Skin Highlights

One of the most overlooked aspects of skinning for Freedom force is the use of highlights, reflections of light that show up on the raised parts of an object. Without some attempt at highlights most skins look flat and unrealistic.

external image 01.jpg
fig. 1

Here we have male_smile, by C6. C6’s bases are some of the most frequently used bases, so this one should be familiar to most people.

On a lot of skins, especially ones produced by beginners, you tend to get grainy poor quality colour. I believe it is because these people use CTRL + U, or alter hue and saturation. this option only works in some cases, it is not an all round answer to your colour changing needs.

external image 02.jpg
fig. 2

Here we have used Hue and Saturation to turn the skin purple. because the purple is not so far away from the original colour, many of the tonal values were retained, and overall the colour looks ok.

external image 03.jpg

Here we have turned the skin-coloured base blue. Skin colour is basically orange/brown, which is opposite blue on the color wheel. By changing the values to one directly opposite it we have altered the tonal values to the point where it looks grainy, segmented and of poor quality. Never be satisfied with a skin base that resembles this. No-one could make a really good skin with a starting point like this.

external image 05.jpg
fig. 4
Other beginning skinners tend to make a new layer above a base, fill it with the desired colour and simply hit multiply. you see this on skins that have a very low contrast and washed out colours with no tonal variation (above).
Using a multiplied layer of colour is fine, but we need to make some adjustments to the original base first.
For this tutorial i will be using a multiplied layer of blue. there are other ways and endless combinations of layers that one can use to create all kinds of effects. Most of that is trial and error and only you can learn it, it can’t be taught. I tend to use multiply along with a half dozen other effects to get the tones i want and it changes for each skin. Again: trial and error are your friend.

external image 04.jpg
fig. 5
First thing’s first; desaturate your base skin. You might want to make a copy of the base skin layer first, that way you still have a skin-coloured layer for the face, exposed hands and arms, etc.
Desaturate is located in image>adjustments>desaturate
Desaturate obviously removes all colour from your base, leaving only grey tones. the reason for this is that if you multiply a blue layer over flesh tones, you’ll get an ugly grey colour. So we ALWAYS desaturate the base skin first.
Next we create a new layer, fill it with our desired colour, and change its layer type to multiply. you should end up with something that looks like fig. 4
To avoid the washed out look, we want to increase the variation of tone, essentially, increase the contrast.
Contrast and Brightness slider is located in image>adjustments>brightness & contrast
How much you increase the value by is up to you. move the contrast slider along to the right into the positive range. I suggest something between 20-30. Hopefully you will now have a skin that looks like this:

external image 06.jpg
fig. 6

external image 05.jpg
fig. 4

Already we can see how much better fig. 6 looks compared to fig. 4

When the skin is at this stage, it is ready for highlights. The highlights i will demonstrate here are basic, all-round highlights. Some more experienced skinners may create unique and individual highlights for each skin as needed. I use a standard highlight layer on my skins and then make individual alterations as i see fit.

external image 07.jpg
fig. 7

Make a new layer above the blue layer. Then using plain white and the brush tool, paint in blocks of white. These blocks of white should follow the contours of the muscles. Do not paint over the dark edges of the muscles. Each highlight should be smaller than the muscle itself, they should not exist over the whole muscle.
There is no cheating or shortcut on this. Try to follow my example if you have any doubts or difficulties.

external image 08.jpg
fig. 8

As you can see, my painting is none to precise. So long as the blocks adhere to the rules outlined above, you should do fine. Secondly, remember that the skin is symmetrical. there is no need for you to paint highlights over the entire skin. Simply paint your white on half the skin and mirror it. (fig. 8)

external image 09.jpg
fig. 9
Once you have reached a stage that resembles fig. 8, select the smudge tool and begin to smudge the white blocks, smoothimg and smudging their hard edges, and generally reshaping the white to better fit the contours of the muscles, until it looks like this:
external image 10.jpg
fig. 10
It may seem like a lengthy and slow process, but like anything it gets easier and faster with time.
external image 11.jpg
fig. 11
In fig. 11 i have elected to create a new layer above my smudged highlights and repaint some more white, to pick up the points that i really want to stand out. i will resmudge this layer and merge the two layers of highlights.
This is an optional and personal choice. i felt the highlights would be too subdued as they were as i progressed, so i reinforced them with additional white.

external image 12.jpg
fig. 12

In fig. 12 i have continued this technique on the legs. again remember that the legs are symmetrical, and once you have drawn and smudged one side, you can copy and flip it to the other side to complete your smudging.
As an aside, notice that is this example the left leg and the right led smudging are different? On the left leg i have followed the contours of the muscle when smuding to give it a shaped and realistic look. On the right leg i have simply smudged horzontally with no regard to shape or contour. The left leg is far superior to the right. Make sure you pay attention to your smudging, don’t let your skin be a ‘right leg’.

external image 13.jpg
fig. 13

Having fixed the right leg, i have now reduced the opacity of my highlights to about 30%. They look pretty good, right? they follow the shape of the muscles, they stand out without overwhelming the skin itself. Not a bad bit of work, i’d say. see for yourself, compare fig. 6 with fig. 13. notice the improvement?

It would be easy to stop here, but i didn’t, and i suggest you stick with me a bit longer.
Return the opacity of your highlights to 100%. Now we will blur the highlights, so that the rough smdged edges of our highlights become a smooth blend of colour from blue to white.
external image 14.jpg
fig. 14

Go to filters>blur>guassian blur. This is the one and only filter i condone using. Adjust the blur bar to a value of about 3. Hit OK and your highlights should turn from grubby little smudges to smooth white gradiations.

external image 15.jpg
fig. 15
now reduce the opacity of the highlight layer to 30%. Much like fig. 13, the
highlights are enhancing the tonal range of the skin without overpowering it, but instead of well-defined edges we have a soft gradual highlights that are more realistic.
external image 16.jpg
fig. 16
external image 17.jpg
fig. 17
now do the same for the head to complete your highlight layer. Always keep the highlight layer seperate from the base skin itself, don’t merge them.


After i had experimented my way to a highlight layer that resembled fig. 17, i liked what i had done, but felt it was still was too jarring. Not all colours highlight with white well. The highlights looked smooth and sat well on the image, but still appeared seperate, they were too strong.
i feel that highlights need to enhance an image/skin, not overtake it.

This next part might require a little colour theory or, again, some trial and error. Remember before i said i can’t teach you everything? this is one of those things that i can show you the basics, but only a lot of trial and error can teach you.

Make a new layer above the highlights. Select the fill tool/paintbucket tool and choose a colour that either
a) compliments the clour your skin is i.e. a light blue to compliment a dark blue, as is the case with our example skin,
b)is opposite (or close to opposite) to the colour in question (for a green skin is chose a pink tone and it worked great)
external image colourwheel.gif
fig. 18

As you can see on this colour wheel, pink and green aren’t opposites, but green and red are. Pink is a variation of red, so thats close enough. Again this was trial and error. I tried red and it made the highlights look muddy. On a hunch i tried pink and it just happened to look right. Its all about what you want out of your skin.

Fill the new blank layer with the chosen colour.
Change the layer to ‘colour’ (instead of normal) and reduce its opacity (i find about 13-30% works well depending on the character) until the highlights take on a slight hue of this colour, meaning in our example thats the whites take on a bluish-white tone.
I have since found that ‘soft light’ and even ‘overlay’ can achieve similar but varying effects depending on what you want to achieve. You could even try combinations of all three.
On the first skin i tried this, a red base skin, i used orange as the colour to go over the highlights. It made the red look like the red of Flash’s costume, a warm red. I tired pink but it made the skin look candy floss-ish, and i was aiming for a warm colour scheme. For a cool red one i might use a purple or even a blue

The point of adding a layer of complimentary colour is to merge the outer white tone of the blurred highlight with a similar colour to the one we are trying to highlight.

external image 100.jpg
fig. 19

The result is a blue to white gradiation that runs the gamut from blue to blue/white to white, as opposed to a change from blue to white, which can be too extreme and causes the highlights to look poorly done and actually reduces the quality of the work.

external image 18.jpg
fig. 20

This is the same base skin as above. Its colour layer, the blue, has been changed to a red.
external image 19.jpg
fig. 21

The highlights were reduced further for this colour because at the opacity they were on for the blue was too intense on the red. My point? If something looks off, it probably is. Experiment.

external image 101.jpg
fig. 22
The highlights on this red skin have a warm hue to them, they are not a neutral white. A bright orange layer was placed over the highlight layer, set to soft light and reduced to 50% opacity.

external image 20.jpg
fig. 23

This is C6’s male_costume baseskin. It is very useful and you can see it used in many skins. some skinners use two or more base skins for different costume elements to show different textures and materials were used. By using your new highlight base, you’ll find you can achieve a whole new bunch of effects and variations of traditional base skins. This base has been multiplied three times to darken it. now if we add our highlight layer, copied from the blue skin…
external image 21.jpg
fig. 24

By using your highlights and the various types of layers (most notably, overlay, colour, screen, multiply and soft light) you can, with a little experimentation, achieve an almost endless variety of tones, musculatures and effective highlights.
i find this to be so true that i almost never use a reflect layer anymore as the skin itself, i feel, demonstrates the material type and properties i want to achieve.

I hope some of you find this helpful. i am confident that if you apply what i have attempted to demonstrate here to your skins you will notice greater depth and variation of tone, and ultimately, more profesional looking skins.
Best of Luck,