Beginning Photoshop tutorial for Clothing Design in Second Life

This lesson was created by April Looming, designer of Wild Style Fashions in Second Life.

Some helpful hints: 

  • Ctrl-Z in Photoshop takes you back one step. 
  • Ctrl-Alt-Z lets you step back as many steps as you have in the buffer.
  • If you don't have battery backup, save often!
  • Layers are your friend.  Whenever adding something new, put it in a new layer
  • Gaussian Blur is great for making background shadows, behind your clothing layers.
  • Save with clear background as PNG and what you see is what you get in SL
  • Google is your friend.  Find the latest templates there

  • This lesson applies to Photoshop. I used CS4 when creating the tutorial. I'm not familiar with Gimp, but I think the following steps can also be done in Gimp. If you're familiar with creating layers in Gimp and blur for shadows, then you may be able to do most everything here. No guarantees though!
  • Download basic clothing templates from one of the sites recommended in the links at the bottom of this tutorial. I like Robin Wood's templates and Chip Midnight's. I've blended them myself so I start with a combination. (Link to Robin Wood's templates) (Chip Midnight's templates)

Slide 1. ------------------------------
Open the Template in Photoshop. In the lower right side of your screen, right click on the background and choose 'Duplicate Layer' (or layer from background). Name the new layer as you like so you know it's the UV grid. You can now do anything you like with the background layer.  Eventually, you'll click the icon to hide it (and the UV grid)... later.

Slide 2. ------------------------------
Time to create a new layer on top of the grid layer.  Under the 'Layer' menu, choose 'New'.  Name the Layer 'Material' or something similar, making sure it's a 'Normal' 100% opaque layer."

Slide 3. ------------------------------
Click on the 'Edge Matching Guide' layer, so it's highlighted (Chip's template).  If you don't have that template, then just select everything outside the UV grid area.  The 'Magic Wand' tool from the tool bar is the best thing for this.  This tool is especially useful because it selects everything in a region with any sort of color change boundaries.  Since the Edge guide layer has all the boundaries, it's perfect for the Magic Wand.

Slide 4. ------------------------------
Using the magic wand, select the region OUTSIDE the clothing areas by clicking the wand tool in the black area.  You'll see the 'crawling ants' selection appear outside the boundaries of the clothing area.

Slide 5. ------------------------------
Some areas we don't want covered with clothing for a shirt.  To remove those areas, we'll ADD them to the selection.  Remember, we're selecting everything that WON'T be in the material.  Switch to the Lasso tool, and hold down SHIFT so that you're ADDING to the selection.  Carefully follow a path like the one in red.  Notice the arrow points, where the selection crosses the edge.  Try to cross the edges exactly at a transition so your seams will line up.  The colors show how the front and back halves stitch together.

Slide 6. ------------------------------
Now for the neck.  First, we'll chop off the top in a nice straight line using the rectangle tool as shown.  Remember to hold SHIFT so you add to the selection, and click+drag the mouse to select as shown.  Make sure you hit the color transitions EXACTLY on the Edge Guide, just for practice.

Slide 7. ------------------------------
Now for the material.  Click on the 'Material' layer to activate it (lower right).  Then choose the 'Select' menu, and choose the 'Invert Selection' option.  Now, instead of selecting everything BUT your clothing, you're selecting the actual fill area! Now choose the 'Edit' menu, 'Fill' option, and fill with a pattern.  Woven is good for starters, but get wild if you like. Patterns are available free for download (Google is your friend here).  I found some at


Slide 8. ------------------------------
Clicking on the little 'eye' next to 'Seam Labels' and the other indicated layers, turn them off.  This reduces clutter.  Making sure you have 'Material' selected, click and hold the toolbar tool for Marquee tool so you see the menu shown.  Switch from Rectangle to Elliptical.  This tool is very useful for making smooth curves.

Slide 9. ------------------------------
Duplicate the Material Layer.  The default name is 'Material Copy'.  That's ok for now.  Click the 'eye' on the material layer to make it invisible.  Select the 'Material Copy' layer and cut away the neckline using the Elliptical tool to select a region, and hitting Delete.  Before deleting, make sure the ellipse is perfectly centered (assuming that's the cut you want, feel free to get crazy if you like).

Slide 10. ------------------------------
Back of the neck. You can cut the back straight across or use the elliptical selection tool as before.  Whatever you do, the back cut needs to hit the same edge transition points the front edge hit.  otherwise, you get messy seams.

Slide 11. ------------------------------
Just for fun, let's give this top a bare midriff. Switch back to the Rectangular tool (click and hold it for menu), and select/delete regions on the upper body.  MAKE SURE the cuts hit the SAME transition colors on the Edge guide at the back that they do in the front.

Slide 12. ------------------------------
Now for a cool designer secret.  Remove all the color from the material so you can set it to whatever color you want later.  Do this with 'Image' menu - 'Adjustments' option - 'Black & White (Alt+Shift+Ctrl+B).  Don't move any sliders this time.  Just click [OK].  Rename the layer by right-clicking on the layer (bottom right of screen) and choosing 'Layer Properties...'.

Slide 13. ------------------------------
Duplicate the Gray Material Layer to create a Red Material Layer.

Slide 14. ------------------------------
Use the 'Image' Menu, 'Adjustments' option, 'Levels' option to get the menu shown.  The drop-down comes up with RGB selected.  We'll select Green and change the high setting to Zero, which leaves you with purple:
...then select Blue and change the high setting to zero.  Voila!  Red.  Click [Ok] to save it.

Slide 15. ------------------------------
Now for another trick.  Creating an overlay layer for shading.  We want this layer above the material, so make sure your highest material layer is selected.  You only want the overlay to have coverage where your clothing will be - not the areas of the template that will be transparent.  Use the 'Layer' menu, New > Layer... option (Ctrl+Shift+N).  Name it Wrinkles or some such thing, and change 'Mode' to 'Overlay'.  If you click the 'Fill with 50% gray' option, then you'll have to select the non-clothing areas and delete them in the overlay layer.  You might want to reuse the same wrinkle pattern too.  Here's a sample of an old one of mine.  With reusing this, I'll have to cut away the parts that don't "overlay" the material.

Slide 16. ------------------------------
If you're using Robin Wood's templates, you can skip this step. Robin Wood's templates have clear "Smart UV" layers that you can use OVER your material to see through them.  If you don't have those, you can make them.  Duplicate the 'Shaded Grid' layer, and move the duplicate layer using the layers panel so it's above the material layer, but below the Overlay layer.  Right click on the layer and choose 'Blending Options'.  Select Opacity of 10% or something small so you can still see the cut of your material but you can also see the grid lines.  Then click [OK].

Slide 17. ------------------------------
Adding highlights.  Make the unnecessary layers invisible and choose the 'Dodge' Tool.  Set the Brush size on the top of the screen along with the Exposure.  You'll have to play with these settings to see what works best.  The darker your material, the harsher these need to be.  Highlight the area on the top of the breasts as shown.  Use the 'Burn' tool to darken areas under the breasts.

Slide 18. ------------------------------
You can even make the material invisible to see the effect of the highlighting.  This is useful for smaller wrinkles as shown.  Do these by drawing a line with the Dodge tool and then drawing a parallel line with the burn tool under it.  Can't draw a straight line to save your life?  No prob.  Click the tool at your starting point, then SHIFT-click at the end point.  Voila! perfect straight line.

Slide 19. ------------------------------
Next trick: Softening those ugly wrinkles.  Choose the 'Filter' menu,'Blur >', 'Gaussian Blur...' and play with the pixel radius.  The smaller the better usually.

Slide 20. ------------------------------
Another cool trick: Smudge.  Play with the brush size and Strength settings and have fun.  Note that all the stuff we're doing outside of the material will end up having to be deleted...

Slide 21. ------------------------------
If you haven't already saved this as a new PSD (so as not to overwrite your template), now is a good time.  Choose a new name.

Slide 22. ------------------------------
Now we'll do something that will give your material a 3D effect.  An Edge Shadow.  To do that, we'll make a totally BLACK copy of the material layer, and use Gaussian Blur with 3.0 pixel radius to create the shadow layer, and position it BEHIND the material.  Note that I have removed the background layer.  to do this, right click on it and use "Layer from Background".  Then click the check box so it no longer shows.  Note also that I have a watermark layer.  This can help you in case there's a question of whether or not the texture belongs to you.  Make sure that the watermark doesn't cover the avatar though.

Duplicate the clothing layer to create the shadow layer:

Slide 23. ------------------------------
Choose menu option Image > Adjustments > Levels... and reduce output of RGB to 0 (zero).  This will make the new "Material Shadow" layer 100% black in all the pixels where the material is.

Slide 24. ------------------------------
Use Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur to soften the edge of the shadow layer

Slide 25. ------------------------------
Now put the shadow layer behind (at a lower level than) the clothing material layer.

Make sure to hide the guide layers and other layers that you don't want to show.
Save everything at this point.
Your PSD file for this top is done!

Making the clothing in SL

Now, it's time to make the texture for SL.  If you use 1024x1024, it takes forever to load when people are rezzing the clothing.  Also, SL will lose the detail when applying to the avatar.  So use 512x512.  Use 'Image' menu option 'Image Size... (Alt+Ctrl+I)' to change to 512x512.

Once this is done, Choose 'File' menu 'Save As... (Shift+Ctrl+S)' and choose PNG as the file type.  This will preserve transparencies to SL as you see them in Photoshop.

You're DONE with your clothing texture!

Creating the shirt in SL:

  1. In your inventory, right click and choose New Clothes > New Shirt
  2. Rename the shirt as you like
  3. Set permissions for the next owner.  In most cases, letting the next person make Copies of the item for themselves should be enough; so take away their transfer and edit rights before you continue
  4. Wear the new shirt
  5. In inventory, right click and choose "edit" to edit the shirt in Edit Appearance mode in SL
  6. You may see that the default shirt does not cover the entire avatar upper portion.  Feel free to edit the coverage sliders to cover everything.
  7. Choose texture: use "Local" texture rather than inventory texture, and click "Add".  Find the texture you created, and apply it.  This is NOT an upload, so you can see how it looks without paying the texture upload fee.

If everything looks good, go ahead and upload the texture.  If you're planning to use the shirt with prim implant appliers, you'll have to upload a separate texture for every color option for the shirt.  Otherwise, you can "cheat" and use "tint" in the Edit Appearance and just use one base "greyscale" shirt texture.

SL's Tutorial page on this topic:

More clothing tutorials:

For more lessons on creating clothing, check the Builders' Brewery group in Second Life.  Their calendar is at

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