We all love to make our flight simulator experience our own, and adding new liveries or repaints to our fleet is one of the easiest ways to do that. Whether it be to fly low across lands in an historically accurate colour scheme, or taking to the skies in your own personal branded livery; changing the clothes on our aircraft can be just as good as getting a new one. But how do those beautiful repaints come to life? In this article I will be guiding you through the some of the basics of repainting, from resourcing references through tools of the trade to allow you to create your own masterpiece.
There is also a “speed review” of the finished repaint that will be the main feature of this article linking it to my YouTube channel. Click here here to watch it.
The example aircraft I will be making for this article will be a captured BF 109 in the colors of the Royal Air Force using the Just Flight Bf 109.
I am going to break this article down into several key steps:
- Painting and Testing
This will take a bit of time, especially for historical repaints. If your subject is a current or recent flying type, possibly the best resource is airliners.net, a community of aircraft spotters from around the world posting up images of aircraft in their natural habitat. Naturally, it is always a great idea to check out a company’s website for any stock images of their aircraft. Even if your project is fictitious (a hot pink 747 anyone?) it is still worth looking at liveries that may be similar to what you are planning and can serve as some great inspiration. A short list of some of my most used reference sites include:
- Aircraft manufacturer and Airline websites
- Museum collections (in person or online) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_aerospace_museums
- Simmers Paint Shop http://www.simmerspaintshop.com
Now that we have our reference material we can get ready to start work. First, we need the tools to do so.
- Graphic editing program
Best thing to get here is a program that supports layers, and for that there are essentially two out there in the community; Adobe Photoshop and GIMP. Both of these programs are excellent choices. Having used both myself I have to say that Photoshop is my preferred option, however, it comes at a price (literally). GIMP is an open source program and is free to download and use, whilst Photoshop is a paid product.
- DDS Plugin
FSX introduced the DDS format of texturing which is compact without sacrificing detail and supports higher resolutions and DX10+ display formats. You will need to install a plugin for your graphics program of choice to enable it to read and write DDS files (a quick search for “DDS plugin” will help you out).
- Paint kit or Clean textures
Default and add-on aircraft generally fall into two categories; those that include a layered paint kit and those that include just a blank white/grey texture livery. The majority of the default aircraft as well as publishers such as Carenado and Alabeo use the latter, whilst companies like Just Flight and IRIS Simulations will go with the layered paint kit in PSD format. If in doubt it is always worth asking the developer politely if they have a paint kit available. Just Flight do not have one included in their product download but a quick email to their support desk will have one delivered to you (Thanks guys!). Paint kits are great because they will separate the little details from block color areas and allow you to not worry about painting over important things like doorframes, lights and rivets. Clean textures are still workable, however they take a little more finesse to get right. For this layers, shading and opacity sliders are definitely your friends! Additionally, when you open them up, if they are already DDS files you will need to Flip Vertically to make it more logical to work with
- Directory setup
I recommend having a dedicated repaint directory containing a folder for each Aircraft you are repainting. The repaint that you are about to create will need its own folder and that has to be in the format of texture.XXXX (eg; the aircraft we are going to be working on has the serial number AE479 so we will create the folder texture.AE479). Then grab one of the existing textures that you are about to repaint and copy it to your working directory. In here you will see what files you need to work on and also something called “aliasing”. Paint kits are usually comprehensive but sometimes might miss out on a texture or two. Additionally, textures may be shared by multiple liveries (eg; the cockpit) so a texture.cfg file tells FSX to look for any textures it cannot find in a specific directory. So now all the prep-work is done we can get onto the fun stuff!
Painting and Testing
So this is the meat of the work. Use all the references you have gathered and start painting. This can be at times a very long and frustrating process, but the end result will be worth it. Layers are very useful as they allow you to paint colors and patterns without destroying the base textures you are working from. Always use a new layer for each different colour or part of the aircraft being worked on.
If you are creating a livery that uses multiple colors it is worth making a color swatch. Essentially this is a small file that allows you to quickly re-color your brush to the color you need. Create a 240×240 pixel blank canvas and add blocks of the colors you are going to use.
In terms of techniques, I suggest using a hard edged brush and making use of helper shapes to aid you in making those curves and smooth edges. A great thing about layers is that you can use them to help guide you in tracing shapes. Overlay an image with the shape you want, lower the opacity and then work on your painting using the overlay as your guide. Overlaying is also great when working with panel lines and details as they can be overlaid and adjusted in opacity to give your aircraft that more used or new look. This is all about experimentation and creativity.
Once you have completed some of the work and need to check how it’s going you will need to load it into FSX to test.
Before you test it a couple of things:
- When saving DDS files, you will have to save inverted otherwise it will appear upside down on the final model
- Copy the directory texture.xxxx (in our case texture.AE479) to the directory where the aircraft is
- Open up the aircraft.cfg, file and copy one of the entries there and paste it at the bottom of the list of [flightsim.X] entries. Re-number yours to the next in sequence. Change the ‘texture=’ line to match the one of the folder after the period (eg; texture=AE479). Change the ‘title=’ and ‘ui_variation=’ lines to suit your aircraft (our example title=Dove_AH_ME109e AE479 and ui_variation=Captured Messerschmitt AE479)
From here it becomes very fiddly as you work on getting all of the details right. You can leave FSX running while you work and once you save your updates, copy your directory across like you did at the beginning. Inside FSX go to Options > Settings > Display > Global Texture Resolution and flick it up or down one notch to force the textures to reload.
Eventually you will reach a point where your masterpiece is complete and ready to see the light of day! To wrap up, create a thumbnail of your masterpiece by taking a screenshot of your aircraft and scale the screenshot to fit the thumbnail.jpg. This is found in your texture directory and save it. Next, remember the additions we made to our aircraft.cfg to allow us to test our repaint? You need to give those to users to allow them to install your repaint with ease. Create a readme file to supply along with possibly a little history about your subject or your inspiration for doing the repaint. Now you can zip it up along with the texture directory and it’s all ready for sharing!
And that dear reader wraps up my guide on creating a repaint for FSX. We have covered a lot of ground in this article, and I won’t pretend that you will not come across some challenges along the way. Let your imagination and creativity run free, and trust me, nothing quite beats the feeling of seeing your hard work high in virtual skies!
Until next time pilots,