Tutorials:Making a Sims 3 Tattoo

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Making a Sims 3 Tattoo

Want your sims to get some nice ink? Here's the basic steps to create a nice tattoo that works well in the game and looks good.

You Will Need

  • CTU - To grab one of the game's meshes to import so you have a basic skeleton, and to look at the game's original textures.
  • .NET 3.5 - Required for CTU. You need .NET 3.5, not 2.0 or any other version.
  • DDS Plugins for Photoshop, GIMP, Paint Shop Pro, or whichever program you use to edit graphics - For creating and editing the textures you will need to make. Instructions are given for Photoshop CS3 - you may have to do some Googling for tutorials and tips on making it work in your program of choice. You will, of course, already need whatever graphics program too.

Difficulty Level

Easy to Medium - This probably shouldn't be your absolute first project, but is relatively easy to do once you get the hang of the basics of DDS files, textures, CTU, etc.

The Tutorial

Okay, let's get started! Please note that all images below may be clicked for larger versions and are not shown full-size on this page!

Your Tattoo Design

First, you need to have an idea of what type of tattoo you want to make. This is -much- easier if you use a "flash" tattoo design as your base. That is, a drawing of one, not a picture of someone's tattoo on their body. It's much easier to separate the parts of the image that way. If you -do- use a pic from a body, you'll probably have to do a lot more work to get it to look nice, and I'm not going into that here. Make it easy on yourself, and choose a flash design.

Here are the two designs that will be demonstrated in this tutorial:

Design #1: A tribal design with a tiger face. This will be done on the back. This will demonstrate how to do a tattoo that has colour in it.

Design #2: A tribal design in plain black. This will be done as an armband. This will demonstrate a single-colour design, and how to work on the UV map to eliminate seams.

Note that the images above are -not- shown full-size. If you click on them, you'll see that they're much larger. It's very important that you work with nice, big pictures. You can scale them down to fit on the sim's body, but you can't scale them up or they'll look blurry and bad. Also note how nice and sharp the edges look - it will make them much easier to cut out this way. Don't use small, blurry images - you'll spend more time trying to fix them than if you just went and found better source images to start with.

Colour Design

We'll start with the design with colour on it. As this is a back tattoo which doesn't reach around the sides or shoulders, there are no seams to worry about.

Prepare Design

To start, we need to remove the background, and to tweak the colour.

Setting Up: Open up your source texture in your graphics editing program of choice. Make a copy of the background layer, and delete the original background, so your image is floating on a transparent background. Right now, the tiger image is on a white background. We need to remove the white background cleanly and neatly, so all we have are the black tribal lines, and the tiger face.

Magic Wand: Select the magic wand tool. The default for the Tolerance setting for it is set to 10. You may need to adjust this up or down depending on your image, so that you don't have any white bits around the edges. For the tiger, 15 is a good setting since it gets rid of all the white crud at the edges without grabbing too much. Contiguous is unchecked. This means that it will select everything on the whole image that is within a range of 15 of whatever you click, not just things that are adjacent in an unbroken block of colour. Again, whether or not you want to use this setting depends on your image. For the tiger, it's unchecked.

Select Background: Click once in the white background, and watch as it selects everything that's white, or nearly white. With contiguous unchecked, you'll see how it grabs things that are in isolated blobs even with black around them.

Deselect Any Overage: In the case of the tiger, there's some parts on the face that are white/near white. They need to be deselected. So use the Polygon Select Tool, set to Subtract From Selection (the third set of little boxes) to deselect anything that shouldn't be selected.

Expand Selection: Unless you have a perfect black and white outline, you probably still have just a smidgen of lighter pixels around the edges. So do Select > Modify > Expand. Set it to 1 pixel. This will add one pixel to the selection edges all around, to remove any lighter edge. This also makes it very important to have a nice big image, or losing that pixel around the edge might actually be an issue.

Delete Background: Press the Delete key on your keyboard, and you'll see the whole white background disappear, to be replaced by grey and white checker of the transparent background. If you've deleted too much, undo and go back and fix your selection. To check whether your edges look good, make a new layer behind your design and fill it with a wildly different colour. In the case of the tiger, you can see in the picture to the right that the edges of the black parts are quite nice looking, with no lighter outline. There are a couple spots where the edges aren't perfect, but that's easy enough to go in with a 1 or 2 pixel eraser and clean up any imperfections.

Adjust Black: This part is VERY important. Black tattoos are NOT BLACK!! Even tattoos that are black inked, like tribal tattoos, are not pure black! Do a Google Image Search for "tribal tattoo" and you'll find plenty of pictures of people wearing tribal tattoos. Note that not a single one of them have a flat, truly black tattoo. All of them take on a bit of the skin colour, and most "black" tattoos end up looking like a very dark grey.

To fix this, you need to adjust it so the black and near-black parts of the image are a dark grey. Image > Adjustments > Levels, and drag the black arrow under Output Levels over toward the right somewhat, as shown. You'll see the dark areas of the image lighten somewhat. Exactly how much you move it depends on your original image, but dragging it 1/5 to 1/4 of the way is probably about right.

Once the background is removed and the black is adjusted, the design is ready to be placed as a texture.

Place Design as Texture

Now that you've got your design cut out from the background, you need to place it properly so it can work as a tattoo texture.

Place on Skin: Copy the separate layer you made in the previous set of steps, and paste it on top of the skin texture as a new layer. This skin texture is called Male-Body-Texture.bmp is included in the "Body Textures and UV Maps" RAR file that was linked under the You Will Need section at the beginning. There's a female version in that file too. Putting it on the skin texture will make positioning and alignment much easier.

Scale & Align: Then, scale your design down to fit in the area you want it. Make sure to keep the aspect ratio the same - that is, if you reduce the width by 50%, make sure you also reduce the height by 50% too, or your design will be distorted. Place it where you want it on the body, using the skin texture as a guide.

Now you can either skip ahead to the Finish Texture section, or continue on to learn how to make an armband.

Black and White Design

This design is a little bit easier to adjust the textures at first, but then it will get a bit more complicated, since we have to worry about where the seams will be.

Prepare Design

As with the first design, the first step is to get the black part separated from the white background, and to fix the colours.

Setting Up: Open up your source texture. Make a copy of the background layer, and delete the original background, so your image is floating on a transparent background.

Increase Contrast: Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast. Max out the contrast slider. This will make your image much closer to pure black and pure white, making it easier to remove the white parts.

Magic Wand: Select the Magic Wand tool. Set your tolerance somewhere at about 10, untick "Contiguous" and click somewhere in the white of the background. You'll get selection edges around the parts selected. Press Delete on your keyboard to remove the white background.

Trim/Adjust: Lock the transparency of the tattoo design layer on the Layers tab (the little box that looks like the grey and white checker of a transparent background) and then fill it with black. You can do this instead of expanding the selection and losing a pixel of the design as done in the colour version, since it's a single colour design.

Create another layer in a different, contrasting colour (not white!) behind it. This will allow you to see exactly what your design looks like now. You can use a small eraser brush to fix any areas that need work - in this case, the faces of the dragon heads on either side were too small to be selected with the Magic Wand, so they'll need to be erased enough to see them. Make sure to unlock the transparency before erasing. Delete the background colour layer when you're done - you don't need it anymore.

Adjust Black: This part is VERY important. Black tattoos are NOT BLACK!! As before, remember, even black ink tattoos are not pure black, and you need to adjust the colour so it will look right on skin. Lock the transparency of the tattoo layer and bucket fill it with dark grey. RGB 46.46.46 is a good value to use - it's nice and dark, but not too dark.

With the background removed and the black adjusted, you can place it on the skin...

Place Design as Texture

This design is a little different - we're going to be placing it on the arm, and finding where the edges of the texture are is pretty important, or it'll look bad with a funky seam in-game.

Get UV Map: Open up the Male-Body-UVMap.bmp file that came with the Body Textures and UV Maps rar that you were linked to under "You Will Need" at the beginning. Copy the whole thing, and paste it on top of the skin texture that you were using for the colour version, as a new layer. In this case, because there's already the tiger tattoo, it's in between the tiger design and the skin layer.

Paste Tattoo Design: Switch back to the document with your nice cut-out tattoo design you did in the last set of steps. Copy it, and paste it as a new layer on top of all the previous ones in your main document.

Scale & Align: Then, scale your design down to fit in the area you want it. Make sure to keep the aspect ratio the same - that is, if you reduce the width by 50%, make sure you also reduce the height by 50% too, or your design will be distorted. Place it where you want it on the body, using the uv map as a guide. In this case, it will go on the upper arm. You can see on the UV map where the edges of the arm are, where the seam comes together. Something like this, you would really want to mostly be directly under the shoulder itself, not really wrapping around much under the arm, so be sure to avoid those seam lines.

Hide Map: You can hide the UV map layer (or make it partially transparent) to see how the tattoo design looks on the skin.

Finish Texture

Now that both tattoos are placed on the skin, it's time to fix it up into a proper texture so it can be made into a DDS file that can work in the game.

Combine Layers: If you have multiple tattoos (as in this tutorial), combine them all into one layer.

Delete Other Layers: Delete any UV map or skin texture layers that are still in your document. They were just for aligning your tattoos properly but they will not be used in your final texture.

Add Background: Create a new layer behind your tattoos. Fill this layer with dark grey. RGB 46.46.46 is a good value to use.

Copy Into New Document: Select all, Copy Merged (CTRL-SHIFT-C). Create a new 1024x1024 document and paste it as a new layer, and then Merge Down (CTRL-E) to flatten it into the background.

Create Alpha: Switch back to the other document that you copied from. Copy the tattoo layer. Lock its transparency, and bucket fill it with white. Create a new layer behind the white layer, and bucket fill it with black. This gives you a perfect alpha channel of your tattoo.

Select the white layer, and change its opacity to 90%. This makes it so that the skin texture will show through a little bit when you use the tattoo in the game. In real life, any underlying texture of skin will show through, and for a nice sim tattoo, making your alpha not fully opaque will help with that effect. This, in combination with not using pure black for your tattoo, should make it look very realistic.

Select all and Copy Merged.

Paste Alpha: Switch back to your new document. On the Channels window (Windows > Channels if it's not showing), create a new channel. It will automatically call itself Alpha. With it selected, CTRL-V to paste into it. You can then toggle on/off RGB and Alpha to see what your document looks like.

Save DDS

Now that you have your texture all done, you can save your DDS file.

Save: Save As. Choose DDS as your file type, and name it something descriptive. Under Save Options, underneath where you type the filename, make sure Alpha Channels is checked. On the DDS popup, choose DXT3 ARGB explicit alpha as your file type, and click Save.


After the texture's all done and dusted, all you have left to do is get it to work in-game.

Load CTU.

Select Age/Gender/Category: On the first tab, Find a CAS Part, select the age, gender, and category in the dropdowns. For tattoos, basing them on gloves works the best and this will be for males, so Adult, Male, Accessory is selected, and then the burglar gloves (the red ones) which are skintight.

Select Categories: Click on the third tab, Part Category. Here is where you'll set up the age and gender you want your tattoo to use.
  • Type: Accessory. Leave this alone.
  • CASPart Type: Glove. Leave this alone too. This means the accessory won't be able to be worn with any other gloves, but will work with everything else.
  • Age: Teen through Elder. You can change which it's available for, but the UV mapping will be different for younger ages, so teen through elder is safest.
  • Gender: Male, Female, or Both. This is your choice. Mapping is pretty similar for both genders, but if you have a reason to only have it work for one gender or the other, only choose one.
  • Category: Tick everything here except All! All doesn't seem to work properly but you don't want your sim to lose their tattoo in any other clothing types, etc.
  • Extended Category: Valid for Maternity. This will make it so sims don't lose their tattoos when pregnant. Don't tick anything else except maybe Valid for Random, which will make it show up on randomly generated townies and NPCs, if you want that.
  • Other: Human. Leave this alone.

Make sure to click Commit if you've changed anything here.

Select Stencil: Click on the fourth tab, Stencil Pool. Under Stencil 1, click on the Texture line, and then the "replace" button at the bottom. Select the DDS file you saved previously. After you've chosen it, you'll notice the text in that line has changed to a different hash. You can select that line and click "find" to verify that it's using your tattoo texture now.

You can, of course, repeat this for the other items in the Stencil Pool tab for however many other tattoos you may want to use. By doing them all in one file, they'll all share a line in Create a Sim rather than taking up multiple lines.

Make sure to hit Commit.

Select Designs: Click on the fifth tab, Designs. Click Add New Design, and Add New Blank on the popout. Under Stencils, where it says "Choose 1st Stencil for this design:" select Stencil 1 in the dropdown. You can press Preview to verify that you're using the right one.

If you have multiple tattoos that you added to the Stencil Pool, you can select 2, 3, 4, etc., on the other lines here too.

Again, be sure to click Commit.

Optional - Thumbnail: Since you're using gloves to make this, it's probably a good idea to create a custom thumbnail, so people can see at a glance what your tattoo is, without having to put it on a sim (and have the sim wearing clothes that reveal the tattoo) when choosing accessories. To do this, you'll need to create a 256x256 .png file that shows what your tattoo is. Putting the skin texture back behind your tattoo (or part of it) and cropping a square works well, as shown in the image at right.

If you wish to do this, tick "Use Custom Thumbnail" and then choose your PNG file.

Yet again, click Commit once you've done this.

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