Tutorials:Creating A World That Doesn't Suck - Painting

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Creating A World That Doesn't Suck

Planning | Compatibility | Basics | Roads and Sidewalks | The Grid | Lots | Buildings and Road Layouts | Sculpting | Objects, Bridges and Effects | Terrain Painting | Distant Terrain | CAW and S3PE | Custom Content | Glossary


CAW's Terrain Painting panel.

Terrain painting in Create a World is, in its most basic form, similar to terrain painting in-game; you use brushes, size, opacity and technique to get the look that you find aesthetically pleasing. However, unlike terrain painting in-game, painting in Create a World is extremely time-consuming. Terrain painting and sculpting basically make or break a world so this section is extremely important to you.

Looking around, a lot of world builders will use the default paints that CAW sets you up with. That bright green grass and the grey, repetitive rock. This, however, is another way to make your world "suck". By using these, not only are you not taking full advantage of Create a World's customisation options, but you're making a world that looks like it has just come out of the sculpting stage and all that you have done is press auto-paint.

What Does What?

To the right you will notice that the entire CAW panel for terrain painting is present in this tutorial. This is to make all of this easier for you to understand.

  • The first thing you will notice with this whole panel is the Layers box. This is your main area for choosing, renaming, selecting and applying terrain paints.
  • In the panel shown to the right, you can see that "grass_medium_base.dds(Lawn) is highlighted in blue. This means that this is the selected layer.
  • To make a layer active in the Layers panel just click on it.
  • The Add Layer button is also known as importing. This is explained further down.
  • Clear is used to clear all the paint that you have added to your map.
  • Below this is AutoPaint. Do NOT use this. It may be tempting to click it and see what happens but trust me, its not worth it.
  • Routing Opacity is used when you want your routing to show through. By routing, I am of course referring to the routing you paint on, not the one with all the lines. This slider is useful if you only want to paint the steepest parts of your terrain with rock.
  • Visualize Layers is used to show you how and where your selected layer is applied. If you tick the box next to it, you your map will turn to black and white, and anywhere your paint is painted is shown as a lighter shade, depending on how heavily it was applied.
  • The Brushes tab is the place where your custom brushes are stored. If you always use a certain type of brush for blending, you can save the settings to CAW using the small blue up arrow under this box.
  • Lastly and most importantly, you have the Brush Parameters box. This is where you adjust your opacity, fallout and brush size. For explanations, see the section below.

Fallout, Opacity and Size

The secret to both successful sculpting and terrain painting is heavily reliant on the fallout, opacity and size sliders that are located underneath the terrain painting and sculpting panels, on the right-hand-side of the CAW window.

  • Fallout, which is basically how your terrain meets up with the rest of the terrain, is the bottom most slider. The higher you have this set, the more jagged your terrain paint will be when you paint over something to blend it in. Generally, unless you are erasing an entire area of painting, you will have this set to below 50 because if you do not, the brush will leave traces of the size of the brush where you are painting. In other words, if you zoom out after using a high fallout brush to blend, you will see big circles of paint, with blocks of the paint underneath showing through. This happens regardless of shade of the paint, because of the way the brush works.
  • Opacity is exactly the same as opacity in Photoshop or Paint.net. It allows you to blend terrain paints directly with others by lowering the rate at which they are applied when you click your mouse. Lower setting equals lower opacity, which means a better chance that it will blend properly. For darker colors, you need to have it set slightly higher, but brighter colors will need nearly 1% opactity.
  • Size is probably the easiest to master, and is definately the simplest to explain. Size is the slider you use to get a smaller or larger brush size. When you load CAW, your size will be set to 15, which is a decent size for regular painting, but when you want to add secondary and detail paints to cliffs, mountains, beaches, creeks, etc, you might be better off using lower settings.

Choosing Colors

Choosing colors is extremely important, as not only can they make or break a world, but whichever colors you pick will decide what mood your world provides to downloaders, whether you want a happy, quaint town, or a depressing, grungy city.

  • Happy, quaint towns would generally, if you want to portray a happy place, use lighter, more saturated colors, and, in a lot of cicumstances, brighter colors. A vibrant mix of greens is what you might pick for your surrounding hill and valley colors, with a light and playful tone for the beach and a brown or a greyish brown for cliffs. Although cliff color sometimes depends on what sort of climate or area of the world your town is based in, if any.
  • In a depressing and grungy city, however, you would use darker, less saturated colours, like olives and tans, and the cliffs might be a darker, maybe even mossy grey tone.
  • As a last example, an isolated desert town would be mostly sand, and you would not see bright green grass surrounding it, because then it wouldn't be a desert. You might see patches of olivey looking grass, probably a lot of deader grass. You would also see a lot of rock and dirt mixed into this. To get that isolated feeling, you need to surround the town by either expanses of nothing, or big cliffs of grey, red, orange rock.

Though you have to remember that the above examples are just that; examples. There is no rule against using other sorts of schemes, but if you are trying to make a world that makes people feel things, you need to use the correct colors because colors portray emotion.

Basic Techniques

As stated, terrain painting isn't really something that you can be taught utterly and completely. It takes a certain level of imagination and creativity to accomplish. Granted, it helps if you know techniques and ways to accomplish certain feelings through your painting; that is what this section is for.


File:TVRcaw blendingexample1.jpg
One example of blending. This is blended grass. (click for full size)

Blending is a highly important aspect to painting your terrain; it allows you to combine any number of paints so that you can make your terrain more interesting. If you cannot blend you will have a lot of trouble making your painting interesting.

Blending Tips
  • Experiment with different opacities and fallouts to get the perfect blend.
  • In most cases you will use a very low opacity and almost 0 fallout. This is so that paints blend more seamlessly.
  • When blending, try using more than two of each paint. Not only is it more complex, but it means that your painting will capture attention better.
  • You should also remember that blending does rely heavily on the way you organise your layers. Some paints won't blend well with others, so you need to re-organise their layers and place the paint that won't blend either above or below whatever paint you are trying to blend it with via the paint layers.
  • Before you actually start painting, you should remember to test the blending of all of your paints; this means that you need to do some bits of terrain, even if they are just temporary, and apply your paints. If they don't blend well, reorganise the layers. Organising them before you actually start your painting ensures that you don't waste your time on meticulous painting when you will just need to replace it all.
  • Try using masks to blend giant areas of grass in a smoother fashion. To learn to use masks, see this section on Masks.

Sorting Layers

File:TVRcaw badlayerorganising.jpg
This is what happens when layers aren't organised properly. (click for full size)

As seen in the picture to the left, bad blending looks pretty horrible. One of the main reasons that bad blending can occur is that your layers aren't organised properly. You will know that they aren't organised properly when you get something similar to what is, again, in the picture on the left.

The annoying thing, and what is probably one of the few flaws that CAW has apart from it crashing for people, is that you cannot just move layers between each-other like you could in say, Photoshop.

Instead, 're-organising' layers means that you basically have to place your selected paint on whichever layer it needs to be, then re-do the actual painting. This can be semi-avoided by exporting the old layer's mask and importing it onto the new layer but then you run the risk of your paint not blending properly with the other paints when it is on its' new layer.


Layer masks are a tool that very few CAWers seem to use. However, when used correctly they can be helpful in blending larger areas together. Be aware though, that trying to use masks on smaller areas of terrain is generally rather difficult. There is only so much detail you can add without having the world right in front of you. Before we begin, two quick things to remember.

  • Each layer has its own mask.
  • Do not rely soley on this method to paint your terrain. This is mainly just for blending purposes.

To edit a layer mask, you need an image editing program. Basically, a layer mask is a black and white image, similar to a height map, that shows where that layer of paint is, how it is blended and how heavy or thick it is painted on. To export a layer mask you need to right click on whichever paint you intend to edit and select Export Layer Mask. You will then be prompted to save the file to your computer. Once this is done, simply open the file in your image editing program. All image/photo programs (paint.NET, GIMP, Photoshop, etc) support .PNG files so you are set.

Tips from Creators

Terrain painting is a skill that very few people have the drive and talent to master. This is why I have compiled a section of information on various techniques and styles that a couple of creators, as well as myself, use while terrain painting.


Examples of TVRdesigns' painting style (click for full size).

I use a technique that is similar to armiel's as it tends to rely on very defined sculpting prior to the painting phase to get the gullies and rises in my cliffs and hills. Basically, darker paints are used for gullies and shading and lighter paints are for rises and parts where light hits the most.


  • Rocks/Cliffs: I tend to use 4 rock textures, darker and lighter shades; sand, dirt and dead grass paints.
  • Hills/Grass: Between 3 and 4 grass textures, darker and lighter shades, like the rock.
  • Beaches/Creeks/Rivers: I have two different sand layers, and dead grass and dirt layers.


  • Size = 3-10
  • Opacity = 1-5
  • Fallout = 0

I use these settings because I find them easier to work with and having to click more to get the blend looking good is better than it being too prominent. To set up to paint using my technique you have your base grass layer, then your rock paints, then your dirt and sand layers, then your other grass layers. Please note though that this way can get extremely complicated, especially when you want to add another color, as it might not blend with the others as well. So, to overcome this issue, you need to choose all of your paints before you start painting, and then experiment with their blending.

You can find me here.


Examples of armiel's painting style (click for full size).

*This section is written by armiel*

First thing I do when I start a new world is select my paints and place them in order. In most worlds I do my own recolours of EAs paints simply because I don't like their shades. Usually my first layer is the base grass, the darkest one of my choices. After that I place my sand, then rocky paints, dirts, and finally grasses, lightest as last.


  • Rocks/Cliffs: I usually use 2-3 rocky paints in addition to dirt and some grasses all blended together. I use darker rock in the shadowy parts and lighter rock as highlights.
  • Hills/Grass: I normally have 3 grass paints, dark, light, and detailed ones. I blend them together to create an image of live grass.
  • Beaches/Creeks/Rivers: Depending on an area, I use one sand blended with dirt and different grasses.


  • Size = 5-10
  • Opacity = 5-10
  • Fallout = 0

I have a quirky sort of painting style. I like to apply a base coat of shadows and highlights before blending the mid-tones on top. For mountains and cliffs I start with the darkest paint, brush 10-10-0, and paint all the shadow parts. Then I add more detail with a lighter or different looking rock and the same brush settings. Then, depending on the look I'm going for, I use either sand or a very light rock to paint the highlights.At this point the paint usually looks horrible.

Then I start the actual paint work. I lower my brush setting to 5-5-0 and use the darkest paint again to go over the shadowy parts, blending against the other paints. Then the lighter rock, painting over the whole thing, holding mouse down. I only click on points that I feel need more refined detail. Then, depending on results, I blend more of those same paints in until I like the result. In some cases I also use dirt paint to create different shades to the rocks.

I do the grass and beaches pretty much the same way; blotches here and there and then just blending until the result is good. Then I add dirt under any vegetation.

You can find me here.

kiwi tea

File:TVRcaw kiwi teaterrainpaintExample1.jpg
Examples of kiwi_tea's painting style (click for full size).

*This section is written by kiwi_tea*

Before I do anything, I sort a palette for the world based on reference images. For Niua Simoa, those were photos I had of Tonga and Tahiti. For Riverblossom Hills those were images of the TS2 neighbourhood alongside images of farmland. It really depends on what I'm doing, but I consider returning to reference images over and over pretty essential. I don't try to copy these images, just capture something of their essence and colour scheme. I think carefully about the layering of the textures, and then add them in order - bottom texture to top texture.


  • Rocks/Cliffs: 2-6
  • Hills/Grass: 2-6
  • Beaches/Creeks/Rivers: 2-6


  • Size =
  • Opacity =
  • Fallout =

Bleh (Info on your actual painting style, how you use the brushes, short bursts, long clicks, etc. As well as layer organisations and all the other stuff in armiel's section. :) )

You can find kiwi_tea here.


File:TVRcaw jje1000 teaterrainpaintExample1.jpg
Examples of jje1000's painting style (click for full size).

*This section is written by jje1000*

Bleh (Info about how you sculpt your terrain to work with your paints)


  • Rocks/Cliffs: (How many paints do you use for these areas? What type? Look at Armiel and mine for an example)
  • Hills/Grass: (How many paints do you use for these areas? What type? Look at Armiel and mine for an example)
  • Beaches/Creeks/Rivers: (How many paints do you use for these areas? What type? Look at Armiel and mine for an example)


  • Size =
  • Opacity =
  • Fallout =

Bleh (Info on your actual painting style, how you use the brushes, short bursts, long clicks, etc. As well as layer organisations and all the other stuff in armiel's section. :) )

You can find jje1000 here.


Examples of Ouerbacker's painting style (click for full size).

*This section is written by Ouerbacker*

Before I even start a world I look at pictures of areas that show a style I want to reproduce in CAW. I base my terrain's contour and paints on these pictures. Unlike Armiel and TVR my list of terrain paint layers is not very organized. This style of disorder bleads over into my techinque.


  • Rocks/Cliffs: I use anywhere from two to five textures for rock. Unlike Armiel and TVR I mix my rock textures together randomly until they look nice.
  • Hills/Grass: I use two to three textures for grass
  • Beaches/Creeks/Rivers: I use three textures for beaches . When making a creek I use whatever rock textures I am already using and one or two dirt textures.


  • Size = 3-20
  • Opacity = 2-15
  • Fallout = 0-20

Before I paint anything I sculpt out the area I plan to paint. After I am happy with the contour of my terrain I paint the areas that are meant to be rock with a single texture. This first layering of rock is very messy and imperfect. Once that is completed I touch up the edge of the rock with my base grass texture. After that is done I continue adding details to both the rock and grass until neither of them looks overly repetitive . At this point I add foilage in the grassy areas and paint a little dirt along the edge of the road. I use lots of short quick clicks for my terrain paint.

You can find Ouerbacker here.

Creating Your Own Terrain Paints

If you cannot find the correct paints to give your world that amazing mood, you may want to consider either editing an EA paint or finding/creating a texture and making your own using an image editing program. For the purpose of this section, we are just going to edit an EA paint, but the actual important stuff (how to fix the channels and export a paint) is all the same if you are creating your own from scratch.


  • For the purposes of this tutorial, I am using Photoshop CS5 with the NVIDEA Photoshop plugin. You can find the plugin here. Please note that this plugin is free, but Photoshop is NOT.
  • You should also note that Paint.NET and GIMP support .dds files without the need for a plugin.
  • This tutorial is not meant to show you how to change EA paints, so no real attempt was made to MODIFY the paint. I just changed some shading. The real reason behind this tutorial is to show you how to import and export terrain paints, what settings to use, where to find the paints, etc. Please be aware of this.
The terrain paint when initially opened in Photoshop CS5. (click for full size).
Step 1
  • First things first, you need to locate EA's texture files. These are found in My Documents\Electronic Arts\The Sims 3 Create A World Tool\UserToolData\SourceTextures.
  • Once this is done, select whichever one you want to edit and open it in your image editing software.
  • When you open it in your image editing program, you should be prompted with a choice to load it in either Default, 8, 16 or 32 bit versions. Choose Default and click Okay.

For the sake of this tutorial, I am using the paint labelled grass_medium_base.dds which can be found inside the SourceTextures folder.

Step 2
The terrain paint as altered in Step 2a (click for full size).
  • This is the more creative step; it depends entirely on your own world as to what you choose to do here. You can just multiply the shade of the paint; the hue, saturation, brightness, contrast, etc, like we're going to do, or you can create an entirely new paint. If you want to follow along with this tutorial, you can, otherwise, now is the time to do your own paint. Make sure it is just as seamless as the original
Step 2a

Right, we're just going to alter the brightness and contrast of our paint so that it looks a little darker and richer; then it can be used as a 'shading' paint'. (Be aware that all of these settings are available to change in paint.NET and GIMP as well. See the main page of this guide for links to these programs.)

  • Go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast.
  • Add these numbers to the input boxes. Brightness = '-34'; Contrast '20';
  • Click OK and you should have a fairly decent darker and richer green for use in your world.
Step 3

Now we move on to the most important step; exporting your paint. This is something that causes a lot of problems with CAW if you do not export in the proper format. There can be issues with color, textures not loading in EIG, slight alterations in the actual pattern, tiling, etc.

In Photoshop, as mentioned above, you need a plugin to be able to read/export .dds formats. In paint.NET and GIMP, you do not need anything other than the programs themselves.

  • Go to File > Save As and select .dds from the Format dropdown menu.
  • Change your file's name to something else. This is important as if you don't, and CAW has the file that you just edited already imported, this can cause issues.
  • Click Okay and you will be given a window titled "NVIDIA DDS Format". This window will not show up in paint.NET and GIMP, but the window in both of these programs will be strikingly similar.
  • Select DDX5 as the chosen format from the drop-down menu.
  • Select OK and you're now done.
Step 4
The terrain paint as base layer, with grass_medium_base.dds blended in. (click for full size).

Now, just import the file into CAW using this section of this page and you're completely done. Just a quick note, in the image to the right, I imported the darker grass we just made into the BASE Grass layer. To do this, just right click on the top layer of paint and select Edit. I then added the original grass as a new layer and applied it with a brush of these settings.

  • Size = 12
  • Opacity = 2
  • Fallout = 0

I applied clicks with this brush as needed. Do not hold your mouse button down when applying paint with these settings. You get silly results.

Importing Terrain Paints

The 'Import Terrain' window (click for full size).

This is a feature that you will use a lot. If you use custom paints, your world will look unique and whatever paints you choose will add to the overall feel and theme that you are trying to portray. To import terrain paints, click the terrain tab on your Utilities panel and then:

  • Click 'Add Layer'.
  • Select the '...' button next to the Texture text box and locate your terrain paint.
  • Once selected, press okay and name your new layer a unique name to make it easier to know what is what.
  • Lastly, you want to select your Terrain Sound. This is the sound that sims make when they walk on this surface. For instance, if your paint is a rock paint, you should select Rock 1 or Rock 2 and if your paint is a grass, you should select Lawn or Long Grass. Remember, these are just examples. There are other sounds you can use for these surfaces.
  • Select OK and now you're done.
Creating A World That Doesn't Suck

Planning | Compatibility | Basics | Roads and Sidewalks | The Grid | Lots | Buildings and Road Layouts | Sculpting | Objects, Bridges and Effects | Terrain Painting | Distant Terrain | CAW and S3PE | Custom Content | Glossary

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