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A big tutorial on skinning. Transparent pencil shading, skinning steps, tips and tricks and more!

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avatar Leostereo
Level 85 : Elite Meme
Hello, and welcome to this "little" guide on more general skinning, as well as briefly using the technique that I always am; transparent pencil. It will go through all the basics you need to know. After that it is just to keep practicing to get everything to look better in general.

What you will find here:
  • What the transparent pencil technique is
  • What software to use, and how
  • Picking shades for a color
  • Step-by-step on how to make your skin
  • Ways of thinking when shading
  • General advice in skinning
  • How to become known on Planet Minecraft

What is the transparent pencil technique?

Well, the name speaks for itself. You use the pencil tool (1 pixel thick) with some transparency, then use that to gradually increase or decrease the shading of your skin by clicking/drawing more or less in the area you're looking to shade.

Now why is this so useful? Why not use a color scheme to work with?
This is all personal opinion. There are both strong and weak sides in both. I'll go through a few with this technique:

  • Somewhat essential for creating realistic skins with a lot of detail.
  • You don't have to choose perfect shades colors that you must force yourself to use. You only need a few premade colors to work with.

  • Requires a lot of practice (it's rather difficult to learn properly).
  • Can take a very long time to make skins since you can't really avoid the high detail with it.
  • Can be rather troublesome if you mess up (colors can look odd).
  • Requires software that supports transparency. That means it cannot be made in most (all?) skinning programs, as well as MS Paint.
  • Can easily look messy.

That turned out to be worse than expected. :/

What software and tools do I work with?

I will be using paint.NET (http://www.getpaint.net/download.html#download - Warning! Does not work on Mac!) to showcase this technique, since that is what I am using myself. If you know how to use another software that supports transparency well (PhotoShop, GIMP), then it should be no problem to understand what I am doing here since it's essentially the same for all. To view your amazing work, download Minecraft Skin Viewer (http://www.minecraftforum.net/topic/274120-minecraft-skin-viewer-11-windows-phone/). Drag and drop your skins in the program while it's loaded to view them.

Tools to use in paint.NET and what to do with them:
Pencil (P) - This is what you use for all your drawing. Pick a color, make it transparent, then draw. This tool can only draw in selected areas (or everywhere if none is selected). Left/right click for either primary or secondary color.

Rectangle Select (S) - Marks an area that you can draw in. Pressing ctrl-c will copy this marked area, ctrl-v will paste it. Press delete to delete what is in the selected area. Hold ctrl to mark several areas, alt to unmark (enter to unmark it all), and shift to make a perfect square selection.

Color Picker (K) - Use this for picking the shades that you will use with your transparent pencil. Can also be used to get useful colors from references. Right click to pick the color as your secondary color.

Move Tool (M) - Simply use this to move whatever you have selected.

The Color Window: This is what you'll be using when picking new shades that you want to shade with (unless you pick from the reference). There are a few things you should be clear of what they are.


Hue = Basically what color you're dealing with. Red, blue, green and so forth.
Saturation = How strong your color is. 0 saturation is either grey or white.
Value = Kind of the same as brightness. 0 value will always be black, regardless of anything else.
Transparency = Having the Transparency Bar at low will result in a very transparent color. This is (obviously) the base for transparent pencil shading. You take advantage of your color not being fully applied when you use it, and that you can control how strong it should be just by clicking.
Primary/secondary color = Here you select which one you want to modify using the previous mentioned sliders.
Useless stuff = You wont be needing these with all the other tools and techniques.

HSV Window (Adjustments > Hue / Saturation...)
This window lets you change the hue, saturation and value (brightness) of your selected area. I always use this when I feel finished with the actual drawing of a part to see if I can make it better. Only takes a few seconds, so it's worth a shot.


Contrast and Brightness window (Adjustments > Brightness / Contrast...)
Kind of the same as the previous window, but here you can also change the contrast. Very useful if your skin looks a little faded and dull.


Picking the shades you will use with the transparent pencil

Start off with the basic color that whatever you're planning on shading has. Then try and select two brighter and two darker shades for it, a "soft shade" and a "strong shade" (note, this might not always be the case if your base color is already very bright or dark).


To pick these shades you use the sliders I mentioned in the color window. There's a few patterns I tend to (briefly) follow when picking them, here's how they work:

  1. For a darker shade, lower the value with ~20, raise the saturation by ~10, move the hue slider against blue/red/purple by ~10.
  2. For a brighter shade, increasy the value with ~20, lower the saturation by ~7, move the hue slider against yellow by ~10.

Please don't follow these too strictly, sometimes you want either really dark, really bright, really saturated shades and so forth. Do what you feel looks best, but keep these in mind.

So, how do I actually make a skin with all of this? In what order should I draw in?

There are several ways you can start. I don't personally do everything the same way for every skin, it differes from skin to skin. Though if I'd have to give a general way of progressing it would be something like this:

1. Find yourself something you want to draw. Look up references and so forth.


2. Place references in another tab in paint.NET so that you can pick colors from them and easily have them visible.


3. Get yourself a template to start with:
Feel free to use this one. I'm sure there are better ones, but this is what I tend to use at least.

4. Pick the base colors and draw out the basic skin, regularly view it in the Skin Viewer to make sure it looks good. Here you can skip some minor details that might get in the way when shading later. Add those kind of things when you're done with the rest.


5. Pick the darker and brighter shades for the colors you're working around. Using the same colors for several things (for example, boots and gloves) can be time-saving and will give your skin some good consistency.


6. Time for shading. Select the area you're looking to shade. Pick the shades of that color and lower the transparency to somewhere between 20 and 60, depending on how contrasted the color is.


7. Use the soft dark shade to sketch out the basic way of shading.


8. Apply the strong dark shade to give it the contrast you're looking for.


9. Do exactly the same thing, but with the highlights.


10. Move on to the next part when you're done shading this one.

11. Add any extra details you wanted to skip at the parts and shade them too.

12. When the whole skin feels shaded, study it for a while in the Skin Viewer to make sure everything fits together well, that there are no misplaced pixels and such. Fix them if needed.


13. Mess around with the hue, saturation and contrast windows to see if you can improve certain parts, if not the whole skin. Might be a good idea to save a backup of the skin in case you mess up somehow.

14. Post it to PMC!

Ways of thinking when shading

There are some "rules" you could work around when shading to make it look natural.

  • Always shade underneath things! This is one of the most common problems that people do that makes their skins look flat and unnatural. Whenever there is something on top of something else, such as a belt, a crown, a shirt, always shade underneath it. Here's a simplified example of an arm:


  • Choose certain pixels that should be either the darkest or the brightest spots. Use these to gradiently shade out from them, sometimes in all directions, sometimes just horizontal/vertical. Having too many of these will make your skin look messy. In this example I shade vertically from them to create stripes for hair:


  • Try to never have two pixels with exactly the same shade next to each other (unless in corners, I'll get to that later). Always have one darker/brighter than the other. This only really applies to transparent pencil shading.

  • Choose a side (left or right) to have your light source from. Since one pixel should always be darker/brighter than the other, this will help you decide which one. I tend to choose the left side, that means if there are two identically shaded pixels meeting up in the middle, the left one will should up brighter

  • This silly looking "skin" tells you roughly where to place highlights/shading:


General advice

  • Always mark the area of the skin that you're looking to shade. Prevents you from screwing up, and you can work much more freely.

  • Never use your bright/dark shades on each other. They have very different saturation, hue etc and will not turn out the same as when shading on your base color. If you're looking to turn a highlight into a darker shade (or vice versa), overdraw it completely with your base color first!

  • Start with a template that briefly shows the different areas. Here's it again:


  • Try to use the windows that lets you change contrast, brightness, hue and saturation whenever you feel that you're done with the shading of a part. In 9 out of 10 cases you can make a small, if not big, improvement by adjusting these a bit. Remember to adjust and update the shading colors too for the same color in case you need to fix anything later.

  • When you have fully shaded an area with both bright and dark shades, feel free to use them as your shades without a transparent pencil (just pick and click). Good when fixing minor things.

  • When shading corners it can sometimes be good to just copy and paste the other side of it. Cornered pixels can look as as if they're one pixel, and might therefor look odd if they are different. It never really looks bad, but you might miss out on some detail though.

  • Pure white can often make a decent shade to use as your strong highlight color, same with pure black for the darkest shading color.

Becoming a known skinner on Planet Minecraft

Getting a lot of subscribers and fame is probably what a lot of people are looking to get here on Planet Minecraft. There is more than just being able to make decent skins that will help you get all of that. Here are some examples of what you could do to get yourself a little more know:

  • Take skin requests (if you feel that your skins are fairly decent). The people you make requests from will most likely diamond, subscribe and favorite. And don't forget to add [Request] in the title to inform that it was a request.
  • Become an active member on Planet Minecraft. Get some friends by leaving comments, visiting the chat room, talk on the forums and so forth. A lot of people will probably subscribe their friends regardless of their work and will always be there when you upload something. Just make sure you never beg/ask for diamonds. Leave that up to them.

  • Make sure your skins stand out from the majority of the rest (good contrast, coloring etc). It will attract viewers from the "Recently updated" page.

  • Showcase your work in other places, such as the official Minecraft Forums.

  • Organize skin battles with people at your level. Lots of people like those and tend to diamond their favorite.

  • Use proper grammar and structure a nice description. Otherwise people might think you just stole the skins and didn't make them yourself.
  • Enter contests. Both unofficial and official.
So yeah, hope I went through some important parts of skinning there and that you learnt something. I didn't feel like going too much into detail of how to actually draw and such, I feel that is something more personal and something that you should learn yourself.

Worked a few hours on this, so feel more than free to diamond, favorite, comment and subscribe if you found it useful. :)

CreditNobody! I wrote all 2,000 words all by myself. :c

Comments : 130

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There is another free art program that I use. Its called Krita. It's not very well known. I love your article and will definitely take into consideration!
  • FangABXY
  • Level 17
  • Journeyman Dragon
  • December 28, 2017, 7:35 am
Hello, I have been having a bug with the use of transparent shading. Every time I upload it to my MCPE Game, it’s shaded parts become solid, often ruining parts of the skin that used ugly colors to make parts of the skin look nice. I used MCSkins3D by Paril, and it was uploaded to MCPE. I cannot find a way to post pictures from my tablet because my computer is offline now, but if I can I will do it ASAP
  • Lykrai
  • Level 15
  • Journeyman Narwhal
  • September 11, 2017, 11:50 am
Amazing! My friend wants me to teach her how to skin but I do not know how to "teach" it so I'm linking this to her
  • FangABXY
  • Level 17
  • Journeyman Dragon
  • September 11, 2017, 8:30 am
Nice article, will be a massive help for the skin contest
  • GiantNuker
  • Level 29
  • Expert Modder
  • February 29, 2016, 8:31 pm
Great Blog, Diamond + Fav
  • Autumn Fyre
  • Level 25
  • Expert Musician
  • August 17, 2015, 7:08 pm
Thanks so much for this! This is just what I needed, I think. I've been struggling with shading a lot, so hopefully this will help me improve. :3
  • Remmicious
  • Level 34
  • Artisan Botanist
  • June 10, 2015, 7:25 pm
You probably shouldn't do that :P
  • Moonbound
  • Level 8
  • Apprentice Skinner
  • July 14, 2014, 7:24 am
+diamond. Amazing.
  • MarceloMC
  • Level 7
  • Apprentice Artist
  • July 10, 2014, 8:01 pm
Can You Make A Most Shading Template ?
I Wanted Your Template Shading !
Your Shade Is So Cool !
i Give You Diamonds !
I knowI'm a bit late but what are you're thoughts on aadvertising skins in the lobby chat every know and then like half an hour or so?
  • Awesome
  • Level 43
  • Master Sweetheart
  • May 6, 2014, 8:59 pm
Can you pls explain 7 8 9 i cant do it D:
cool Knight!
  • 1+yearofMC
  • Level 2
  • Apprentice Crafter
  • April 25, 2014, 12:17 pm
They featured your guide in the underground creatures skin contest! 😜
  • ZaAsianBoi
  • Level 27
  • Expert Narwhal
  • April 21, 2014, 6:06 pm
Thanks a bunch :D
Thank you so much! This helped me a lot.
  • SonicFan1011
  • Level 49
  • Master Baconator
  • January 5, 2014, 9:33 am
  • Stikbro
  • Level 12
  • Journeyman Dolphin
  • December 14, 2013, 11:00 am
Can you explain steps 7, 8, and 9 in more detail please? I lost you there O_O
  • G4M3 4DD1CT
  • Level 21
  • Expert Goblin
  • December 5, 2013, 2:13 pm
AAAAGGGHHH! I've had it with skin making! I've lost all hope and I give up.
  • G4M3 4DD1CT
  • Level 21
  • Expert Goblin
  • December 5, 2013, 2:11 pm
You didn't explain how to "Use the soft dark shade to sketch out the basic way of shading." When you started explaining how to shade, I just read rocket science.
  • G4M3 4DD1CT
  • Level 21
  • Expert Goblin
  • December 5, 2013, 2:10 pm
You say it like it's so simple to do! You go from the simplest design and do that awesomeness to it! I have no idea how people do it...
  • 1234560
  • Level 12
  • Journeyman Network
  • November 22, 2013, 10:39 am
Lol I came back here just because I forgot to diamond/fav
  • 1234560
  • Level 12
  • Journeyman Network
  • November 22, 2013, 10:28 am
WoW! thank you, I used to make skins in a very cheaty way that only took a few minutes ( the way by putting a gray shaded template over a simple skin way) , but this is good quality. I've just finished the shirt of my character and i'm suprised of what I could make!

/give Leostereo minecraft:diamondblock 64 =D
  • big_butcher
  • Level 39
  • Artisan Droid
  • October 30, 2013, 11:56 am
i like your old skins, these types make everything overly shiny and metallic looking :(
  • sinsiliuxs120
  • Level 14
  • Journeyman Mountaineer
  • August 2, 2013, 12:51 am
This tutorial is most helpful. Thank you very much for this. Here's that diamond from me :)
  • Daodoc
  • Level 19
  • Journeyman Artist
  • July 7, 2013, 3:47 pm
I very much enjoyed reading your tutorials :D I've always wanted to be good at skinning, but my designs never seemed to pan out the way I wanted to, and I always quit halfway through. You have given me new hope, however. I'll try out some of these techniques soon and if I do a good job I'll be sure to give you a big thanks. Diamond, friend!
  • pichuiis
  • Level 33
  • Artisan Explorer
  • June 22, 2013, 3:45 pm
This confused me *~*
  • mischajay
  • Level 60
  • High Grandmaster Skinner
  • June 2, 2013, 2:53 am
Tried out the transparent pencil shading last night. Is this still how you shade? I must say, it's pretty frustrating in the beginning, but the results were fairly good. With palettes, it's much easier to try out different things and undo the really quick again if you're not satisfied. That's way harder with this technique.
  • Leostereo
  • Level 85
  • Elite Meme
  • June 2, 2013, 3:23 am
I don't use exactly the same technique as before, but similarly. Now I use a color palette, but I use transparent pencil to get in-between shades that I can smooth out the skin with.
  • mischajay
  • Level 60
  • High Grandmaster Skinner
  • June 2, 2013, 3:42 am
That sounds much more comfortable, will try it out next time :) Combinations are usually the best way to go.
  • Insanity
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 59
  • Grandmaster Mlem Mlem Bat
  • May 28, 2013, 8:47 am
When I advertise in chat and some of my subscribers are there i put their name in to get there attention so they know i posted a skin, is that bad?
  • Leostereo
  • Level 85
  • Elite Meme
  • May 28, 2013, 8:56 am
I'd say no, they probably wanted to see it anyways. :)
  • Happs
  • Level 45
  • Master Blockhead
  • May 13, 2013, 1:27 pm
Under your list of bad things for transparent pencil you put "a" twice.
  • Leostereo
  • Level 85
  • Elite Meme
  • May 14, 2013, 6:04 am
Fixed. :)
  • Happs
  • Level 45
  • Master Blockhead
  • May 14, 2013, 7:28 am
lol, I like to correct things :)
  • XyaMorph
  • Level 68
  • High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
  • May 2, 2013, 7:59 am
  • Leostereo
  • Level 85
  • Elite Meme
  • May 2, 2013, 8:08 am
Yeah, not too bad I guess. :)
  • EchoPikachu
  • Level 11
  • Journeyman Modder
  • May 1, 2013, 12:21 pm
Can you, somewhat, do a tutorial on a website, like Paint.Net, or for a mac entirely?
Paint.NET is a program.
  • Leostereo
  • Level 85
  • Elite Meme
  • May 1, 2013, 12:38 pm
I can't really do a tutorial on something I don't use. :)
  • EchoPikachu
  • Level 11
  • Journeyman Modder
  • May 1, 2013, 12:43 pm
  • Yosher4290
  • Level 14
  • Journeyman Network
  • April 9, 2013, 3:00 pm
I really loved this, it helped so much. Thanks Leo.
Leo , this helped way more than enough! :) I now get the idea of shading and what to do :D Thank you for posting this! :D
You should make a skin template!!
  • Leostereo
  • Level 85
  • Elite Meme
  • March 9, 2013, 5:20 am
There's one in the tutorial right here. :p
No i mean one that shades it for you
  • Leostereo
  • Level 85
  • Elite Meme
  • March 9, 2013, 9:38 am
You can't really have a template to shade the skin for you, but in this tutorial there there's a template-ish thing that shows you where to place highlights and such.
but a skin shading template is so much quicker kefka made one you can learn from him.
  • Yosher4290
  • Level 14
  • Journeyman Network
  • April 7, 2013, 4:14 pm
LEARN FROM SOMEONE ELSE?! Leostereo does not LEARN from people, people LEARN FROM HIM! How about you learn to get less lazy?
  • FazbearStudioz
  • Level 34
  • Artisan Lego Builder
  • February 15, 2015, 10:32 pm
Lol, calm down.
im sorry! but in all honesty kefka makes better skins im just suggesting something theres no need to get so FREAKIN ANGRY!
  • Yosher4290
  • Level 14
  • Journeyman Network
  • April 9, 2013, 2:59 pm
I kinda overreacted, but Kefka and Leostereo are tied at the moment. Also, they can't learn from each other because they are both equally awesome.
yea personally i like kefkas skins better due the the use of the mask layer
  • spike43884
  • Level 23
  • Expert Taco
  • February 23, 2013, 11:34 pm
Will you check out my skinning tutorial...your likely not to fully agree with it buts its some useful info in it and more aimed at less adept skinners http://www.planetminecraft.com/blog/shading-skins---common-errors-even-by-pros---mini-simple-tutorial/
  • spike43884
  • Level 23
  • Expert Taco
  • February 23, 2013, 7:31 am
This is really useful...I think better values for changing shades is
Darker: Lower Value by 15,Raise Saturation by 8
Lighter:Raise Value by 12-16 (depending on original shade of colour/base),lower Saturation by 6 If blue,7If Red,4 If Yellow,5 if teal,6-9 if green
with the changing saturation on the lighter colour its purely cuz lets take yellow for example if you have a darker yellow shade as base and lower saturation you get cream instead of yellow...and if you have dark cream colour as base then you get white really suddenly
  • spike43884
  • Level 23
  • Expert Taco
  • February 20, 2013, 11:06 pm
MCskin3D supports transparency and is made for doing skins i give the tip of using that INSTEAD gimp can glitch out and PAINT.NET is better for texturepacks but MCskin3D is for skins purely
I use MCSkin3D, and have used these tutorials, do you think the skin I've made could improve?
  • EricValor
  • Level 19
  • Journeyman Prince
  • February 6, 2013, 9:27 pm
thank u i will get better
  • TamashiNeko
  • Level 26
  • Expert Artist
  • February 5, 2013, 4:25 am
yay! I'm glad I have Paint.NET :D
I use the transparent pencil technique too, but I thought I maybe shouldn't do that because my skins never turned out as I wanted, I thought: "Maybe my technique isn't the one I should use for this kind of shading"... I realize I was wrong... It just takes practice and lots of time...

You gave me hope again! Thnx man! ^o^
  • Leostereo
  • Level 85
  • Elite Meme
  • February 3, 2013, 6:00 am
Yeah, this isn't something you'll learn in your first few tries.
  • Splintercat
  • Level 42
  • Master Pixel Puncher
  • February 2, 2013, 10:57 pm
Crap i need to do that. But i use McSkin3D.
so you make another layer on top of the skin to give it the shade?
  • Leostereo
  • Level 85
  • Elite Meme
  • February 1, 2013, 4:56 pm
I don't work with layers, but I guess you could do that.
  • Tigerlily
  • Level 27
  • Expert Dragon
  • February 1, 2013, 11:54 am
thanks a ton leo! the problem i have is I like to make my skins on novaskin and THEN edit it in gimp... do you think that should work?
*gives diamond* and *favorites*
  • Elemec
  • Level 18
  • Journeyman Skinner
  • January 25, 2013, 8:31 am
Hey can you do a mc skin 3d version of this tutorial?
  • Leostereo
  • Level 85
  • Elite Meme
  • January 25, 2013, 9:07 am
Hard to make a tutorial with something I don't use.
  • Elemec
  • Level 18
  • Journeyman Skinner
  • January 25, 2013, 9:42 am
yay , thanks any way
Da shading....its so hard using manual shading,have to switch to different shades Dx At least MS Paint(W7) has better shading,but PAINT.Net is good,idk what to choose xD!
  • Leostereo
  • Level 85
  • Elite Meme
  • January 25, 2013, 3:51 am
Well, using pre-made shading is against the rules to upload, so if you want shaded skins you'll have to make it yourself.

Why does MS Paint have better shading though?

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