. First of all,let me say that my skill level can only be described as "barelyadequate", as I am in no way as skilled as some of the masters of theart, like Leen de Jagger! His work is worth checking out on the webusing the search term "leen de jagger painting". You can also see myother work on flightsim.com and x-plane.org by looking at the files ofRobin Tannahill or "royaloak".

Thanks are due to people who have "beta tested" this tutorial andcame back with some really good feedback, which I have tried toinclude in this "final" (so far!) version. But if you get "stuck",then by all means PM me and we'll see what can be done. Also, theremay be others out there who know a better method than the ones I haveproposed. Again, contact me.

I usually use a very old edition of Adobe Photoshop, but for thisintroduction tutorial, we will use GIMP, (GNU Image ManipulationProgram) a freeware, cross platform, image manipulation program thathas most of the abilities of Photoshop at no cost whatsoever, unlessyou want to donate to this amazing freeware project.https://www.gimp.org/.Another similar program that I have heard mentioned is Krita which canbe found atkrita.org.

The same principles apply whatever program you use, i.e. theconcept of painting with layers, Bezier curves etc.

Right, let's get started. What we are going to do is to take awhite livery of the XP11 Laminar default C172 and use this as a "base"for our repainting tutorial. Unfortunately, the livery in XP11 is notlaid out the same as the one for the default Cessna172SP that is inXP10 but there is one here:paint_kit_2_0.zipwhich, although not pure white could still be used with GIMP for ourtutorial. But in this tutorial, the pictures deal with the XP11Cessna 172 "full_white" livery.

If you have X-Plane 10 and want to try and adapt this tutorial tothat aircraft, download the paint kit linked above.

For some reason that no doubt some of you will know, Laminar hasdecided to do all their liveries in XP11 with .dds files (Direct DrawSurface). I think these are more easily compressed for low endmachines. Photoshop (at least the versions I have), cannot open .ddsfiles, so if you are intending to use Photoshop or another paintprogram which doesn't open .dds files, then you will have to convertthe .dds files to .png files. I cover this later when talking aboutpainting a livery for Traffic Global and using a converter like theone at http://www.dds converter.com. It's freeware and very easy to use. GIMPcan open .dds files but you will see a base layer plus a lot of mipmaplayers, so as a beginner I would prefer to convert the .dds files to.png. In that case, when you open a .png file with GIMP, you only getone starter layer which is less confusing for a beginner.

The first thing I would ask you to do is to get familiar with the"Plane Maker" application that comes with each version ofX-Plane. Don't worry, we are not going to make any alterations toanything that has to do with the model, just view our aircraft and thechanges we make. I find it so much easier when building the paint touse Plane Maker rather than viewing it in X-Plane. You simply open theaircraft of interest from the "File" dropdown menu, select the liveryyou want to view and you can zoom in and out using Shift+ and Shift-and turn and rotate the aircraft using the A, D W and S keys. By usingPlane Maker, it is quick and easy to view the results of changes, andwhether stripes etc. line up.


Now, what we are going to do is simply add some layers on top ofthe White "Base" Layer, combine these additional layers and use atechnique called "multiplying" or "burning" to blend our changes intothe lines and rivets etc. of the base layer.

As you gain more confidence, then you can move onto "Layered PaintKits" of which there are hundreds on the .org. If you want to see amulti-layered paint kit - check this one outhere.Although it unzips to a psd (photoshop format) file, this type of filecan be opened in GIMP.

Right, let's open GIMP.

Because I have used the program before, mine usually opens withsome dialog boxes open, but you may well get this screen only:


Note: since writing this first part of the tutorial, I have updatedto a newer version of GIMP, but the following still applies eventhough the screens might look different.

Go to the "Windows" dropdown menu, then select "Toolbox" and apanel with numerous icons will appear, as shown below: or Cntrl+B (animportant key combination as the toolbox seems to disappearoccasionally).


Hovering your mouse over these various tool icons will tell youwhat their functions are.

Then open "Windows/Dockable Dialogs" and select the ones I havehighlighted in the screen shot below. These will get us going, but asyou gain confidence with "GIMP" you may well choose to have otherwindows open, and in fact you should probably add the "Tool Options"window as well as the ones highlighted. You will need that dialogsoon. I know that when I use Photoshop, I only have Photoshop'sequivalent three windows open, i.e. "Tool Options" "Layers" and "UndoHistory"



Note: It has been reported that, in a fresh install of "GIMP", theextra options were merged in the "Paths-Brushes" menu on the right,and that you had to drag the tabs out to get the screen as per thescreen shot above.

I think the secret here is to play around with GIMP and getreasonably familiar with the menus etc. Also familiarize yourselfwith zooming in and out and moving around. GIMP isn't the most userfriendly of programs, but it's powerful and free! Just try and end upwith the screen shot above or equivalent in the later versions ofGIMP.

Select these options, and your GIMP layout will look like thescreen shot above (you can move the dialog boxes around if they get inthe way, or close them individually, stretch them etc., as you wish).

Go to the "File" dropdown menu, then "Open" and navigate to thefolder that contains your white livery. In my case:"X-Plane11/Aircraft/Laminar Research/Cessna172SP/liveries/full_white/Objects/fuselage.png" (or, if you havechosen not to convert),"X-Plane11/Aircraft/LaminarResearch/Cessna172SP/liveries/full_white/Objects/fuselage.dds"

You should end up with GIMP as per the screen shot below:


You can see the original "picture file" for this livery showingfairly obviously, the left and right sides of the fuselage, the top ofthe fuselage and the bottom of the fuselage, plus the tail planes.

Note that the "Layers" dialog box shows one layer "fuselage.png"and the "Undo History" dialog box shows "Base Image".

Now folks, from here on in, it's all about getting familiar withGIMP, reading, practising and experimenting. If you make a mistake,go back to the last thing you did correctly listed in the "UndoHistory" dialog box and try again, it's as simple as that!

There are many tutorials available for GIMP, either from its ownweb site or by googling, but to be a "serious" repainter, I wouldfocus on the following:


1. Adding Layers

As a general point, when you use a menu option and a dialog boxappears, just accept the default values, unless it is very obviousthat something needs changed.

Go to the top menu, select "Layer" than "New Layer". Right clickon the new layer and select "Edit Layer Attributes". Rename thelayer, "Yellow Nose LHS" See how this new layer appears in the "Layer"dialog box?


It is also faintly highlighted. If you click on a layer, it willbecome highlighted and any "artwork" you do will apply to thathighlighted layer, and not, for instance to the "fuselage.png" belowit.



Try this, pick the paintbrush tool and just go wild on the ""YellowNose LHS" layer.

Then click on the little eye to the left of the "Yellow Nose LHS""layer. See how your masterpiece disappears and the base is untouched?That is the concept of layer painting. Now re-click the eye so thatthe drawing reappears.

Now go to the "History Undo" dialog box and click on the "AddLayer" box. Again, your drawing disappears and you have gone "back intime" to the instant you added the layer. VERY handy for correctingmistakes.

Right...we are going to keep this as simple as possible. If you'vegot this far, you have an interest in repainting and I'm relying onyou to find the intricacies of "GIMP" (or Photoshop or whatever).

We'll paint the nose yellow, add a reg number, maybe a logo, andcombine these into a single layer. On the Tools bar, click on theblack square.


A color palette will appear. Change the foreground colour to a nicebright yellow.

Select the "Yellow Nose LHS" Layer. Select the "Path" tool.


Carefully draw a path round the LHS nose fairing.


To "close" the path after the 12th anchor point, you hold "Control"and click again on the first anchor point.At that point the path will be "closed". Also notice that Ihaven't been too particular in those areas that are not an actual partof the fuselage. The black areas in the picture above are not "mapped"in the model so you don't have to take the care required for theactual fuselage parts. If not done already, go back toWindows/Dockable Dialogs and open "Tool Options". This will show theoptions available for the tool you have just used (in our case the"Path" tool).


Select "Stroke Path" and the next dialog box will appear.


Choose "Stroke with a paint tool" and then "Stroke".The result should be a nice yellow outlined nose as per below.


Now select the "Paint Bucket" tool...


and click inside the yellow outlined area:Viola! A yellow nose!


Note: Since writing this section, the latest version of GIMP alsohas a "Fill Path" option with the "Paths Tool". Close the path andselect "Fill Path" from the Tool Option Window. It has the same effectas the preceding instructions for "Stroke" and Paint Bucket". Also,importantly, in the new version of GIMP (and possibly in olderversions), if you don't select "Layer/NewLayer" the path you draw willbe added to the active layer, not as a new layer. I would recommendin most cases, adding a new layer before drawing the Path. If youdon't, the following procedure "multiplying" etc. cannot be done.

Ah, but what about the rivets etc.? Go to the layers dialog box,highlight the "yellow nose LHS" layer and above that (on top of"Opacity" ) you will see a "Mode" dropdown selection. Try changingthis from "Normal" to "Multiply".

See what happens?

Now we are beginning to see the power of these programs!

Change the mode back to normal.

Now for another bit of magic from these programs. Instead ofhaving to repeat the whole of section 5 above for the RHS of thefuselage, we can simply duplicate the work we have done on the LHS.

Again, highlight the layer "Yellow Nose LHS". Go to the "Layer"dropdown menu at the top of the page and select "Duplicate Layer". Youwill see in the Layers Dialog Box that there are now two layers called"Yellow Nose LHS".

Where is the second one?

Sitting right on top of the first one! Highlight the uppermost"Yellow Nose LHS" and right click with your mouse. You will see a menuwith "Edit Layer Attributes" at the top. Select this and Change thename to "Yellow Nose RHS".

Now we have to place this yellow layer over the RHS nose. Butwait, this is facing the other way. No problem, go to the "Layer"dropdown menu at the top and then "Transform" - there are numerousoptions to Flip or Rotate etc. If you get into painting, this menuwill become a familiar friend! OK, so we highlight our "Yellow NoseRHS" layer, go to Layer and Transform and flip our layer horizontally.Use either the arrow keys on your keyboard or by using the "Move"Tool.


If for any reason the move tool doesn't work as described - readfurther on for solution.

Next is to carefully move the layer into the exact equivalentposition over the right hand side nose fairing. Just how well we havedone this will become obvious when we look at the result in PlaneMaker. Do both sides line up when viewed from the top? We willsee...


Now is the time to take stock and check what we've done so far.Always save your work at regular intervals, either by using Photoshop.psd or a GIMP .xcf file. But in order for our work to be seen as alivery in X-Plane, we have to save our work as a .png file. This .pngfile is just a straightforward picture with no layers. So now go tothe top dropdown menu "File" then "Export" and in the screen thatappears choose (on the bottom right) "All Images" and find yourX-Plane11/Aircraft/Laminar Research/Cessna172SP/liveries/full_white/Objects/fuselage.png and overwrite whenasked.

Again, just accept the default values.

Note: in Photoshop you would "save as" and select the .png file andoverwrite.

Go back to Plane Maker and open the livery. You will see that wenow have a Cessna with a yellow nose on the left and right hand sides,but not on the top or the bottom of the fuselage. So your next job isto follow what we have done so far and colour the panels at the topand the bottom! As a general point, when you use a menu option and adialog box appears, just accept the default values, unless it is veryobvious that something needs changed.

Go to top menu "Layer" then "New Layer", right click on the newlayer and select "Edit Layer Attributes". Rename the layer, "YellowNose LHS". See how this new layer appears in the "Layer" dialogbox?

Note 1: If you lose your foreground colour at any time (i.e. whenyou reload GIMP and it goes to the default black), you can use theEyedropper Tool (below) to regain the foreground color you want.


Highlight a layer with the colour you want, for instance the"Yellow Nose LHS" and then click the Eyedropper Tool over the yellowarea - hey presto, the foreground colour changes back to the yellow wewant.

Note 2: Photoshop has a very powerful Pen Tool. With this tool youcan draw a closed polygon of any shape and the colour selected willautomatically be filled in. You can Control+ Click on this area andvarious control points can be seen, selected and manoeuvred as yourequire. However, from what I can see, this is not the case with GIMP.

Once you have "filled" your path with the bucket tool, the shapebecomes fixed "rasterized" and cannot be altered, except to move orscale etc. So I have found the following, using the nose top as anexample:

(a) Make a Layer/New and call it "Nose Top"

(b) Make out your path with the Path Tool and "Stroke" it with the paint tool as described in section 5. You then have your yellow outline. You can click on individual anchor points with your mouse and move them either by dragging, or even better, by using the keyboard arrow keys.


Then you can go to Plane Makerand see if the lines on the top, lineup with the yellow panels on the sides. If not, move the pathaccordingly, and after each move "File/Export to fuselage.png", or"save as fuselage.png" if using Photoshop.

When you are happy with the result (as per below), use the PaintBucket Tool to finish filling the top engine cover.


Repeat this procedure for the bottom engine panel and the front panel.

Your GIMP file will look like this:


And, after exporting as a .png, Plane Maker should look like this:

/images/howtos/livery1/t/livery-painting-33.jpg   /images/howtos/livery1/t/livery-painting-18.jpg

At this stage we are just laying on layers of paint. The detailsunderneath are hidden for now. Also, if you make a mistake you canalways go back in your "Undo History" Dialog Box and repeat aprocedure. Remember that the "higher" a layer, then the higher thepriority (a bit like the scenery_packs.ini file in X-Plane). A higherlayer will cover whatever is underneath it.

So that's as far as we will go in this basic tutorial about addingpaint layers. As you get more familiar and confident with your imagemanipulation programme you will be able to draw the swirls and curvesthat, for instance, make up those colourful stripes and shapes we seeon airliner fuselages.

2. Adding Lettering

This is easy compared to what we have done so far.

Select the Text Tool


Click on the area where you wish to add the text. A new layer willautomatically be created and a small dialog box will appear where youcan alter the size and type of the font, plus whether you want itBold, Underlined or Italic. The small box where it says "Sans" iswhere you can select which font you wish to use. If you want to selectsay Times New Roman as your font, type a "T" in that box and a load ofchoices will appear. Plus, if you go online and Google "Adding Fontsto GIMP" there are plenty of tutorials out there on how to do justthat.

Anyway I selected Sans Italics, changed the font size to 95 and thetext colour to Red and then typed N123AX as shown below:


You will notice that in this particular case, the left and righthand fuselages are facing in different directions, so we can duplicatethe registration straight onto the right hand side fuselage. In manycases the fuselage sides point are in the same direction. If that isthe case, you will find that on one of the sides the text has to beflipped horizontally, plus perhaps the logos, depending on their shape(you'll be able to see in Plane Maker if this is the case). You canalso move and scale the text layer (having first highlighted thelayer) by using the move tool and the scale tool.


Now, highlight the text layer (called N123AX) and right click andselect "duplicate layer". A new Layer called "N123AX...#1" willappear. You can now use the move tool (shown below) to move the newtext layer to its position on the RHS fuselage.

When finished, Export the image as fuselage.png and inspect yourwork in Plane Maker.

As I was doing that last bit about duplicating and moving the textlayer, I found that the Move function wasn't working. Half an hour offrustration later, I found this on the web:



Well worth reading and taking a note of: Open the "Tool Options"Dialog Box, highlight the "Move" tool as shown below and check thesetting as shown.

3. Adding Logos


Right, so now we have our Yellow nose Cessna with its RegistrationNumber. Let's try adding a logo.

Go online and Google "Cessna Logos", or in fact anything you want,as the procedure is the same.

Download this one or another of your choice:


We now want to add the image above to our aircraft.

In GIMP, go to File/Open and find your downloaded Logo. It willappear as a new (usually smaller) window in GIMP. You can switchbetween the windows using the "Windows" dropdown menu in GIMP. Whenyou look at this logo in GIMP, you will notice that it is a picturewith a white background. We want to get rid of this white backgroundso we can paste only the logo onto our aircraft. Again, as I didn'tknow how to do this in GIMP, I once again asked my friend Google andfound the info online. There is more than one way to do this, but thefollowing worked for me (feel free to try another method if it doesn'twork for you). If your Logo is "complete", i.e., has no background,you can skip this next step, but it's handy to know as you will end upneeding it sometime!

In GIMP, select the Window with the logo, right click on the onlylayer present ("download.png" or whatever you called it) and, afterright clicking, select (near the bottom of the menu) "Add AlphaChannel".

Next, go to your tool palette and select the "Fuzzy Select" tool,(the equivalent is the "Magic Wand Tool" in Photoshop).


Having selected the Fuzzy Select tool, click on the white area ofthe logo. See how it becomes selected? Right click, then "Edit", then"Cut" and, bingo, the white disappears. You can do the same using the"Edit" menu at the top of the GIMP page. However, notice that somewhite areas remain in the lettering, for instance in the "o" of theword "Company". For this you will have to use the zoom tool, eitherfrom the "View" menu at the top, or the little zoom box at the bottomleft, and zoom in on these remaining white areas (repeat the FuzzySelect method to cut them).

Hopefully you will get something like this:


The next stage, still in your Logo window, is to go to your top"Select" dropdown and hit "Select All". You will see a dotted, slowlymoving line appear around your logo. Select "Edit" and then"Copy".

Go back to your "fuselage.xcf" window and "Edit" then "Paste". Thelogo will appear as a new "Floating Selection-Pasted Layer" as shownbelow:


Highlight this "Floating Selection-Pasted Layer", right click on itand select "To New Layer". Your logo will now appear as a solid layerand can be named, moved and scaled as appropriate.


Just for interest, try placing and scaling the logo so that part ofit is on the stabiliser and part on the rudder. Now look at theresult in Plane Maker. See the distortion? It's a bit of a nightmareto compensate for that and well beyond the scope of this tutorial. Sofor simplicity, I have placed it on the RHS Fuselage and renamed thelayer "Logo RHS".

Right click on the "Logo RHS" layer and after right clicking,select "duplicate layer" and rename that duplicate to "Logo LHS" using"Edit Layer Attributes". Use the "Move" tool to move that Logo to theLHS fuselage.

4. Finishing The Paint Job

Well I've shown you how to add simple paint layers, line them upwith each other, add text and logos and that's as far as we will gowith this tutorial with respect to "painting" the aircraft.

We will now combine all the layers we have painted into a singlelayer called "Stripes" and then apply blending modes to this combinedlayer.

Before we go on, you might want to make a copy of this"fuselage.xcf" file in case you want to add some layers later on.Save it as "fuselagealllayers.xcf" or something similar.

Now, go to the Layers dialog box, click on the little "Eye" symbolnext to the "Fuselage.png" layer. You will see that all the backgrounddisappears and only the paintwork that we have done remainsvisible. Select any of these remaining visible layers, and then go tothe top menu and the "Image" dropdown menu. Select "Merge VisibleLayers" and then "Merge" when the dialog box appears (note in thistutorial two spellings of "dialog", USA vs UK!)

The Layers dialog box will now show only two layers, the base"fuselage.png" and our new combined layer, on which we will rightclick and rename "Stripes".

Now I am the first to admit that I am not an expert in blendingmodes, never mind in Photoshop, let alone GIMP.

It's really up to the individual to learn about and experiment withthese modes but, go to the layers dialog box, highlight the "Stripes"layer and above that (on top of "Opacity"), you will see a "Mode"dropdown selection. Try changing that from "Normal" to"Multiply". See what happens? The rivets and detailsappear. Similarly, if we select the mode "burn" we see the details andthe original colours stay brighter. For now, let's leave it on "Burn".

Save your work and then export to "Fuselage.png". Below is thefinished article!



A good video to have a look at is:

Once you get the hang of GIMP, this video by Bill Womack, afavourite on flightsim.com, will give you additional ideas to workwith. Yes, he is working in Photoshop so some of the blending modeswill be different from GIMP, but hey, you're a GIMP expert by now, or"Google is my friend!"

Or why not try adding stripes and large reg numbers to the wings?If you screw up you can always copy the wings.dds file from youroriginal Laminar aircraft or another livery with unpainted wings.

I hope this tutorial will set you off on the repaintingpath..."From tiny acorns do mighty oak trees grow!"

There are many nice paint kits out there with the rivets, doors,dirt and other details already done for you, so all you have to do isto add additional layers, as we have learned to do here.

I have really enjoyed making this tutorial, and in the process,learning GIMP. It does almost everything that Photoshop does and isfreeware versus hundreds of dollars. Worth getting to know!

See you soon in Part 2...

Robin Tannahill

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