Mapping and texturing models in 3DS Max

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First of all, the steps covered in this tutorial are very similar to the ones decribed in "Texturing complex models in GMAX". The difference is, that this workflow example makes use of 3DS Max superior UVW Unwrapper functionality which makes for easy and accurate part projections for texture creation.

Being a non-illustrated workflow based article, knowledge of basic 3DS Max and Image Editor functionality is required for understanding. The programs used in this method are 3DS Max 9 and GIMP 2.6.11.

This method follows the creation of an untextured and unmapped model in 3DS Max.


The section is divided into two parts, one for everything related to steps in 3DS Max and another for everything in GIMP.

In 3DS Max

  1. First, a FSX-compilant material with a simple, single colored 2048*2048 px (or more/less resolution) diffuse map should be created. The texture should be saved in .psd format as it allows better editing.
  2. This material is then assigned to the first object to be textured, e.g. the fuselage.
  3. Then, a "UVW Map" modifier is used on the object. The settings are kept at default. (This step is probably redundant)
    • If one wants to map subparts or limited areas of the part, these should now be selected via "Edit Mesh" or "Edit Poly"
  4. An "Unwrap UVW" modifier is added to the stack and the UVW Unwrapper is entered
  5. By default, the editor should be in "Vertex" mode. In "Poly" mode (in the row of buttons below the Unwrapper window), all polys in the Unwrapper window should be selected.
  6. The next step is using "Tools -> Normal Mapping". The settings to choose (which side to render from) depend on the orientation of the part's pivot point, but one can try multiple times to find a useful solution. In any case, "Rotate Clusters" should be unticked, as it makes things unnecessarily difficult.
  7. The result should be a perfect projection of the parts. They have to be scaled and moved until they are located within the bitmap boundaries (the thickly outlined blue frame).
    • Hint: "Uniform Scaling" is to be used on both parts of the projections if the parts need to be scaled. Moving or mirroring can be done independently for each part, but anything that's related to sizing has to be done for both sides as once, e.g. to line up a pattern of stripes in the nose or tail area of a fuselage. Having both parts in exactly the same scale also makes paining patterns and liveries a lot easier later on as one can just mirror the left side texture and fit it exactly to the right side with little to no scaling or further adjustment!
  8. Once the fitting the UVW Maps of parts to the texture or at least within the image boundaries is done, "Render UVW Texture" comes into use. In the settings dialog, it is of utmost importance to select "2048" for X and Y size of the texture. Pressing "Render" or "Go" will result in the part projection on a black texture. Selecting "Save" and ".png" and a 100% image quality as output format results in a convienient image, in which all the black parts of the texture are regarded as transparent. This, in turn, makes magic wand selection of the wireframe projection in GIMP much easier. Save the image in your project folder.


  1. After the master texture file from step one above is opened in GIMP, the image file saved in step seven above is imported (opened) as a layer. It should be put above the background layer.
  2. A new layer for the base color should be created on top of the layer stack.
  3. The "Magic Wand" tool is now used on the layer with the imported wireframe of the part to be textured. Inverting the selection should have the outline of the part selected. Growing the selection by 2 to 3 pixels creates a "safety zone" to make sure that polygons at the edge will be properly textured as well.
  4. With the selection left intact, switching to the topmost layer in the stack and filling the selection with a simple color (a highly visible one if so desired) will create a base color for the part that can be further enhanced later on.
  5. After deselecting everything and saving (exporting, if using GIMP 2.8) the texture, a switch back to 3DS Max should reveal the now colored part, as Max has real-time texture file reading capabilities.
    • Should the texture change not be displayed, the texture file will have to be reloaded in the Material Editor.
  6. UVW map other parts using the same method.

As the texture map fills up, wireframe layers in your main texture file can be unified to a single one containing every part. They should be left in though, as they are a great and highly accurate (+/- 1 to 2 pixels) reference for third party painters!