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Red's skinning tutorial

Ron “Red1” Nair's Advanced Photoshop techniques; panel lines, highlights & rivets.

How to create artistic aircraft textures / skins. For this tutorial you need to have more than a basic grasp of Photoshop.

Drawing panel lines and creating channels

These techniques can be used in any Photoshop version from 5.5 up to and including version CS3.

First, choose the pen tool and set it to “paths” in the task bar. You need to be familiar with the pen tool, and should have the ability to create both straight and curve lines. If not, use Photoshop's help menu and practive until you are comfortable drawing any shape.

Next, draw an outline path with the pen tool around the outside of the wireframe. Make the path about one or two pixels larger than the wireframe itself. The path must be closed by clicking on the first point you made when you started drawing the path. You'll see a small circle appear to the right of the pen tool icon when closing. Then go to the paths palette and name the path. Click once on the “Load path as a selection” icon at the bottom of the paths palette (third icon from the left). This will turn the path into an active selection.

Now switch back to the layers palette; create a new blank layer, and fill the selection with whatever color you choose (ALT + Backspace keys). Drop the selection, CTRL-D and save the file. Get into the habit of saving your file often.

Next, create a new blank layer above the filled base layer. Then, begin drawing the panel lines in black with a one pixel pencil tool on the new layer. I also use the rectangular marquee tool and line tool (set to fill pixels with a one pixel width). When the panels are finished, CTRL-LMB on the layer-thumbnail to turn the panels into an active selection (marching ants). Now - goto the Select menu and choose “Save Selection”. This highlights channel is created by duplicating the panels channel and shifting it one pixel down and one back, so it is off-set.

1. Duplicate the filled base layer and then load the panels channel as a selection (CTRL-ALT-4).

2. Press CTRL-H (hide edges), then CTRL-U (hue/saturation), and enter “-15” or “-20” in the lightness/darkness field and press “OK”. The intensity of the panel lines is a matter of personal taste, and the color of the base layer.

3. With the selection still active, press CTRL-SHIFT-I (inverse selection) then press delete. Drop selection, (CTRL-D). You have now isolated the panel lines on their own layer.

4. Highlights and rivets are created using the same procedure. To load the highlights channel, press CTRL-ALT-5. Each additional channel would be “6”, “7” etc.

The beauty of this system is the resulting panel lines mirror the surface they are being applied to. Take camouflage for instance, the lines have to have the same colors as the texture. You could not do this by stroking a path. The same holds true for weathering. The panels have to have the same dirt, and light & dark areas of the texture. Using channels makes this easy.

Panel Line Blur

Make a copy of the panel layer (CTRL-J), and apply a gaussian blur of 2 pixels. Press CTRL-U (hue/saturation) and type “-5” in the lightness/darkness field. This action will darken the blur, and intensify the panel lines.

Now, drag the blur layer to the bottom of the layer stack. (Panels, lights, blur).

Note: Remember, the panel lines you made are temporary. You'll have to remakethem as the final step after you get the base surface finished.


Use the same procedure as the panels. Create a blank layer and use the brush tool (set to “pencil”) with a one pixel thickness and black as your foreground color.

Lay out the rivets with the proper spacing and this will vary. I generally make a master row and duplicate it horizontally and vertically when I have to create lots of them. Rivets on a diagonal (like the Tornado tail) require using the Contro/T command to rotate them to the correct angle.

When all rivets are in place on your temporary rivet layer, CTRL-LMB on the layer thumbnail to get a selection. Save the selection as a channel. Switch to the Channels Palette and check the new rivet channel for any dark areas. Use the “Dodge Tools” (set to “Soft Brush”) and “100%”, to brighten them. (Usually only happens with angled rivets.)

Make a copy of the rivets channel and rename it “Rivet Lights”. I nudge the lights one pixel up, so the highlight will sit above the rivet. Switch back to the layers palette; copy the base skin; load the rivet channel and make them 10% to 20% darker than the panel lines. Rivet highlights are done the same way, only 10% brighter than the rivets. Place the lights layer above the rivets layer.

If the rivets are in a really dirty area, I'll give them a slight blur layer underneath.

Weathering Tips

Note: Turn off thelights and blur layers and leave the panels turned on as you weather the base texture.

I use the “Burn Tool” at low exposures (5% to 15%), and vary brush sizes to add dirt on the base around some of the panels, rivets, etc. I also take advantage of the additional brush libraries to add different textures. Exposure and brush size are the keys here.

Getting the right combination takes some experimentation.

What I rely on a great deal, is creating a “wash” with the lasso tool. For instance, an external fuel tank gets repeated exposure to the elements. After a while, the paint start to fade where precipitation runs off vertical surfaces and “washes” start to show. A darker wash occurs when dirt is added to the process.

I have automated this procedure with a series of actions, which will either lighten or darken the base after I make a selection with the Lasso Tool. If I were to doit manually, here is how it would work:

Use the Lasso Tool to outline an area of “was” along the bottom of a panel. The shape of the resulting selection should have drips or rivulets (like melting candle wax).

Goto Select → Modify → Feather and use a one or two pixel setting.

Press CTRL-U and use “-2” or “+2” in the lightness/darkness field. I vary those settings depending on the effect I want. The actions allow me to apply this quickly because I repeat this many times and vary the shape of each selection, to gradually build up the weathering.

I can't possibly cover all the tricks that I use in this short tutorial, but I've given you the important ones and hope they help you create some beautiful art.

Happy skinning!


This tutorial is written by Ron “Red1” Nair, it was added to our wiki with his permission. Thanks Red1!

falcon4/textures/red1_skinning.txt · Last modified: 2010-07-31 00:58 by snakeman