Creating Simple 1 Color or 3 Color Tattoos from Scratch Dragon Age / DA Toolset Tutorial

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Many images are thumbnails. You can see a larger version by clicking on them.

Some of this is old material, but the tutorial got a complete overhaul on 2-27-11 to simplify the basic tattoo and on how to make multicolor tattoos.

Much of this was learned from DarthParametric’s tutorial on the Bioware Forum. All thanks to that user, because without him/her, I never would have been able to do any of this.

What you’ll need

1. GIMP, Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro or some similar program.

GIMP is free, so if you don’t have a program yet, you can give it a try. It will stay free, and isn’t “free for X days.” I did a sample tattoo through GIMP and with Photoshop C2. Honestly the interface was easier for me with GIMP and it was the first time I’d ever used that program. Because GIMP and the DDS Converter are both free, my instructions are for those programs. Literally anyone can try this tutorial as long as your computer will handle the DA Toolset.

2. Either the free DDS converter program or nVidia DDS plugin (for Photoshop only.)

3. The Dragon Age Toolset

4. Two images – the UV Map and “skin.jpg”

I use Windows XP so that also may make the instructions vary slightly.

You will need two images to begin. Click on it, then right click with your mouse to save it. Put it somewhere easy to find, because you’ll need it in just a few minutes.


I spared you the step of opening up the .erf file from Dragon Age in your Toolset and finding it. You can read more about that in Darth Parametric’s thread if you’re curious.

You will also need the UV Map on this thread.

Instructions You Only Have to Do Once:

– Download GIMP is you haven’t already.

– Download the DDS Converter if you haven’t already.

– Open GIMP

– Go to File
Select skin.jpg
Photobucket Photobucket

– Go to Image
Scale Image
Resize it to 1024×1024
– Save file as whatever you want. I called it skin1.jpg
This is going to make it easier to work on.

– Follow the same steps to resize the UV Map and save.

Instructions for Making the Simple 1 Color Tattoo

– Go to File
Open as Layers

– Select skin1.jpg and the UV Map
These are only guides to help you know about where the tattoo will show up in the game.

– Create a New Layer (with a white background is best. You can set the transparency to see your guides underneath.) I named mine tattoo, but you can call it whatever you want to.
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– Set the transparency on the UV Map and Skin layers however you feel most comfortable. Again, they’re guides. You may not even need both of them, or you may want one darker than the other.

– Paint your Tattoo using the tools. This tutorial doesn’t cover everything all the brushes and what GIMPs tools do, so if you need help with that check the Help file or Google. For the sake of teaching, the “tattoo” in this case is just a big dot, but I’m sure you’ll want to do something much more elaborate. I work in black to begin with because it’s easier to see then change it to white as per Darth Parametric’s suggestion.

SAVE YOUR WORK in case your tattoo doesn’t look exactly right in 3D and you need to come back and change something.

– Create a new layer.
You want it to be solid black.
For the transparency, choose either foreground or background color (whichever is black.) I named it Black, but you can call it whatever you want.
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– Move the layer underneath your tattoo layer by dragging it.

– Invert the image on Tattoo layer so that black is white and white is black. If you have trouble seeing what you’re doing, click the icons which look like an eye next to the layers. This makes them visible and invisible while you work.
Go to Color / Invert

You can also use the paint bucket to fill in your Tattoo design if you would rather do that.

– You can delete the UV Map and Skin layers if you’re absolutely sure you’re finished with your tattoo, or you can leave them in. It won’t matter for the end result.

I have had no trouble using the black and white .pds files and not bothering with the Alpha Channel at all. If for some reason it does not work, there are additional instructions below for working with the Alpha Channel.

– Go to Image
Merge all Visible Layers (make sure the eye icon is next to all layers, telling you they’re visible.)

Tip: If that doesn’t work you can also use the Layer then Merge Down option until they’re all together.

Tip: You can resize your final image to 461×461.

– Save your work in Photoshop (.psd) format.

– Open DDS Converter

– Use DDS Converter to open your file

– Set DDS Converter to open as a .pds and export as a .dds

Check the output folder setting and change it as needed so you know where your file will go.

(For some reason the DDS converter doesn’t play nice with screen shots so I wasn’t able to get any visual aid for it.)

– Convert by clicking the Convert button

– Close DDS Converter

– Find your new .dds file.

– Rename it (use the right mouse button to click on the file for the menu).

The name begins with a uh_ and ends with

In my case it was

It begins with a uh_ and ends with a because the Toolset recognizes it that way, Darth Parametric says so, and it works. 😛

– Open your Override folder

It can usually be found here:
Documents and Settings
Your Name
My Documents
Dragon Age

If you used something beside the default setting on installation of Dragon Age Origins this will be slightly different.

– Create a New Folder to store your new tattoo creations in, then rename it.
Photobucket Photobucket

– Copy the new .dds tattoo file by clicking the right button on your mouse

– Paste it into the folder you just created (also by using a right click, or by going to Edit / Paste.)

– Open the DA Toolset

– Open a previously made Morph or pick one from the drop down menu to test your tattoo on.
(There’s a tutorial on how to make a head morph on my blog already, so I’m not going to rehash it here.)

– Open the new tattoo (if you’re new to tattoos, there’s also a tutorial on basic tattoo techniques. Click on the DA Tutorials link to your right.)

If the DA Toolset doesn’t immediately recognize your tattoo under the list, you may have to enter it manually. Sometime mine don’t show up in the list until I’ve restarted the Toolset. It can be ornery.

– Test your new tattoo. Notice it isn’t perfectly round, and it won’t be. The tattoo will conform to all the faces in slightly different ways.

– If you need to make changes to the tattoo then return to GIMP and repeat the steps as necessary until you’re happy with it.

Important! Each time you save a new design and convert it then paste it in Override you will have to close the DA Toolset and open it again. This is a flaw with the Toolset itself and can’t be helped. Your new tattoo probably won’t show up if you don’t close it and open it again.

Alpha Channel for Single Color Tattoos

– Go to the Channels Tab and open them.

– Paint or use the Flood Fill bucket to turn the Green and Blue Channels to a black square.

Tip: Make sure only ONE is selected (and gray) at a time. It can select all of them, and that will cause a problem for you.

You should have a red and black design when you’re finished.

– Darth Parametric had some more in-depth instructions on using MAO files and different resolutions for creating the tattoos. I didn’t see a difference on my character, so I stopped here. If you’re interested, check out the tutorial on the Bioware Forum.

Creating 3 Color Tattoos

When you paint your tattoo, you can use true green, true blue, and true red. They won’t have to be those colors when you finish, but more on that will be shown below.

Instead of 1 layer, create 3. Use a transparent background.

I titled them red, blue, and green to keep it easy.



Repeat until you have 3 layers.

When you paint your design you need to make sure it’s a true color or this may not work correctly. If all else fails, you can copy the code in these pictures to get the color for your brush, paint bucket, or whatever tool you’re using.




Paint green on the green layer, red on the red layer and blue on the blue layer.

– Create a black layer and place it as described above.

– Merge layers as described above.

– Save to a .psd file and convert to a .dds as explained above.

I titled mine uh_tat_multicolor_0t for this example. Here’s a reduced version of what it looked like for our example.


– Paste into Override as explained above.

Now you’re ready to open up the Toolset and use it on a morph.

– Open the DA Toolset

– Go to the Part Selection Tab
Select your new tattoo.


Arrange the colors however you want to. You can use 1, 2, 3 or any combination you chose. They can also be any color.

– The red design you made will be found under Tattoo 1 – R Channel (“Red” Channel) Here I made it dark blue, so you don’t have to make it red.


– The Tattoo 2 – G Channel I made purple.



– The Tattoo 3 – G Channel I made pink.



– Mix and match colors and parts of the tattoo as desired.


* Dragon Age Origins, the Toolset and all its characters belong to Bioware and their respective owners. This blog is dedicated to their work with fiction, tutorials, and things to share with other fans.

The actual content of this blog, however, is created by me. Please do not copy it in whole or part without a link back. You don’t need my permission to paraphrase, share links, or borrow any of my content. After all, it’s dedicated to Dragon Age. You can borrow it word per word or right off the page if you give me credit by linking back to my blog. It only takes a second, it’s appreciated, and that’s all I ask.