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Creating Backpack Icons for the Steam Workshop
By HellJumper
This guide covers how to create backpack icons for Steam Workshop entries (specifically for Team Fortress 2). It assumes you have already reviewed my previous tutorial located here.
Comprehensive Video Tutorial
Supplementary Picture Tutorial
This picture-based tutorial should be useful for quick reference. It obviously doesn't go into as much detail as the video does, but it's great for people who watched the video at least once and want to quickly go back to look at things.

Step 1: Setting up the Source SDK

Download the Source SDK (located in your Steam Library under "Tools"), and make the necessary edits to the gameinfo.txt file located in your /Steam/SteamApps/common/Team Fortress 2/tf/ folder. These edits are explained in the video and are credited to http://forums.tf2maps.net/showthread.php?t=21166.

Configuring the gameinfo path:
  • Navigate to your /Steam/SteamApps/common/Team Fortress 2/tf/ folder
  • Find the gameinfo.txt file and open it with notepad or notepad++
  • Add “ToolsAppId 211” to line 22
  • Insert "Game |gameinfo_path|." and "Game tf" above line 77
  • Save the file and close it

  • Open the Source SDK and click "Edit Game Configurations" under Utilities
  • Select "Team Fortress 2" and click "Edit..."
  • In Directory, replace your steam username with "common" (ex: \helljumper777\ replaced with \common\)
  • Click OK and close the Source SDK

Alternatively, if you don't want to manually edit the SDK, you can download IcyEyes' fixed SDK Launcher[forums.tf2maps.net].

Or you can use the "new" TF2 SDK:
  • Navigate to your /Steam/SteamApps/common/Team Fortress 2/bin/ folder
  • Find the batch file titled "hlmv.bat" and open this file
  • Voila! TF2-specific source SDK that should work

Step 2: Creating a Dummy Backpack Icon

In order to compile the .mdl file so we can view it in the half-life model viewer, we need to create a dummy backpack icon so the in-game beta importer will allow us to compile. Open photosop and create an all black 512x512 texture. In the center of the image, draw a small white square.

Add an alpha channel, and make sure to color the square white-- just like in the main image. This is important since the in-game importer will not accept backpack icons formatted any other way.

Step 3: Compiling the Model

Open TF2, create a new workshop entry, load all the relevant parts of your model (the .smd files, the textures, etc), and load in the dummy backpack icon.

You can then preview your model to make sure everything was the same as before, but more importantly, press "verify" and then "finish" to compile your model. Don't submit your model yet. Click cancel and exit TF2.

Your compiled model will be in your /Steam/SteamApps/common/Team Fortress 2/tf/models/workshop/player/items/ folder.

Step 4: Half-Life Model Viewer

Open the Source SDK and at the bottom make sure the Engine Version is set to "Source Engine MP" and the Current Game is "Team Fortress 2". Under Applications click "Model Viewer" to open the half-life model viewer (hlmv).

With the hlmv open, click File > Load Model... and open the /workshop/player/items/ folder. Your compiled model will be in a class subfolder, find the .mdl and open it. Change the background color to green for easy background removal by going to Options > Background Color... You can change the lighting by pressing "ctrl+LMB" and moving the mouse around (If the RGB axes are visible, you can turn them off by going to attachments tab and selecting "none").

Printscreen/Screencap the image however you like (using the Print Screen button on your keyboard or using Windows Snipping Tool) and bring it into Photoshop. Resize the canvas to 512x512 pixels and make sure that your icon fits inside a 512x328 region. Remove the green background using whatever method you prefer. The easiest method is by using the background eraser tool (click and hold the eraser tool > choose background eraser tool). Ensure that you have the eraser set to discontiguous and choose and appropriate tolerance (30-50% is usually good).

When the background is removed, select the icon only, go to your channels tab and add a new alpha channel. Fill your selection in the alpha layer with white. Everything else must be completely black.

Again, make sure that your icon fits inside a 512x328 region. This step is extremely important. If your icon is too big, the importer will not allow you to upload the .tga file.

When you are satisfied, save the image as a .tga file (32bits/pixel).

Step 5: Importing with the In-Game Importer

Open TF2, create a new workshop entry, load all the relevant parts of your model (the .smd files, the textures, etc), but this time load in your finalized backpack icon. Preview your model, verify it, and hit "Finish".

Give your workshop entry a title, description, and branding image. Upload it to the workshop!

If you found my guide useful, consider supporting me by rating up the item featured in this tutorial on the Steam Workshop. Thanks!
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RagnaWolf The Wise Feb 20 @ 10:30am 
i use paint.net how can i make a BP icon without the lines messing up?
HellJumper  [author] Dec 25, 2013 @ 3:14pm 
You can just use the hlmv directly. The source SDK is bugged.
rebellion Dec 25, 2013 @ 4:04am 
HI' ive recently followed this tutorial and i've tried to get HLMV work. But it give me an error: scripts/game_sound_manifest is missing. I've copied it in the dir from another location and now it work. But now when i open a model all the camera movment are locked and the mesh is displayed with a white shadless color. Before the content update all worked fine but now no.
However i've discovered that in TF2 bin directory there is an HLMV + stuiomdl so i'm wondering if source SDK is still necessary??
/OCT\ Darth_Philistine Dec 8, 2013 @ 1:31am 
Ok, I did start again and lose all progress, but created a version of the hat that has Under 500 tris. Thanks again for the tutorial and I hope in future to see more of your cool Items in the game.
HellJumper  [author] Dec 7, 2013 @ 4:17pm 
It's not anything I can just tell you... it's something you just learn by experimenting. Also, don't use the decimate modifier. Start small and end small.
/OCT\ Darth_Philistine Dec 7, 2013 @ 2:32am 
Hi, I am having trouble modelling for tf2, all of my hat models except one has far too many tris. I have tried to change it with a decimate modifier and maually deleting edge loops, none of it works, Do you have any tips for making clean cool models like yours with limeted tris? (I do use modifiers like the Mirror, solidify and subdivision modifiers). it would be great if you could help me as making a 3D model would be A crucial part of my future career. :)
Me. I Am... RWJ Nov 9, 2013 @ 6:12pm 
Can you help me with getting my hat into SFM to make a poster? I imported it in but it there is nothing in the viewport.. Can you help and link me to a guide? I can't find any. Sorry to bother you AGAIN. You've been a great help though :D
HellJumper  [author] Nov 8, 2013 @ 11:34pm 
New update broke the SDK. I would use the new SDK as listed above.
Me. I Am... RWJ Nov 8, 2013 @ 11:01pm 
Hi, me again. How to I fix Source SDK model viewer giving me the: FATAL ERROR: Unable to load manifest - scripts/game_sounds_manifest.txt
Myserval Aug 1, 2013 @ 2:54pm 
I've got a problem.
My mask that I had made seems to be stuck in the ground. I had modeled it straight onto a heavy model, but it's still in the ground. This happens in the preview screen, too.