Basic info about paint kit palettes and thier functions

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Basic info about paint kit palettes and thier functions

Post EightyFiftyFive »

Here's a few basic things about paint kits, their palettes and what they are used for on your model.

I will use the A2A P51 Mustang paintkit for this example since it has four different palettes which I will explain in the steps below. Most developers will have these same palettes for their models but of course they will be named all kinds of different names along the way as you paint different models from different developers and some will have a lot more then just four, BUT, the basics will be and should be pretty much the same no matter what the model and how many palettes are included. We are only talking about the basic four palettes of each *TYPE* (Diffuse, Alpha, Spec and Spec_Alpha) these four can be on 50 total palettes if the designer made the paint kit that way but only these four are used to control what your model actually looks like in the sim so for that reason this is the only four palettes that need to be mastered and that's it.


Again this is for using the A2A P-51 Paint kit and using Photoshop (psd) format.

#1 (p51d_t.psd) Diffuse palette or Main paint palette (where you paint your main colors)
This is fairly easy, basically what you see is what you get. Nothing out of the ordinary except this is the palette that everyone will see on the model when it's finished no matter what your design. This is your bread and butter palette and only shows whats on the very outside of your model, the colors and designs you create including all text and numbers. We'll set this one aside for now.


#2 (p51d_t_ALPHA.psd) This palette works together with the diffuse palette or your main palette in step one above.
Once your paint is done or as you work your *Magic* as I like to do you can use this palette as you go if you want but you don't have to. Lets say your finished with your main paint... now you need to spray the final protective layer over your paint right? Well if your looking for *Shine* like a high gloss then you would make all the areas that would be paint on your model and make those areas on this alpha palette a bit of a gray color. The alpha palettes only work on a grey scale from 0 to 255 and that's it. There are no RGB colors, Only 8bit grey colors which is known as a gray scale.

What happens here is actually also simple but just in a different form. Basic rules apply here too. Seeing how the alpha palettes work in grays what it does is control the amount of shine you apply. Lets say you paint your model a medium grey *COLOR* on the main palette or diffuse palette... when you make your alpha palette black then the grey paint on the main palette will come out looking like a mirror. If you just want a waxed paint job with just a little shine then you only apply a very light grey color to the alpha palette which then would make the grey paint on the diffuse palette look shiny and that's it. The Alpha controls the amount and depth of the shine.

Lets say your making a camo paint job or one of the WWII version paints. Then your alpha would be almost completely WHITE in color and by doing this, this would prevent any shine from appearing on the main model because now you've told the alpha to block all or any reflection from hitting the paint. This would then cause the model to appear FLAT like a camo paint job. A perfect example of this is the Anti-Glare panel on a model.

On your main paint palette or Diffuse palette from step one above you could have a shiny paint job and the painted parts would be a bit of a darker grey on the alpha palette but where your glare panel would be, that area would be normally a black or olive drab on a mustang *on the main palette* but then n the Alpha palette that same exact area would then be WHITE!. This would prevent light from reflecting off of that area thus making it a flat color in either black or Olive drab thus giving you that anti-glare panel.

The way of doing this is to create a layer before you paint for example, you would make a layer and name it: Anti-glare. Once you paint it then all you have to do is make sure it's highlighted in your list of layers and then copy it from your menu above in your paint program then go to your ALPHA Palette and (in CS6 photoshop) all you have to do is to select *Paste Into Place* and it will apply the anti-glare panel you created from your main palette and paste it directly in the same exact place on your Alpha palette. Usually it will paste it a very dark color, almost black. Well just use the magic wand and select this black anti glare panel area making sure you select all of the glare panel and then select white from your colors and paint that area with your brush making it white. Now you'll have an anti-glare panel which will be FLAT in the simulator (So Far)! I say, so far because your not done YET! lol. surprise!. You have two more palettes left to go! Remember there's FOUR in total that work together. We only covered the very basics of only two palettes.

So, If you want shine then the Alpha provides it... the darker the alpha the more shine you'll have, the lighter, the flatter the paint will be. For a polished metal effect the actual paint from palette one or your diffuse palette will be about 1/3 of a grey color starting from white. Then the alpha will be around the same *HUE* or Saturation of Grey color. Then you'll have a polished look because the alpha is telling the grey paint that you want a polish look. Well when diffuse grey interacts with nearly the same color of grey as the alpha displays then there's sort of a color reaction that go's on in your computer and this very fine area of colors (Grey and ALPHA Greys) make polish. That's part of the magic that takes place.

After a while you'll be able to know just how much grey to use for both grey paint and Alpha Grey to get that perfect look. It's all in the practice and the dedication you preserve.


#3 (p51d_t_spec.psd) or known as Specular. Now were starting to poor some gravy over a helping of mashed potato's hehe.

So lets say you have a nice looking paint done, your alpha palette is complete and your model is going to have a nice gloss finish on it.

What the spec palette does is relatively simple too but it adds a lot of twist (if you want them) to your paint.
Say I have a black and blue paint job and I want the blue to reflect like a candy apple or a pearl, maybe I want it to shine like an iridescent paint job that changes colors. Well here's what go's on there.

The spec palette takes the light inside fsx and turns it into just that, a Specular Light that reflects HOW your paint will shine not the amount but only to a point. Lets say I want my dark navy blue to have a candy apple effect or a pearl effect so then I would take my paint I created on my main palette and highlight the *Layer* in the list on my right hand side then I would just use the square selection tool and draw a dashed lined box around the whole thing. It doesn't matter that you have other items selected or not because the only thing and I mean the ONLY thing that will get copied will be whatever you have selected in your layers list on your right hand side in Photoshop.

Then, you would select copy from your menu, open or go to your Specular palette and again select to *Paste Into Place*. It will then paste the Blue paint you selected from the main or diffuse paint palette and paste it onto the spec palette in the exact same place.

Now here's how you manipulate the dark blue color. Once it's pasted into place you can then go to that layer on the right side in your list and double click that layer. Another box will open up with all kinds of options to change that particular blue color and pattern you pasted into place so then you would select *Color Overlay* and then you would select another color or in this case if you want an underlay shine like it's glowing when the sun hits it then you make the dark blue colors a light blue and that's it.

Now when your in the simulator and the sun hits it or reflects off of it, it will show the paint glowing a lighter blue like a candy apple paint or whatever you want the effect to be. Again there are 100's of combinations to use and again, this is where practice and dedication comes into play. Practice practice practice is the key.

So now lets say you have the kind of glow you want with that light blue you just made on the spec layer.
Now it's time for one of the most important palettes of all time and one that often gets over looked or ignored.

This palette is called:...


#4 (p51d_t_spec_ALPHA.psd) Now this is the steak that's going to go with this whole meal! and a very important step as well.

What this layer does is actually takes the lighting from fsx and *Focuses* the light and that's it. It has NOTHING to do with how shiny your plane will be technically, the regular Alpha palette controls that. It has nothing to do with the actual colors or the hues of how the paint comes out of the spray can so to speak... however what it does have control over is the focus point of the light itself which then *That light* reflects off of the Spec layer and the Alpha layers to reflect the AMOUNT of focus you just told the Spec_ALPHA palette to produce.

Here's *How* it works.

Back to that blue paint you just created in your spec palette, (the one that is lighter reflecting the *Glow*) remember?
The spec_Alpha takes that reflective light from FSX Simulator, Takes the actual lighting from the alpha, takes the light bloom effects if you have them turned on and then takes the lighting effects from the spec_alpha channel itself and makes the reflective lights and colors either a widely spread out focus of light or a very small radius of light reflecting in a very small area.

This is the same as if you turn on a flashlight and set the light facing DOWN against your desk. This would be, on the spec_Alpha color spectrum which again woks only in grey colors but this time it's LIGHT on a grey color spectrum... the light sitting on your desk would be the color of WHITE.... now as you pull the light up and away from your desk you then see the actual light getting larger and larger right?? This is what the spec_alpha palette of lighting does. It would then get larger and larger which is all along spreading the light out further and further from it's center point.

This is how the spec_Alpha works and this is the ONLY thing the spec_alpha is for. Light FOCUS!
So now your wondering what does this do in the sim right? Well the blue glow that shows up is dependent of how much light is focused in one area of light that reflects off of one given spot of light from all the light in FSX put together!. What this means is lets say I have a black spec_Alpha color selected over the light blue color.

Again you would copy the light blue color and transfer that pattern over to your Spec_Alpha by pasting that color into place as well just like copying and pasting all the other patterns and colors onto each palette so everything matches up... This would then show up on the spec palette a little different. Instead of being a color, it will show up on a grey scale just like the colors do on the Alpha palettes because the spec_alpha only uses greys of 8bit color to produce what they are deigned to produce in the sim... so, then you would change those grey colors to either a lighter color or a dark color going towards black on the color spectrum.

Here's why you change these colors, and this is why that glowing blue color will look different based on the amount of grey you use for this palette. Remember the light changes and get wider the further away it gets from the desk right? Well at the same time that light is spreading out over your desk as well which in turn gives a wider area of reflective spectrum and for this reason this is where you can control if the reflective color, in this case the light blue has a very focused spot of light or a very small mean of light at any given spot or if the light is spread out along a ten foot sections of that blue stripe on the plane.

A Totally black Spec_Alpha will take the blue glow and spread it out to almost the entire length of the stripe if that stripe stretches from now to tail. If the Spec_Alpha is WHITE in color then it will take that spot of light and focus that light into an area of maybe one foot on the same blue stripe of paint on the model. See what I mean? This is all the spec_Alpha does which in some cases the most important palette there is but that all depends on what your striving to make and what our design is.



p51d_t.psd ===================== (Your main paint palette where you decide the color and patterns)
p51d_t_ALPHA.psd ================(Controls how shiny or flat your paint will be, Black is like a mirror and white is FLAT)
p51d_t_spec.psd ================= (Controls the amount and type of effects on the paint or reflective effects)
p51d_t_spec_ALPHA.psd ============(Controls the lights reflective focus *Point*, White is a very small area, Black is a large spread of light)

All of these things work together and there are 1000's of combinations you can use to make the finished paints respond to whatever your hearts desire but again you'll find a lot of things out on your own and find several different ways of doing all of this stuff depending on your program you use. Most all programs act similar in how they operate and some have more features then others but that doesn't change a bit of how the paint palettes you paint act at all.

No matter what paint program you use, they are all similar because alphas are alphas, specs are specs, diffuse is diffuse and so on.

I hope this basic tutorial help you out a bit. If this is too confusing don't worry, You'll figure all of this out in time as you go. This is how I learned. I didn't know squat about painting and I had a lot of questions. My biggest problem was trying to figure out how to make a polished finished! and then I looked at my first paint kit (the P51) and seen all those layers on the right and seen all these lines going everywhere and parts and so on... I shut down the paint kit and turned off the computer and thought there's no flipping way I can do that crap!!! no way man no no no... well If I can do it then so can you.


Maybe next time we'll get into what all those Fresnel files are for and all those Environment maps are for LOL all of those things have effects on your paint too and are in a whole other world of impossibilities (until you learn them) but Hey!, I can't reveal all my secrets. :wink:

Hope this helped you gals and guys out a bit. Take care and... Paint On!

Some of my repaint work (screens only)[email protected]/albums

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Lewis - A2A
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Re: Basic info about paint kit palettes and thier functions

Post Lewis - A2A »

Beautifully done, thanks for sharing for all the members and aspiring repainters of our or any MSFS aircraft.

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Re: Basic info about paint kit palettes and thier functions

Post EightyFiftyFive »

Thanks Lewis. I figured what the hay! Mind as well share some basics on painting. 8)
Some of my repaint work (screens only)[email protected]/albums

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Re: Basic info about paint kit palettes and thier functions

Post mtbparker »

Thank you! As a relative newbie to repaints, this helps quite a bit. The problem I was having with the chrome spinners on the 182s is that I was trying to tune all four of these dials at the same time without fully understanding what they did. No wonder I couldn't find my station! :)

Thanks for the help. Very informative.


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Re: Basic info about paint kit palettes and thier functions

Post Paulcoy »

Great Post. Very helpful. The only thing I don't understand is how to get the finished paint job into Prepar3d V4 For example I have the NVidia plug in for Photoshop, is there anything on the save as page I need to know about. where to put the files and how to edit the config file (If nessassary ).

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Re: Basic info about paint kit palettes and thier functions

Post Warisa »


Great tutorial overall, finally I can make basic sense of the different layers. Thank you kindly for your work and effort!

Now, since I'm still horrible when it comes to anything with graphic design, or I might just be dumb, I still don't get how to properly use the Alpha textures - in my case in the Comanche paintkit. So, I finished my main texture, no problem. Now I want the repaint to be glossy, so, I went to the alpha texture file and colored the parts I want to be shiny black. Flipped the image, saved them in the texture folder for my repaint ... but nothing happened. The repaint is still flat.

So my question is: What exactly do I have to do with the alpha texture? Do I save it as a separate DDS file, or must I use it as another layer in the main file? What about those AmbiantOcclusion layers in the main texture file (the Do I leave them on before saving, also the RTT shading?

I've seen that with the default paintjobs the comanche come with, they all have this white/grey checkered layer over them - I guess that is an alpha channel?

As you see, I'm thoroughly confused. I don't ask to be handheld, but some more details would help immense. I've read some stuff on the web but wading through it is incredibly frustrating for me.

I'm using btw.

Any advice or pointers are greatly appreciated. I've already read through the repaint sticky thread, and as I said, a few things cleared up for me, but the devil's in the details ...

Regards from Germany,



So, after some more trial, error, hair-pulling and banging my head against the wall, I found it out. What I did was creating a new layer in my main texture, colored the parts I wanted shiny dark-grey. Saved that layer as a new dds-file. Then loaded my main texture into DXTBMP, imported that greyscale dds-file into DXTBMP and hit "Import Alpha Channel". Flip accordingly if necessary, apply alpha to image, save. Boom, I have my glossy airplane.

... I feel dumb for not figuring that out sooner. Sorry for my novel when I simply should learn how to google properly, guys.

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