Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2

78 ratings
Creating Backpack Icons for the Steam Workshop
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

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[].

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

Note: If opening HLMV.bat doesn't work, open it with notepad++ and change line 5 to the following:
call "%~d0%~p0set_sdk_env.bat"
Save this file and close it.

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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Captain Charger Jun 23 @ 4:44pm 
Thank you
Omvd | Mar 28 @ 8:28am 
me the icon dont charge in tf2, say error to charge the icon
᠌ ᠌ ᠌᠌ ᠌ ᠌ ᠌ ᠌ Jul 17, 2016 @ 3:56pm 
Launch the model viewer from your team fortress 2/bin/HLMV.bat
Sherbert Jul 11, 2016 @ 8:51am 
When I launch the model viewer it says: Unable to load manifest file 'scripts/game_sounds_manifets.txt' can sombody help me?
Sinful Creature Dec 31, 2015 @ 3:21am 
So I have my icon, in a 512x512 image. I have the alpha channel incuded behind it. And the icon fits inside the safe zone, even though the import tool is saying otherwise.

In the GIF below, I uncheck the layers on my icon to show the icon, alpha, and borders for the safezone, and then the error TF2 is giving me.
If anyone knows a fix, that'd be dandy. Thanks.
Mpdacey Dec 18, 2015 @ 4:49pm 
Hey, I have a little problem with no solution. It would be really sweet if you can reply. Okay, so I load the model up as per usual and it doesn't crash but the model itself doesn't appear. The program says its loaded but nothing is there. Is there an option I need to uncheck? Have you come across this problem before or is it just me? Please do respond.
[SOSBrigade] Mew Mew-Chan(MI.VA) Sep 15, 2015 @ 2:56pm 
Hi, I've been following this tutorial for over a year now due to my recent laptop not being a mac. I've got all the rights down on how to get Source SDK working, but when I load up my model, nothing appears, just the grey background. I tried opening the other pre-made sfm movie models (such as bobble head) and it also didn't show anything other than a blocky white curve over the top of the view window. I think it has to do with the actual program itself (might be the mouse?) rather than my model, which works fine in tf2 btw. Thanks for the support!
ElectroAxis Sep 12, 2015 @ 10:07pm 
Please do a tutorial using Paint.NET . Some of us can't afford photoshop. I know there is a free version but I don't want to waste a day.
Bardtizere! Aug 24, 2015 @ 12:28pm 
Can you give a tutorial using
Near May 10, 2015 @ 10:40am 
The dummy icon doesn't work for me, I do everything you did but it keeps saying "Icon image does not fit inside of the safe zone of 512x328. Backpack icons are cropped down from top and bottom to 512x328. The upper and lower 512x92 pixels in the diffuse and alpha must be black (RGBA 0 0 0 0)." Please help?