• 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 Airline with whom I fly. I was asked by one of the pilots, who had never attempted repainting liveries, if I could introduce him to the method of doing repaints. So I wrote this first "Introduction to "GIMP" tutorial to try and help him along. I would say that shortly thereafter he produced an excellent livery for our Virtual Airline, so I must have done something right!

    I then started doing many liveries for the X-Plane Plugin "Traffic Global". After seeing my repaints, a fellow user of Traffic Global asked me for advice on how he could start painting Traffic Global liveries. I sent him the "Introduction to GIMP" tutorial, and shortly after 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 Traffic Global. So the second tutorial was written "Painting liveries for Traffic 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 at least 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 repainting aircraft to those who would like to develop that skill. First of all, let me say that my skill level can only be described as "barely adequate", as I am in no way as skilled as some of the masters of the art, like Leen de Jagger! His work is worth checking out on the web using the search term "leen de jagger painting". You can also see my other work on flightsim.com and x-plane.org by looking at the files of Robin Tannahill or "royaloak".

    Thanks are due to people who have "beta tested" this tutorial and came back with some really good feedback, which I have tried to include 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, there may be others out there who know a better method than the ones I have proposed. Again, contact me.

    I usually use a very old edition of Adobe Photoshop, but for this introduction tutorial, we will use GIMP, (GNU Image Manipulation Program) a freeware, cross platform, image manipulation program that has most of the abilities of Photoshop at no cost whatsoever, unless you want to donate to this amazing freeware project. https://www.gimp.org/. Another similar program that I have heard mentioned is Krita which can be found at krita.org.

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

    Right, let's get started. What we are going to do is to take a white livery of the XP11 Laminar default C172 and use this as a "base" for our repainting tutorial. Unfortunately, the livery in XP11 is not laid out the same as the one for the default Cessna172SP that is in XP10 but there is one here: paint_kit_2_0.zip which, although not pure white could still be used with GIMP for our tutorial. But in this tutorial, the pictures deal with the XP11 Cessna 172 "full_white" livery.

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

    For some reason that no doubt some of you will know, Laminar has decided to do all their liveries in XP11 with .dds files (Direct Draw Surface). I think these are more easily compressed for low end machines. Photoshop (at least the versions I have), cannot open .dds files, so if you are intending to use Photoshop or another paint program which doesn't open .dds files, then you will have to convert the .dds files to .png files. I cover this later when talking about painting a livery for Traffic Global and using a converter like the one at www.dds converter.com. It's freeware and very easy to use. GIMP can open .dds files but you will see a base layer plus a lot of mipmap layers, 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 get one 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 of X-Plane. Don't worry, we are not going to make any alterations to anything that has to do with the model, just view our aircraft and the changes we make. I find it so much easier when building the paint to use Plane Maker rather than viewing it in X-Plane. You simply open the aircraft of interest from the "File" dropdown menu, select the livery you 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 using Plane Maker, it is quick and easy to view the results of changes, and whether stripes etc. line up.

    Livery Painting

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

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

    Right, let's open GIMP.

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

    Livery Painting

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

    Go to the "Windows" dropdown menu, then select "Toolbox" and a panel with numerous icons will appear, as shown below: or Cntrl+B (an important key combination as the toolbox seems to disappear occasionally).

    Livery Painting

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

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

    Livery Painting

    Livery Painting

    Note: It has been reported that, in a fresh install of "GIMP", the extra 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 the screen shot above.

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

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

    Go to the "File" dropdown menu, then "Open" and navigate to the folder that contains your white livery. In my case: "X-Plane11/Aircraft/Laminar Research/Cessna 172SP/liveries/full_white/Objects/fuselage.png" (or, if you have chosen not to convert),"X-Plane11/Aircraft/Laminar Research/Cessna172SP/liveries/full_white/Objects/fuselage.dds"

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

    Livery Painting

    You can see the original "picture file" for this livery showing fairly obviously, the left and right sides of the fuselage, the top of the 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 with GIMP, reading, practising and experimenting. If you make a mistake, go back to the last thing you did correctly listed in the "Undo History" dialog box and try again, it's as simple as that!

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


    Tags: gimp, livery, painting

    1. highside7r's Avatar
      highside7r -
      Great timing as I am trying to figure out layers with a paint kit on basic AI models verse asking a painter to it. I'm using paint.net but will switch over to Gimp to follow the tutorial. Thanks for posting this.
    1. leen de jager's Avatar
      leen de jager -
      Very nice explanation.
      There is however something I would like to say about the suggested workflow.

      In this explanation the colored parts are on layers OVER (above) the main gray-scaled texture and these layers are set to multiply.
      BUT when we want to make lets say a red star on the yellow nose we cannot do the same with this red star.
      We can make a red star over the yellow nose and set the star to multyply ( we want to see the rivets and lines in the star too ), but whe have to remove the star from the yellow layer because multiplying red over yellow does not work.

      Personally I use a different workflow ( made over 700 paints last twenty years for FLY, MSFS and X-Plane )

      I use the gray-scaled texture "set to multiply"as my top-layer.
      Doing that I can paint my airplane like an oil painting on canvas, first the grass and then the cows UNDER this layer.
      For details on the plane wich should not show effects from the main-layer , I use layers on top of the main-layer.

      Download example; https://www.dropbox.com/s/djidgg6fdx...ample.zip?dl=0

      The airplane this layerfile was used for ,is on my frontpage.

      Leen de Jager

    1. RayH's Avatar
      RayH -
      Nice one, I have had GIMP for ages but never really got my head around it. You have incentivised me to have another lock. Plenty of weeks coming being locked away in the man-cave.
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