The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition

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Using DDS Textures in GIMP 2.8
By ₸ʌʟwıcĸ
How to open, edit, export, and save textures (for Bethesda games - Skyrim specifically) using GIMP 2.8
> Includes easy-to-understand explanations and helpful advice for newcomers and pros alike.
This guide is for anyone wanting to edit textures in Skyrim, though it should work for the two previous Elder Scrolls games, as well as some other Bethesda titles like the Fallout series. A lot of the information I found online was vague, incomplete, or sometimes incorrect. And some of the mistakes that I made because of this required lots of work and experimenting to find / fix.

So here's a step by step guide (it's my first actually)

It'll not only tell you what to do, but why - so you can learn a little about how Skyrim and other (Bethesda) games work, and be more equipped when a problem comes along.

You can skip the rest of this introduction, if you just want to get started.
But it might have some useful information for you.

GIMP 2.8
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is an image editing program, much like photoshop; except that it's FREE. It's easy to use, and I find it more "adjustable" than photoshop. So for a knob twiddling maniac like me, that's a great thing. The more options, the merrier.

You can get it for Windows, OS X, and Linux here:
Please donate, even just a little, to the creators. Their tireless work has created a great program for people to try out, before / instead-of hefting wads of money at Adobe.

Types of Textures (in Skyrim)
Skyrim has four types of textures.
  • Diffuse Maps: These should be familiar to everyone. They're the colours that coat every "thing" in Skyrim. Without these, things would be invisible (except in some cases). This will be the kind of texture you edit most often.

  • Specular Maps: These are the reflection textures. They're just grey-scale images. The black areas will not reflect, and the white areas will be mirror-like to light sources. Their filenames should be the same as the diffuse maps, but usually have "_s" at the end.

  • Glow Maps: These are additive textures; meaning that they only ever increase brightness of what they cover. Only a few vanilla objects use this, like the Vampire eyes, and Nirnroots. Edit these sparingly, as it's easy to make them blinding-ly bright (especially if you use an ENB). Their filenames should be the same as the diffuse maps, but usually have "_g" at the end.

  • Normal Maps: These allow the lighting engine for Skyrim (or your ENB) to add correct lighting and shading to objects. This texture is created by the 3D model being lit from different angles by a certain colour on each axis. From this map, the engine can then determine how the in-game light sources affect the object based on what coloured parts are exposed. I don't suggest editing these in GIMP unless you're doing small fixes (like removing details/mistakes). Their filenames should be the same as the diffuse maps, but usually have "_msn" at the end.
Low poly? No problem?
If you find that your characters in Skyrim have blocky / pixelated faces in certain lighting or camera distances; and Skyrim.ini tweaks haven't fixed the problem for you, then an incorrectly exported Normal Map might be the culprit (it was for me - and took me AGES to find).

By opening and re-exporting your Normal Map with new mipmaps, you may fix the problem. Continue reading for how to open and export textures with new mipmaps, and to learn what mipmaps even are.

1. Installation
First thing's first. You'll need to get GIMP, and you'll need to get the .DDS plugin for it. Both are completely free, and easy to set up.


Then download and run the installer for GIMP 2.8. It works for both Windows 32 and 64 bit.

Once installed, you'll need the plugin. Click the link below and save the latest "binaries" ZIP file that matches your system (i.e. 32bit OR 64bit):
The zip file will contain an EXE file which you should extract and move to the plugins folder for GIMP.

Unless you changed the default location, that plugins folder should be here:
C:\Program Files\GIMP 2\lib\gimp\2.0\plug-ins
2. Opening the DDS file
When opening a DDS file with GIMP, you'll be given a few options.

I suggest that you untick "Load mipmaps", as it is easiest to edit the high resolution texture, and let GIMP create new mipmaps for you when exporting. But if you know how to use GIMP, there's no harm in creating your own manually from the 'master' layer, halving the dimensions as you go. Doing this will also allow you to chose how small the minimum sized texture will be, so if you have no mipmaps, Skyrim will just use the full sized texture (not a good idea unless you have lots of VRAM).

But what are mipmaps?

They're the smaller versions of the texture, which Skyrim will use as the camera moves further away. So if you really wanted, you could have different colours for each Diffuse mipmap, and watch things change colour as you approach them.
3. Editing (Optional)
This step is optional - as if you are just re-exporting a texture, I doubt you'll need to edit anything.

If you've never used GIMP or Photoshop before, then this guide isn't the place to learn. But don't worry, there are many tutorials out there; both video guides on YouTube, and step by step text & image guides like this one.

You can also ask me questions if you are still stuck - as I'm quite skilled in GIMP (and Photoshop)

Don't feel afraid to experiment with tools and filters. Just make use of the undo button, and to have a backup of the original texture too.

You might want to increase the amount of undo memory and levels you have, which you can do here. GIMP will make sure that you always have the minimum number of undo levels that you specified, otherwise it will stay limited to your maximum undo memory setting.

This means that if you set it to 100, you will always be able to undo at least 100 times. I suggest setting the "Maximum undo memory" to no more than half of your RAM. Do not worry though, if GIMP is near filling all of your RAM, it will store undo levels on your hard drive (in the Swap folder), which can be specified in the "Folders" branch, at the bottom of the Preferences tree menu.
4. Exporting / Saving
As you can probably tell from the title, exporting and saving are different.

Saving (Optional)
If you want, you can save your work as well as exporting. This will let you keep a full quality copy of all the layers (if you're using more than one). You have the option of using the GIMP project format .xcf, or a few others including the Photoshop project format .psd. Alternatively, you can export the image as a high quality PNG for later edits, but your image will be reduced to one layer.

Exporting will let you save your work as an image file. In our case, the DDS file for Skyrim.

When exporting, replace the original file unless you want to save it somewhere else (like if you opened a vanilla race skin texture to edit it for a custom race). Then decide what quality you'd like.

Compression: It's best to choose "BC3 / DXT5" compression. As it will reduce the filesize of the texture, but keep the alpha channel (transparency) for various textures that might need it, like fur and hair. But for high quality things like faces and any *Normal Maps, I suggest that you choose "None" for a nearly lossless file.

Mipmaps: If you want to have Mipmaps (you can go without them if you have lots of VRAM), select "Generate mipmaps" on the exporting window. But you NEED to have combined all your layers first. You can do this by right clicking on any layer, clicking "Merge Visible Layers", and then selecting "Clip to Image".

Advanced Options: If you chose to use compression, then expand this section and tick the "Use perceptual error metric" box to improve the compression quality slightly.
*Exporting Normal Maps without compression is essential! Because of the wide range of colours, GIMP (and Photoshop) will ruin their quality (most noticeably in the mipmaps) if you use ANY compression.

If you have a BLOCKY face that you can't fix, opening the file without loading mipmaps, and exporting the file with new mipmaps (and without compression) might be the cure. It was for me.
5. Checking and Re-Editing
If you're like me, you'll probably be making many edits to your textures and checking them in-game.

So with that in mind, here is the fastest way to check, edit, re-export and re-check your textures; without having to waste time closing and reopening Skyrim (as loading another save will not reload textures). You'll need to be able to run both GIMP and Skryim together of course; so if you've no way to switch applications or your computer isn't powerful enough, this method won't be possible.

There's little harm in trying though, as long as you've saved. At worst, one of the two will crawl/crash.
  1. Check your texture in-game (obviously).

  2. Once deciding to make a change, save your game and Exit to the Main Menu.

  3. Switch to GIMP and edit the texture as you desire.

  4. Hold [Ctrl]+[E] to overwrite the last file you exported.
    (If your first edit didn't show up, you might be using the wrong filename/location).
  5. Switch back to Skyrim, and load the save you just created.
    (You could load another save, but you'll need to be able to see your texture, right?)
  6. Repeat as needed until you're satisfied
Well, that's all there is to it really. Best of luck to you all! :D

Feel free to ask questions and give feedback (even complaints).
I'll help any way I can, and whenever I can. My knowledge only goes so far, as does my free time.

...The whole point of mods is to improve or add to the game.
So, don't mod it untill it crashes... Mod it till it's better in every way!

Modding Credentials - If you can call them that...
I don't use LOOT, BOSS or any other mod conflict / ordering program, and yet I have 277 mods (212 plugins) all running without conflicts or crashes at the time this guide was made. Yes, there's a minor issue here and there (the fault of the mod creators or base game, not me), but one by one I'm ridding myself of them all.

My Humble Rig's Specs (at the time of this Guide) - In case you want to compare
OS - Windows 8.1 Pro 64bit (Modified)
CPU - Intel Core i3-4160 (Dual Core) @ 3.6GHz
RAM - 8GB DDR3 (Skyrim only uses 4GB)
GPU - 2GB Nvidia GTX 750 Ti

*NOTE: If your specs are the same or better than mine - and you mod Skyrim properly - you should be able to make it look as good as mine (see screenshots above, or the Skyrim Artworks on my profile) at over 45 FPS outdoors, and 55 indoors.
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Staberind Oct 1 @ 4:52pm 
Pr0-tip : your most used companions want mipmaps. your own character is usually in the middle of the screen so, uh, doesn't need them, however, having a 4k face and 4k body uses a lot of resources that could be better used elsewhere. you can easily keep two folders and swap them out when you want to ss or when you want to play at a decent fps. great guide btw <3
₸ʌʟwıcĸ  [author] Aug 6 @ 4:26pm 
You're welcome :ChipJoy:
시진핑핑이 Aug 4 @ 9:58pm 
Thank you for the answer! :)
₸ʌʟwıcĸ  [author] Aug 1 @ 7:13pm 
Mipmaps do apply to faces if they are present, and like on other objects, they are effective at saving VRAM as things move away from the camera. But if you were to export a face texture without having/generating mipmaps then only the largest texture would be used no matter their distance from the camera. It wouldn't benefit you much to have a full texture loaded for a distant NPC for example, and it'd waste VRAM if you have this for many characters or objects.

I hope this answers your question :cubewink:
시진핑핑이 Jul 31 @ 5:10am 
Hello sir, I have some questions about mipmaps. Are mipmaps effective for face texture? I'm afraid it doesn't apply to face texture, because all of the examples are about objects.
₸ʌʟwıcĸ  [author] Apr 20 @ 8:13pm 
Sorry for the late reply - My Gaming PC isn't currently working (Mobo seems to be failing and can't use the RAM properly) so I haven't been on Steam. Sadly I'm not sure how to fix the problem you are having, but I suggest checking out the plugin page in case any information there may help:

Best of luck to you :OkaySir:
repinscourge Apr 16 @ 2:25am 
Hello. Can you give me advice on gimp? I'm making mods for Dead or Alive 5.
I have a 2-layer DX1 texture and I need to save it as a volume map, but I can’t choose the same compression level in the GIMP. As a result, the saved file is 4 times larger and loses compression. It becomes kind of like RGB24, but must be RGB8 DX1.
₸ʌʟwıcĸ  [author] Aug 20, 2018 @ 6:11am 
You're welcome. I'm glad my guide could be of use to you.
Wendersnaven Aug 19, 2018 @ 11:52pm 
Cheers. One of my professors taught us how to GIMP for a Publication Production class. Strong work.
₸ʌʟwıcĸ  [author] Jul 23, 2018 @ 5:56pm 
You're very welcome, sirkillsalotgillhain :ChipJoy: I'm glad to know it's been useful. Please don't think your intellect is that of a skeever; knowledge is a different thing after all. I learn most of this from experimenting with no knowledge, but I know not everyone has the time, haha.

So yeah... I've heard of black/purple bodies before, but usually that's something that happens the whole time someone is playing (until the cause is fixed), not a problem that happens over time. So perhaps something in the game is triggering it? Or maybe your computer is overheating somewhere and failing to load (heat is usually what limits processing power)? I'm not sure.

If you can cause the problem to repeat, then be sure to take note of where you are, what's onscreen, etc. It'll help greatly to find the problem - whether it's me or someone on a forum.

Good luck to you sir :scorepoint: May you die with a sword in your hand.