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How to Palette Shade a Skin! [Contest] (Updated with tips & tricks!)

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avatar Rakqoi
Retired Moderator
Level 66 : High Grandmaster Ninja
Interested in just the skin? Check it out right here!

Hey PMC! You may know me from seeing my skins. Well, on my last contest skin, a Scout Trooper, I used a new style of shading than before! It's called "palette shading". Before, I used to make skins by making the base then coloring over it with the "dodge/burn" tool, which was nice, but often looked a bit "dirty" or low quality. My new style is much cleaner altogether. Let's get started!

All you'll need for this style is simply a skin idea, a flat base skin (We'll get to that), and any image editing program such as MS Paint, paint.net, Photoshop, or GIMP. Here I'm using my favorite editor, GIMP. It's free, very easy to use once you're used to it, and can do nearly everything that Photoshop can. It's also much better for pixel art like this!

1. The base skin
Here you'll see I have a flat, basic, simple skin. You may relate that this is Joel from the upcoming PS3 game, "The Last of Us". I used one color for each part, such as shirt, skin, etc. I'll get more on that next.


2. The palette
Alright. A color palette is a number of preset colors you will use by selecting and drawing with them. Here's how to make them! First, take your original color. Place it 2 pixels from the edge of the border. Open the color change dialogue. Make is slightly darker using the slider for darkness. You might also want to ever so slightly change the hue, as you get more advanced, perhaps. Place the new color directly to the left of your first one. Do this again using the new color, and place it to the left of it; right against the border. Reselect your original color, and make it a bit lighter. Place it to the right of your original color. Do it again, slightly lighter once more. Now, just do this for all of your colors! Notice I only used 3 for the lesser colors, and the eye colors are simply there in case I'll need them.


3. Baby steps
We start out simple. In this image, I simply took the first slightly darker color, and drew over top the original color on the image. It is VERY important to study where I placed the shading! Notice I focused it around the edges and corners, and where light wouldn't normally fall. Also notice I used some lines for accents in the hair, which I'll work on even more as we go. When you do the first shading, don't do it exactly the same for each corner, in a circle or diamond pattern! Many skins use this and it looks unrealistic and bad. I randomized the corners quite a bit in the skin. Study it! I didn't use a very uniform pattern, as many people do.


4. Darkening
Here, I selected the even darker color from my palette. I used it in the deeper corners, and to accent the lines even more. This adds another level of depth to the skin. NOTICE: I typically avoided touching the dark color to the original color. This adds contrast, which doesn't look good except under certain circumstances. Such as, which you might notice, I did in some of the accent lines and occasionally on the edges. Once more, don't do a uniform pattern with every edge and corner. Randomize a bit! This isn't a ball we're shading, it's a person's head! We do not have very uniform and gradient heads, now do we?


5. Lighting!
This time, I selected the color slightly lighter than the original. I used it in the hair to create better detail. I used it in the open areas. Also notice I avoided touching it to the darker colors except where it adds depth. You'll need to study the image hard to understand it all.


6. Highlights
The lightest color is known as a "highlights" and oftentimes in your palette, can have more contrast/lightness compared to the other images. It usually represents where the light is reflecting off of something. Notice here I used it to add even more depth to the hair, but since the face was already full, I didn't want to overcrowd it and distract the eye. I only used highlights sparingly on the face since it was pretty much done.


7. On to the body!
I almost always start on the head to give myself a basis on what the skin will look like, finished. Next I usually go on to the body to shade. For shading the body, I'll cut the chat a bit since we already went over most of it on the head. Here's the first step of the shade; notice how I placed shadows around corners, edges of the clothing, and under the sash where a shadow would fall.


8. More shade
Once more, I used the deeper shade color. Also notice I went back and edited the original shading a bit to account for the new shading. This is fine! You can go back and edit previous shading at any time you need to. Careful not to do it too frequently or you may end up leaving odd shades in your skin.


9. Body lights
In the open areas I added the lighting color. Notice again how I avoided touching it to the darker color, but I did a few times on purpose. This still adds depth and avoids making it look like an ugly gradient.


10. Highlights mk II
Finished the body! Notice where I added the highlights here, similar to the head. Anywhere that was already crowded with shades, like on the back, I didn't use highlights much to avoid making it have too much contrast and looking bad.


11. To the arms
Here I've skipped ahead and did both the slight and more darker shading. You'll notice how I added more shading under the arm which will be against the body, but less shading on the front and outside to make them slightly/almost connected. I had used the darkest shade for the fingers beforehand. (No pun intended)


12. Finished arms
I only needed to use the lighting color, but no highlights. The arm is small since it's only 4 pixels wide, so I didn't want to overcrowd it.


13. Leg shading!
Here is the fully shaded leg. I added a new shade to the shoe palette to avoid making it look too flat. But look there! One the front/outside portion of the leg (The left half of the texture here) it looks too open and smooth! I don't want to add a new lighting color here, because then it would almost look like he has a big bump on his leg. Instead, I use a technique called "dithering"! It's only slight on a skin like this though.


14. Dithered
The way you dither, is alternate the two shades of pixels. Notice it sort of forms a "grid" pattern where the dithering takes place. Avoid using dithering over a whole area, or you will make it look checkered. Instead, I made a new lighting color for the pants, which is even lighter than the highlight. I used it for only a couple pixels to make it have a bit more depth while retaining the flatness.


15. Finally finished!
I went in and added the finishing touches with a new shade for the fingers. Otherwise, the skin is completely finished!


Thanks for viewing the tutorial! Be sure when you're making skins to randomize the shading a bit. If you don't, there will be no texture and it will look just like a boring gradient! Good luck with your future skins, I hope to see you all rise to the top!

Using Gimp and not certain what to do? Here are some useful tips! Images from Gimp 2.8, but if you're using an older version I'm sure you'll be able to follow along.

1. Using the Pencil Tool
Make sure you're using the pencil tool, rather than the pantbrush tool. The pantbrush tool uses anti-aliasing, which basically blurs your line as you draw to prevent the jagged, pixelated lines... However, we need those while skinning!
Make sure you are using a normal brush (Ivy, sparks, etc. won't work right) and scale the brush size down ALL the way to make it only one pixel, like so...

2. Using the Eraser
Make a mistake, or working on the hat portion? Never fear, the eraser is here! It's basically the same as the pencil tool, but you MUST have the "Hard edge" box CHECKED, or it won't work. Try it without the box checked and you'll see what I mean by that.

3. Using the Grid
Gimp comes with a useful grid feature! It can help you distinguish the differences between the sides and portions of the skin's body, limbs, or head. First go into View>Show Grid.

It will have odd settings, so you'll need to set them every time you load up a skin.
Set the grid to 4. Every body part is a multiple of 4, so it will all fit. 8 is good for working on the head, or hat. Otherwise, having it set to 4 is more versatile. Try it out.



4. Making a Pallet
I went over, in text, how to make a pallet in the upper portion of the tutorial. Well, here are images and some tricks to making pallets faster by using "Colorize", and "Brightness and Contrast"!

First, make a pixel of your original color, 2 pixels from the edge.

Then, click your color on the left (in your toolbox). Make sure it's the up-left color, the lower-right is the background/erase color. After opening the new dialogue, slide the indicated slider to the left to darken, to the right to lighten the color. Don't overdo it! The bottom left of this box shows your old and new colors.

Here are the two darker colors. After drawing the second pixel, just click the color select box again and darken it once more to obtain your second dark color.

And my light colors. Notice for the second lightest color, I also moved the "Saturation" slider to the left a bit, to make it come out more pink since I was already to the far right of the "Value" slider.

Want to make the next color palette faster? Here's how! First, select the palette using the square select tool...

Copy, paste, move it down 1 pixel...

Go into Colors>Colorize, like so...

Play with the sliders until you're happy with your new palette! Make sure the "preview" box is checked so you can see what your new palette looks like as you edit the sliders back and forth.

Still not happy? Are the colors too similar to one another in the new palette? Well, use brightness and contrast to up the difference and perhaps add more depth!

Again, play with the sliders. If you up contrast, up the brightness too or it will get ugly...

5. Saving the Skin
In Gimp 2.8, saving is different than 2.6. There's a new option than save; "Export".

Enter the name, but BE SURE to keep the ".png" at the end of the title or it won't save it correctly. Also, navigate around in the folders until you find where you want to save it to.

6. Shortcuts and Speed
There are many ways to speed up the process of making a skin with Gimp! Here are some text tips on shortcuts with the keyboard and mouse to help you make skins faster and easily!

  • CTRL+Z is undo, CTRL+X is cut, CTRL+C is copy, CTRL+V is paste,CTRL+Y is redo
  • Holding down CTRL and clicking on a color will select it instantly!
  • Clicking and dragging Mouse3 (The scroll wheel) pans the image!
  • Holding CTRL and scrolling will zoom in and out!
  • Holding SHIFT will allow you to instantly draw a line!
  • While drawing a line, CTRL will auto-snap it in a direction!

Comments : 69

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1 - 50 of 69

  • TheProg
  • Level 31
  • Artisan Pokemon
  • October 25, 2017, 7:20 am
my choice of colors suck... everytime I try to shade it just gets messy (it will turn out noticing the wrong color that I wanted) Is it the editor or my experience
on color picking
  • honey63
  • Level 1
  • New Crafter
  • June 26, 2015, 7:46 am
Dat pun doe... Great tutorial, by the way!
  • ThyAshenWolf
  • Level 26
  • Expert Dragonborn
  • March 8, 2015, 3:34 pm
i use paint.net does it work the same way?
  • Jolteoon
  • Level 37
  • Artisan Pokemon
  • March 18, 2015, 1:03 pm
Yes, But if ur gonna do it u might aswhell get Paint Tool Sai (Free Trial Or Prenium Free (Look on YT if u want it free) Also I recomend Gimp, Its VERY free, and u can use a wacom tablet :D

Hope this comment helps (Sorry i have no links, im a lazy little Butt hole XD)

  • Rose Passion
  • Level 11
  • Journeyman Skinner
  • December 11, 2014, 2:49 pm
So I absolutely love this tutorial!!! It helped me finally step up my shading on my skins ^>^ This is my first attemp Here on triyng this out ^>^
  • leon1233215
  • Level 7
  • Apprentice Artist
  • August 22, 2014, 6:42 am
Nice shading tutorial... Its really detailed, best turorial I found yet
Well, I personally thank you for this. I really like this style of shading, and am working on a skin with this technique: Here. Again, thank you very much! :)
  • Superman505
  • Level 32
  • Artisan Dragon
  • December 29, 2013, 8:18 pm
What's there no to understand, it's all clear -.-
  • ErnieRar3
  • Level 1
  • New Miner
  • December 14, 2013, 8:21 pm
can yuz like skype wits me so I can actually hear everything instead of having to read it plz
  • ErnieRar3
  • Level 1
  • New Miner
  • December 14, 2013, 8:18 pm
??????????? IDK HOW DO U DO DIS!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! Can you make one for me? I tried to do what you said but it was soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo confusing!!!!! plz make a skin for me plz a palette one plz
  • RexxReaper
  • Level 28
  • Expert Lumberjack
  • September 5, 2013, 6:57 am
What program did u use?
  • Punkamoar
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 50
  • Grandmaster Gent
  • October 3, 2013, 3:19 pm
gimp -_-
  • Insanity
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 59
  • Grandmaster Mlem Mlem Bat
  • July 28, 2013, 7:02 pm
Joel from the Last of Us?
  • Aptrotta
  • Level 6
  • Apprentice Explorer
  • May 18, 2013, 2:16 pm
Designing my first skin with gimp right now. I am a little confused. I move the sliders, but i dont get a drastic difference like it was for you. It all looks like the same color for me
  • Aptrotta
  • Level 6
  • Apprentice Explorer
  • May 18, 2013, 3:17 pm
Now, my colors are changing. I will be attempting to raise the whatever on the skin and it just ends up turning a random color. I was working on grey, raising it up. Then all of a sudden it was brown. Dont know what to do
  • Aptrotta
  • Level 6
  • Apprentice Explorer
  • May 7, 2013, 3:01 pm
I love it. I hope gimp works with Mac, if so I will make a skin tonight using it. I am only worries about the grid. I hope I don't mess up. That would be terrible! I need to get it to work with more players model to use on my RP server, but I think I will get that down. Thanks for this
  • Remmicious
  • Level 34
  • Artisan Botanist
  • April 21, 2013, 5:43 am
I have to say...This may actually help me a lot in my skinning, though I haven't exactly tried it yet, but if I get famous *Cough cough* (xD) It's all thanks to you :3
  • Level 42
  • Master Lava Rider
  • February 22, 2013, 4:05 pm
this is the greatest shading tutorial i have ever seen.
I really dont like people who just put up a link to a base and then tell you how to add it to your skin
this is good :D
I suck at skinning... I can't make a good skin :I
  • Ricutza11
  • Level 6
  • Apprentice Artist
  • December 6, 2012, 11:01 am
Thanks mate, I'll be sure to borrow this method. ;)
  • ady9000
  • Level 5
  • Apprentice Mage
  • November 4, 2012, 12:32 pm
  • jjguy555
  • Level 17
  • Journeyman Dragonborn
  • January 27, 2013, 3:40 pm
I can't use any tools right and How do I make a pallette out of the skin area then?
  • DfleetC
  • Level 15
  • Journeyman Narwhal
  • October 9, 2012, 10:53 am
take me as your apprentice please?
  • Rakqoi
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Ninja
  • October 9, 2012, 2:17 pm
I don't really have time, but if you have Skype I'd gladly help you out whenever time permits.
I was about to ask the same thing as DC_Cracker.
  • DfleetC
  • Level 15
  • Journeyman Narwhal
  • October 9, 2012, 2:18 pm
I do indeed have a skype
  • Rakqoi
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Ninja
  • October 9, 2012, 2:20 pm
Goody. My Skype is Rakqoi.
  • DfleetC
  • Level 15
  • Journeyman Narwhal
  • October 9, 2012, 2:51 pm
Just added you
  • BigBadGod
  • Level 13
  • Journeyman Dolphin
  • October 4, 2012, 9:03 am
You are a god.
  • Rakqoi
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Ninja
  • October 9, 2012, 2:18 pm
If only.
  • BigBadGod
  • Level 13
  • Journeyman Dolphin
  • October 12, 2012, 9:36 pm
  • Tree_chopper
  • Level 2
  • Apprentice Ninja
  • September 4, 2012, 11:59 pm
Whoa your are really good at skinning :D thx for the help in shading, i have posted a few skins but they lacked good shading. This will help me alot thx
  • Mesytry
  • Level 35
  • Artisan Ladybug
  • August 31, 2012, 9:20 pm
  • Level 3
  • Apprentice Geek
  • August 29, 2012, 1:07 pm
Cute way to shade...just you forgot to mention/you don't shade the darker spots. Under the head, arms, legs, etc... :P

I'm quite happy with stealing the_soup's shading...so...yeaaahhh~! :D
  • Cadsuane
  • Level 34
  • Artisan Skinner
  • August 13, 2012, 12:14 pm
Thanks for talking about this. I hope to see more people give this technique a try. So many use burn/dodge without realizing it's not the only option.

For those thinking about trying this, here are a few of reasons I prefer using palettes:
Burn/dodge always has a certain washed-out look, which may or may not be the best style for a particular skin. I find this technique much more versatile, because I can easily keep colors looking vibrant when that seems most appropriate.
[size=10pt]You can not only vary brightness, but also hue when making a palette--something you can't do with burn/dodge. This [/size][size=10pt]adds visual interest to what otherwise could be a flat looking color gradient. [/size][size=10pt]A gentle shift from more golden in the highlights to more indigo shadows adds life by mimicking sunlight. Other hue shifts can give different impressions (such as giving zombies a sickly look). [/size]
[size=10pt]Burn/dodge adds countless shades, so [/size][size=10pt]sliders are [/size][size=10pt]your only option for recoloring parts for reuse. Which can be tricky when changing a color dramatically. Or [/size][size=10pt]if you're taking, say, a pair of boots from one skin and a quiver from another, and want to make them have the same color, darkness, and level of contrast. [/size][size=10pt]Because palettes have only a couple colors, you can just make a palette of the color you want and then use the fill bucket to recolor. [/size]

I did want to mention another way of making a color ramp. I pick out three colors: a main color, a much darker color, and a much lighter color. [size=10pt]I then make a stripe of pixels of the middle color with a few pixels of the dark at one end and the light at the other. Using the pencil tool with partial transparency/op[/size][size=10pt]acity (not sure what this option is called in Gimp),[/size][size=10pt] I blend the colors into each other.[/size]

[size=10pt]Edit: Not sure why my text varies in size. How did I possibly manage to do that by accident? And why can't I change it now? Oh, never mind. I give up on understanding technology.[/size]
  • mischajay
  • Level 60
  • High Grandmaster Skinner
  • August 22, 2012, 10:32 am
I wonder if I'm the first one to read this entirely... :D I think you should make a tipps & tricks blog yourself, it would be much easier to read and understand if you visualize it. Because what you are saying sounds very professional and helpful to me :)
  • Cadsuane
  • Level 34
  • Artisan Skinner
  • August 28, 2012, 10:25 am
Aw, thanks. Yeah, it did get a bit long. XD Not trying to take over from RipClaw, I was just excited and wanted to reinforce the value of what he was saying. Maybe I should make my own blog someday (instead of rambling here!).

RipClaw, congrats on the 8th place! You made the top ten!
  • toonhero303
  • Level 22
  • Expert Architect
  • October 2, 2012, 5:33 am
Lol, I wish I could write tht long in a minute or so. XD

The last part is what cracked me up: "I give up on understanding technology."


awesome tutorial. I wouldnt be suprised if you got 1st place
  • sihplak
  • Level 19
  • Journeyman Dragon
  • August 11, 2012, 6:35 am
Very nice tutorial. Could you give a bit more advice on shading the hair though? I can never make the hair on a skin look good. =/
  • RazorBox
  • Level 1
  • New Miner
  • August 1, 2012, 2:03 am
Wow, thanks for this excellent tutorial. I must say I've learned quite much.
The whole tutorial was explained good throughout it's presentation.
Really shows how to do the "shading physics" on Minecraft skins. I will definitively continue to use this tutorial for my future skins. Thanks once again.
  • xunzhe
  • Level 4
  • Apprentice Explorer
  • July 27, 2012, 5:47 pm
Again Very nice tutorial well this is much harder but still very nice. Have a Diamond :D
  • Knight004
  • Level 40
  • Master Robot
  • July 27, 2012, 4:57 pm
  • Spyronicle
  • Level 19
  • Journeyman Narwhal
  • July 27, 2012, 4:32 pm
Great tutorial but how do i draw pixels on GIMP?
  • Rakqoi
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Ninja
  • July 27, 2012, 5:31 pm
Simply scale any normal brush down to the smallest possible size. Notice it must be the pencil tool, because the paintbrush tool uses anti-aliasing (in other words, blurs the line as you draw).

Use CTRL+Click to select a color quickly when using the pencil tool!

I'm going to update the post to add some more simple help like this.
  • Spyronicle
  • Level 19
  • Journeyman Narwhal
  • July 28, 2012, 4:17 am
Thanks a million
  • will9900
  • Level 1
  • New Explorer
  • July 27, 2012, 3:11 am
very nice tutorial.
i give you a diamond even if i use minershoes.
  • Zenith V
  • Level 25
  • Expert Cake
  • July 27, 2012, 1:37 am
Very nice tutorial, I also use that technique, except my palettes suck. Q_Q
  • PyromancerJ
  • Level 14
  • Journeyman Warrior
  • July 26, 2012, 5:28 pm
Very nice. Diamond for you. Please do more like this!
  • PlanetGeek
  • Level 48
  • Master Wolf Whisperer
  • July 26, 2012, 3:03 pm
its Quite hard to do, I couldnt understand..
  • WuWeiLun
  • Level 15
  • Journeyman Artist
  • July 26, 2012, 2:18 pm
Golden. Thanks so much! :D
can you give us all the skins you make?
  • Rakqoi
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Ninja
  • July 26, 2012, 2:20 pm
What do you mean by that?
Nice tut, how long does it take you to make a skin like this?
  • Rakqoi
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Ninja
  • July 26, 2012, 2:20 pm
It ranges anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours, usually.
quite complicated, but nice
  • SabreCG
  • Level 12
  • Journeyman Artist
  • July 26, 2012, 7:41 am
This really helped me
  • Gawfield305
  • Level 33
  • Artisan Spelunker
  • July 26, 2012, 5:52 am
uhhhh is it possible that you can make a video tutorial?
  • Rakqoi
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Ninja
  • July 26, 2012, 5:58 am
Not as of now, no. Why do you need one?
  • Gawfield305
  • Level 33
  • Artisan Spelunker
  • July 26, 2012, 6:53 am
I couldnt quite understand much. Like how do you get to that sort of options or like how do you get to that part?
  • Rakqoi
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Ninja
  • July 26, 2012, 6:58 am
Stuff varies from editor to editor. The rest is common sense, like how to use the pencil tool or how to scale the tool to 1 pixel.

Could you be specific on what you don't understand? I can help you out.
  • Gawfield305
  • Level 33
  • Artisan Spelunker
  • July 26, 2012, 7:00 am
ok to be honest I probably dont have common sense in this, but im a Mac user... sooo....
  • Rakqoi
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Ninja
  • July 26, 2012, 7:02 am
Well, I don't use a mac and never have. I also don't know what programs work on it, so I guess I can't help you much.

You can download GIMP for mac though, it's a bit more complex but doable. If you use Gimp I can help you out a lot more.
  • Gawfield305
  • Level 33
  • Artisan Spelunker
  • July 26, 2012, 7:05 am
Coincidentally I do use GIMP sometimes. I just dont know what to make on it lol. It is hard to use like you said.
  • FaridjoM
  • Level 16
  • Journeyman Skinner
  • July 26, 2012, 4:59 am
wow i also just overlapped my skins with dodge and burn tool =/ now i shade a lot better and get more views =O thank! =)
Seems Very Reasonable....hmm... "YO! Catch!" *tosses diamond*
  • Ragnur Le Barbare
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 63
  • High Grandmaster Caveman
  • July 26, 2012, 4:23 am
Very nice! If I ever make skins, I'll be sure to use your tutorial. Have a diamond!

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