Photoshop 3D: How to make textures for Second Life Avatars – #1

There are a number of good and really bad Photoshop 3D tutorials online. I think Michael Hoffman makes one of the better sets of tutorial videos for those starting out. Clicking his name takes you to his YouTube channel. Here is his BASIC tutorial for getting started with Photoshop 3D (#1 in series) but, it isn’t specifically for Second Life users. So, I’ll add some SL specific help.

More to Know

There are some things left out that I think are important for the basic starting out tutorial. Plus, it doesn’t answer questions about using SL Classic Avatar files. I’ll try to answer those questions and jump you to the things we do in Second Life. 

Be warned that Photoshop is not a replacement for a 3D modeling program, i.e., Blender, Maya, or 3D Max. You may have to use one to get an imported model into a condition that can be used in PS. But, you can build models in PS and export them for use in other programs (3D->Export 3D Layer).


First, you need the SL Avatar files. This is not as simple as it sounds. Chasing down a file you can JUST USE is not easy. I’ll explain why and tell you about the files.

First, know that inside PS you are stuck with the UV Map the model was built with. While you can generate a nice UV Map with PS, it is not the map SL will use when your model and texture are uploaded to SL. So, it is important to get a model with a useable UV Mapping.

You’ll find the basic files provided by Linden Lab here: Second Life Clothing Tutorials. Look for the link Second Life avatar meshes which links to a model that is the entire classic avatar combined into a single model. Looks like what you need but, the UV Maps in PS are a mess. So, you will have to use a 3D modeling program to change the model and UV Maps to something more usable in Photoshop.

Look for the link Linden body and clothing templates (era 2003) on the same page. It is a file with the model separated into pieces; chest, lcollar, rcollar, rforearm, etc., etc… It has 3 UV Maps that are what you need for use in SL. But, makes for a very complicated model. Awkward for use in PS.

Note: The age of these files is not important. The Lab does not upgrade the avatar mesh or UC Map layout. To do so would break compatibility with existing content. However, Photoshop does upgrade and some of the new third-party files take advantage of those improvements.

Note: If you are really new to all this, the OBJ file is the model. The MTL file is the material. Photoshop can use the OBJ file not the MTL file. However, you can open the MTL file (text file) and fine the texture path-name needed. Then get that texture and use it in PS.

Machinimatrix makes a workbench file for those NOT using AvaStar, its free. It is in their Fitted Mesh Kit. This too is a complete avatar in a single model. It too has the UV Map problem of having all 3 maps on top of each other.

Machinimatrix’s AvaStar add-on for Blender has a model included with the usable UV Maps. So, you can skip worrying about getting a usable file. They have done everything for you.

The newest (8/2016) Linden files are the Bento Testing files. They are here: Project Bento Testing. These are not in a PS usable format. They are Collada files (.dae). You can use Blender to export the model to 3 OBJ files that can be used in Photoshop. There are also files there for Maya and 3DS Max.

I don’t find a single place to get a download-and-use file for Photoshop. This is a case of current designers having what they need. So, few people are looking for simple file to use. Everyone just uses the old files.

There is also the ‘mesh body’ thing. Making clothes for mesh bodies is much more popular than making mesh clothes for the Classic Avatar. Mesh body creators release models and UV Maps for those making clothes for their products. So, you have to chase down those models.

Second, you may want to get Robin Woods (JPG PSD PSD-CS2 files) or Chip Midnight’s (PSF Files) Clothing Templates. These are UV Maps of the Classic Avatar for use with the model. They provide extra information and, I think, make things easier to understand.

There are templates available on the SL Wiki’s Clothing Tutorials page from 2003.


To get the model into Photoshop, create a file with a 1024 or 2048 pixel image.

Click 3D in the top menu and select New Layer from File… navigate to the OBJ file of your choice. The rest is similar to the video tutorial.

The problem you may run into is finding your model isn’t facing the correct direction. The avatar is often laying down or facing the right of your screen, not facing you.

Photoshop 3D – Imported Model Mis-oriented

So, your first challenge is how to move things around so you can see what you want to see.

By default, the view starts out in perspective view. I found it hard to smoothly move things in the X, Y, Z plains. So, I needed to change to orthographic view. That control is sort of hidden. To find it, look in the 3D menu panel. (I’ve customized my 3D workspace. So, it looks different. The video tutorial shows how.) Find Current View in the 3D panel and click it. Now look in the Properties panel and you’ll find Orthographic.

Photoshop 3D: 3D Panel & Properties

My 3D Workspace – Click HERE for Full Size

The two panels are used a lot. So, as the video tutorial suggests, get those panels arranged to you can easily move between them.

Next in the 3D window, click the item you want to move. You can move the scene by clicking on the background. You can move a model by clicking on it.

As you move your cursor over the selected part of the model you’ll see sort-of-yellow panels appear inside the bounding-box. (See image mis-oriented above)

Click and drag on the different panels. The center one does a ‘pan’ and the edge panels ‘rotate’.

You may find the model rotating opposite what you expect and you may find the rotation inconsistent. Sometimes you’ll drag right and the model rotates one way and another time dragging right rotates it the other way.

As best I can tell, Photoshop gets confused, or I do, when the two edge panels are on top of each other. If you rotate 30 degrees or so you can see the back edges of the bounding-box. The back edge rotates the model in the opposite direction the front one does. Try it. You can Ctrl-Alt-Z your way out of your experiments.

Rotated to show more of bounding-box

You can shift-click items in the model to select more than one part. Then as you cursor over the model you get yellow panels on a bounding-box that encloses the selected parts. You can move/rotate/scale all of them.

I also found that when I wanted precise rotation, like an even 90 degrees, it could be difficult to drag precisely. There is a place for you to type in the value. With the parts selected look in Properties. Near the top of the panel is an icon that is a tiny cube and X-Y-Z axis. Click it.

This will open the move, rotate, and scale numeric fields. Type in the value you want. These fields are a bit sticky. So, be careful when you leave them to see you are actually out of them.

Changing from Perspective to Orthographic

I suggest you drag in the 3D window using the yellow panels to get close to the position you want. I find that I often get confused as to which X, Y, Z value to change. The drag changes the value so I know which to tweak.

I know that being unsure of which way is X, Y, or Z sounds odd. But, as you move models around you’ll see the X, Y, Z orientation can get wacky. You have to mentally keep track of each part’s orientation and the scene’s orientation. The X, Y, Z, axis change so sometimes Z is up, left, right, or in between in relation to the screen. Clicking on a model part can change that. Confusing.

So, just typing in a numeric field can produce a surprising result.


The video and this gets you a start. You can skip Michael’s 2nd  and 3rd tutorials. There is interesting stuff in them. But, it isn’t things we do in SL.

His 4th tutorial gets into texturing. I’ll write a tutorial similar to this to go along with his #4 tutorial.


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