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Second Life Clothing from Scratch: Creating the Main Outline

Establishing the Main Outline

If you are creating a clothing item from scratch, it’s very important to establish the main outline of the item before you do much else.  Everything in the creation process which follows is based on the outline.

If you find out late in the game that you have jagged edges or that the seam line doesn’t meet, you’ll have to go back and correct those things, and in the process you’ll find texture, detailing, shadowing and shading needs to be changed along with it.  You’ll be wringing your hands saying “Why didn’t I sort the outline out first?  Oh me. Oh my!” You’ll work most efficiently, and save lots of heartache later, if you spend time to make sure your outline is solid as a rock before going on to other parts of the process.

Work-up Photographs

I want to give you something in this regard which can be quite helpful.  I have a series of what I call “work-up photographs” of the UV map worn by male and female avatars.  You can use these to do an initial work-up of your design.  (You can also make your own photos, but this will save you a bit of time).

Stop by my store in Second Life and click on  “Work-up Photos” Display (shown on the right).  You’ll get a notecard with download instructions.  It’s free. I only ask for one small favor.  While you are at my store, I would be grateful if you added the store to your “Picks.”  (If you’ve never added a store to your picks, here how to do it in two illustrations:  Adding a Pick )

Download the “Work-up Photos” and open them in your graphics program.

Choose two, three or four photos which work best for your project.  When you choose the photos, use ones that you allow to view the clothing from different angles.

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Drawing the Outline of Your Clothing on the Work-up Photos

Start with the first work-up photo. Usually you’ll begin with a photo of the front view of the avatar.  Then using the pen tool, draw the outline of your clothing item on the photo.  In Photoshop, the pen tool creates a path.

In the photo below, I have enhanced the outline by stroking with red.   I did that so you can see it better, but, as I’ll explain below, you don’t need to stroke it.

The path, itself, doesn’t show up if you were to print it, or look at it in Second Life.  In order to see a path outside of Photoshop, you need to stroke it.  But it’s not necessary to stroke the path.  We’re just going work with the path as it is.  The nice thing about paths is that you can draw them roughly and then easily to tweak them to just the right shape.  (Of course, you do need to know how to work with paths.  If you don’t, try running through some of the path tutorials on the Web.  With Photoshop, you’ll find plenty to help you out.)

Go ahead and draw the path from one side of the avatar in the work-up photo to the other side.  When you have the path close to where you want it, give the path a name.  This is really important.  In Photoshop a path is initially called “Work Path.”  If you start another path, you will loose the first Work Path.  But if you give it a name, you’ll never loose it.  So do that right now.

(I’m assuming that you know how to name a path.  But just in case, let me tell you quickly:  open the Path panel (Window >> Paths).  Make sure “Work Path” is selected.  Double-click on it and give it a name.)

Take a look at the path.  You’ll see that it runs across the vertical and horizontal UV lines.  The UV lines actually form a grid.  In just a minute, you’ll use the grid to transfer the path that you’ve drawn on work-up photos to the image on which you’ll create your clothing item.

Do the same thing for two or three other work-up photos until you have a good outline.

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Transferring the Outline from Work-up Photo to the Clothing Image

Now open the UV map.  Let’s say you are working on a shirt.  Open the UVMapTOP.

Save it to a different name.  Let’s call it “NewShirt.”

Set up your graphics program so that you can view two images side by side.  On the right side you want “NewShirt.”  On the left side you want one of the photos with the path showing.

Look at the path that you’ve drawn.  What you want to do is draw the path on the UV map, following the same pattern as on the photos.  Use UV grid to help you position path as you draw it.  You might have used this grid technique before.  If have an item drawn on graph paper, you can use the little squares on the graph to re-draw it on another blank sheet of graph paper.  That’s what you are doing here, only you are using the UV grid instead of graph paper to help guide you.

(Note that I have enhanced the path, above, by using a red stroke, but you want to use the path without stroking.)

The nice thing about paths is that they are easily altered.  You can draw a rough path and then tweak it.  Keep drawing and tweaking the path until it’s the same on “NewShirt” as on the left hand photo.

Remember.  Save the path!  If you don’t save it, you’ll lose it.

Depending on your project, you may need to draw two or three more paths.  Follow the same procedure as described above, making a new path and giving it its own name.

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Pay Close Attention to the Sides of the UV Map

Look carefully where your path reaches the edge of the UV Map.  This is important.  The UV Map wraps around the avatar and the edges become seams.  You want to make sure that the path meets precisely at the same point where the seams join.  In other words, the path on the front of the shirt needs to meet the path on the back of the shirt at same location.  If it doesn’t, one side will be higher than the other, and that looks ugly.

It easiest to design the outline so that when the path reaches the edge, it does so on one of the UV lines.  That way you can find the corresponding UV line on opposing seam and make sure the two meet.

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Complete Drawing the Paths

Use the photos to continue to draw the path on the front and back sides.  At some point you’ll want to connect each path that you draw.  We talk about why in just a minute.  Below, I’ve connected the path by drawing in down and around the bottom of the UV map.  I was very careful to stay outside the UV lines as I did it.

You don’t have to draw it around the bottom, you could also create a connected path by drawing up around the top of the UV Map.  Once again, you want to be careful to stay outside the UV lines.

Remember: save your paths.  And it’s a good idea at this point to save the “NewShirt” file so that you don’t lose anything.

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Fill the UV Map With a Color

We’re getting close to checking to see how it looks in Second Life, but there are a couple of things to do first.

First, we need to fill the entire UV map with a color.  At this stage, you no longer need to have “NewShirt” and the photos side by side.  Rearrange your screen so that you are just looking at “NewShirt.”

On the Layers Panel, highlight “UVs.”  Take the Magic Wand and click it outside the UV lines.  This is will create a selection which surrounds the outer edge of the UV lines.

Right now we’ve selected the outside the UV’s, but we really need the inside.  That’s easy to do by selecting Select >> Inverse from the menu at the top of the screen.

Now, let’s increase the size of the selection.  Do that by selecting Select >> Modify >> Expand.  Expand the selection by 2 or 3 pixels.  You always want have some over lap when you make outlines.  If you try to select the very edge of the UV lines, you may find that you have small gaps in the seams of the clothing.  Yuke.  That can ruin your day.  We don’t want that, so be sure to always overlap.

Create a new layer.  Make sure this layer is above the “Black” and “White” background layers, and below the “UVs” layer.  Name it “Main Outline”

Now, let’s fill it.  You can fill it with an off-white or a light color of your preference.  (To fill a selection, select Edit >> Fill).  You can turn off the selection after you fill it (Select >> Deselect)


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Remove Cut-out Areas

That fills the entire UV Map, but we now need to cut out the areas inscribed by the paths.  These are the areas that we want to be invisible.  In other words, the avatars skin will show in these areas.

To do this, you’ll need to connect paths — if you haven’t done it already.  The path needs to be connected so the areas that you don’t want can be removed.  If you’re removing a neckline, for example, you need to have the path connected so that the neckline and anything which is colored above it is removed.  We’ll use a selection to do the removal, and a selection can only be made from a path that’s connected.

Make sure each path is connected.  Then start with the first path and turn it into a selection.  You can do that from the Paths Panel by choosing the path, right clicking on it, and selecting “Make Selection.”

At this point, we need to remove parts of the colored area that we don’t want (where skin will show through on the avatar).  You may need to invert the selection to do that.  If necessary, invert the selection (Select >> Invert).  Then make sure the “Main Outline” in the layers pallet is selected.   Since we have a selection, we can clear out the color in the selection.  That’s done by select Edit >> Clear.

Do this for each area on the UV map where you want the avatar’s skin to show through.

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Create a Layer Mask

Later in the process, the Main Outline can be filled with different colors.    If you’re making a violet shirt, you would fill it with a violet color.  Also shape of the Main Outline will be useful when we add male or female shading – or wrinkles.  We can make things much easier and more efficient for us by making a layer mask.

A layer mask is like automatic selection that you call upon any time you want.  As you know, selections can be filled with a color or a texture or a pattern, all of which are important in Second Life clothing creation.  A layer mask serves the same purpose, and it’s always there ready to be used when you need it.

To make a layer mask, first make sure that the Main Outline layer is selected.  Then use the magic wand and click outside of the Main Outline.  The marching ants will appear showing the outside of the selection.

Right now we’ve selected the area outside our outline, but what we are after is the inside of the outline, so click on the “Select” menu and choose “Inverse”  (Select >> Inverse).


I love this next part.  Once you have the selection you can create the layer mask.  Do that by clicking on the layer mask icon at the bottom of the Layer panel.  It’s the rectangle with the white dot in the middle.  When you click the icon, the layer mask appears.  That gives me goose bumps every time I do it.

I want to say one more thing about Layer Masks in Photoshop.  They are great.  No doubt about it, but you need to be careful about which window is active.  On the screen display, above, look at the Main Outline layer in the Layers Panel.   You need to click on the small left window with the blue colored shirt if you want to change the color of the shirt.

Let’s say we want to change the color to red.  We would click on the blue shirt window.  The outside rim of the window will be highlighted telling us that it is now active.  The highlighting around the window isn’t real obvious, and you need to look carefully.   When it is highlighted, we can change to red by selecting Edit >> Fill and selecting a red color.  The layer mask will keep the red color in within the shirt’s boundaries so it doesn’t fill the entire image.

You can also click on the small right window with the black Layer Mask (the layer mask is circled in red above), and it will be highlighted.  Once again the highlighting is not obvious.  If you tried to add a color here, you would be filling the layer mask, and you don’t want to do that.  The layer mask is for masking out parts of the image.   So, if you want to add color remember to highlight the correct window before doing so.

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Save the File and Import it into Second Life

We’re ready to save the file and then drop it in Second Life.  To do so, turn off the “Black” or “White” background if either one is showing.  Make sure the “Main Outline” is showing.   Turn on both Match Lines layers so they are visible.  Also turn on Color Stripes, and make sure the UVs are visible.  Now save “NewShirt.”  Then save it again as a PNG file.

Many of the older instructions on Second Life clothing design talk about Alpha channels and TGA files.  But saving it as a PNG file is an easy way dealing with all that.  Any place where you don’t have color will be invisible and the skin of your avatar will show through.  Just make sure you don’t have the background “White” or “Black” on.  They should not be turned on.  You need to see those little gray squares which means these parts are invisible.

Now start up Second Life.  Upload the “NewShirt.png” and apply it to your avatar.  If you haven’t done that before, here are directions.

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Examining the Clothing Texture in Second Life

This where the back and forth begins.  If it’s an easy project, you’ll just have to do it once.  If you dealing in a tricky area, you may find yourself going back and forth many times.

In Second Life, wear the item and see how it looks.  You may decide to alter the outline.  For example, you may make the neckline plunge a bit more, maybe even dangerously plunge.  Oh Nelly!

The other thing you are looking for are jagged edges.  If you find them, you’ll want to make corrections.  First look at the colors of the matchlines so that you can find the same location on “NewShirt” in your graphics program.   Turn on the appropriate path in your graphics program if it’s not on, and alter the path so that the jagged edge is removed.

At times you can make the alteration by looking back and forth between Second Life and your graphics program.  If you have trouble doing it that way, then take pictures of the problem area on your avatar in Second Life.  Open up the pictures in your graphics program.  Draw a path across the jagged area.  Then using the pictures as a guide, alter the path in “NewShirt.”

Let’s go back to Second Life.  There something else that’s important:  the seams.  Look at any place where you’ve removed the color and make sure that seams meet there.  You don’t want one seam higher than another.  If find a seam matching problem, alter your path in your graphics program so that the two meet.

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Helpful Hint on How to Work With Alterations

When I’m at this stage, making alterations in the graphics program, I make the necessary changes in the path, but I don’t refill the color.  What I do instead is to create a new layer, and then stroke the path with 1 or 2 pixel bright red color.  Then I re-upload to Second Life and look at the red path.  If red path is still not right, I’ll return to the graphics program, clear off the stroke (which is in its own layer), alter the path some more, then re-stroke it and check again.

I’ll wait until I have everything the way I want it, then at that point, I’ll refill it.  That means you’ll need to refill the entire UV map with color (as described above).  Then make selections from each of your path to remove the color from those areas that should be invisible on the avatar.

You can see why stroking the path is quicker than having to refill the outline each time you return to your graphics program.

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What Comes Next

Spend some time getting the basic outline right, and once that’s done then comes the fun part of dressing it up: adding hems, fabric texture, details like buttons,  shading and wrinkles.

To return to the main page on making clothing:

Guide to Making Second Life Clothing

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