III - Preparing to paint your first aircraft

Downloading the files

This will be our first assignment. We will start with a nice Paint Kit from an AI model. It is always a good idea to start with an easier model before moving on to the big toys.

For this first example we will use the Project AI Boeing B737-700. You can download it from here:

  1. Project AI Boeing B737-700


The Workspace

Now that you have downloaded the file unzip it to a directory of your choice. You have two options here. Some people like to have those files inside the texture folder from the aircraft you are going to paint, inside Flight Simulator 9. Some others, me included, like to have them in a separate folder elsewhere and, after painting, manually move the files to the texture folder in flight simulator for testing. There are advantages to both approaches. I like to keep my flight sim folders clean and only copy the final converted bmps there, keeping the original psd files in a separate REPAINTS folder I have created in the My Documents directory.


The Files

Let's take a look at the files you have installed. In a folder called "PAI B737 Paint Kit" you have this structure:

               - PAI B737 Paint Kit

                         - Non DXT3 textures

                         - texture.blank


Inside the "texture.blank" folder we have the white empty textures for our B737-700. We will use this ones to install the plane in FS.

Inside the "Non DXT3 textures" folder we have the files we will use to paint the aircraft.


Installing the plane

Before we actually go paint the plane we will install it in FS so we can test it later.

I will assume you have no PAI aircraft installed in your FS and we will start from scratch.

Here is a sample PAI Boeing B737-700 already configured to show the Altair aircraft we are going to paint. It has the blank textures that came with the paint kit.

          - PAI B737W Altair


Download and unzip it to your AIRCRAFT folder within FS9. You will see it under the manufacturer "Project AI".

The folder it created in your AIRCRAFT directory is "PAI B737W Altair". That is it for now. On to the psd file.


Opening the file

We are going to use the file "7377_t.psd", inside the "Non DXT3 textures" folder. This is a Photoshop format file which already contains all different elements of the texture file separated in different layers. All parts of the plane are also in one single file. Very easy to start with. Here is how the file looks like when opened with Photoshop. If you use another image editor the tools must have different names than those Photoshop uses. You will have to find in your software the name of the tool that does the same thing the ones in Photoshop do.

To the left you may see the different layers that are nicely separated for us. Experiment by making each layer invisible (using the small eye to the far left of each layer's name) and then visible again. Notice the main 'elements' are the "windows and doors", the "seams" or "lines", and the small "details" on the fuselage and engine.


Notice that the "details" on the left and right sides of the fuselage are not always the same, like the cargo doors that are on the right side only.

The reason for having each one of those elements in a separate layer is to make painting easier for us. Those seams and details go over the paint and are visible in real world aircraft no matter what colour they are painted. If you just paint over those details you will get an unrealistic looking flat plane. If we had not a layered file we would have to select each one of the elements then cut and paste them into separate layers before starting to paint.

There are two additional things we do not have here yet that will help us create a better looking plane later. To create a better 3D effect on the rounded fuselage we also need shadows on another separate layer that will appear over all layers after we have painted the plane. The second thing we may do to create a realistic looking plane is to have some weathering effects on it. That goes from some dirt (like the Aero Commander we have in our fleet) to some dust or exhaust and oil stains (like we have on our DC-7 wings). But we will do this later...



First thing I use to do before start painting is create a little palette with the official Altair colours. Those are blue, yellow, red and gray. You may create small squares with those colours and leave them over all the other layers so you can quickly pick the colour you need with the EYDROPPER TOOL when painting. Here is how I do:


The official Altair colours are these:

Colour RGB settings Hex settings (web)
  000, 000, 099 #000063
  183, 000, 000 #B70000
  231, 189, 000 #E7BD00
  192, 192, 192 #C0C0C0


Let's paint now...


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