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Sims 3 Pattern Making Tutorial

Now the dust has settled, everyone is making patterns – except you. That’s because you’ve tried all the proper tutorials and STILL failed but didn’t like to say out loud in case everyone else pointed and laughed. Well, meet me then! I failed too, so I’ve written another Sims 3 pattern making tutorial who those of us who need every last degree explained carefully, and soon you’ll be making patters too, probably using someone else’s texture because you can’t draw either!

About this tutorial…

There are several tutorials discussing how to make patterns for the Create-A-Style tool in Sims 3 that are helping many people make great patterns. However, I started out as a total beginner, and was still fumbling with issues such as “why channels?” and “how do I add an alpha?” when other people were seemingly outputting a pattern a minute!

If you too are floundering and feel like you know nothing, hopefully this tutorial will help you. After you’ve succeeded with this one, you’ll be able to move on to more advanced stuff. This tutorial is meant for people who still have no idea what they’re doing and need to know WHY they’re doing this or that. So it DOES go on a bit. But that’s me!

Your pattern


Sims 3 pattern

I’m not going to make a pattern from scratch (because that would assume you can paint stuff)! Instead, and because I can’t paint stuff either, I’m going to convert an existing texture using a basic select tool to split a brick pattern across three channels (and an alpha) to make the English Victorian brick pattern shown on the right. You can use any pattern (including my brick pattern).

Whatever you use, ensure you start with a pattern that has easy sections to cut out and divide, and is sized 256 pixels wide by 256 pixels high.

What you will need…

  • A graphics program that can divide graphics into separate RGB (red, green, blue) images (channels)
  • Optional – a DDS plug-in (not all graphics programs support them). If you’re using

Photoshop, nVidia has produced a Photoshop plug-in specifically for Photoshop

Note that this only works in 32-bit versions of Photoshop (there’s no 64-bit version). For any other art program, search the net. If your art program has no supported DDS plug-in, you will need to use the PNG format instead (see PNG or DDS below).


To be able to make patterns with the full 4 colors of Create-A-Style, you will need to save your pattern as a DDS file. Some graphics programs (including Photoshop, GIMP and Paint Shop Pro) have DDS plug-ins available on the net that you can install. Other programs (including Corel photo X and Photo X2) don’t seem to have DDS plugins at all but can still support the PNG format instead (your only restriction with PNG will be that you’re limited to just 3 of the 4 available pattern colors – though most patterns actually don’t require 4 separate colors).

Prepare a new custom pattern image…

prepare a new custom pattern image

To make a custom pattern in your graphics program, you need to create a new, empty image.

The only settings that are important are:

  • Size (your image must be 256 pixels wide by 256 pixels high)
  • Image format (it must be an RGB image – 8 bits per channel)
  • It needs a black background (explained later)

None of the other settings shown on the right are important and can be ignored.

Your image’s background color…

Some people recommend a 100% white background, others recommend a transparent background, and still more suggest 100% black. For me, black has always worked the best when converting a texture into a pattern and allows you to make use of a secret-fifth color (well, not THAT secret really)…

If you’re not sure, choose black like me so that your image will work like mine through this tutorial.


You’re finished pattern will be a greyscale image ready to be converted by the TSR Workshop tool into a pattern. Here is how a greyscale image works:

  • Black is invisible
  • White is solid
  • Grey is see-through (the darker the grey, the more see-through it becomes) 

Channels instead of layers…

channels instead of layers

We’re going to divide our pattern into CHANNELS (because that is what patterns use in Create-A-Style). Graphics programs differ in how they allow you to work in channels; Photoshop has its own Channels window as shown on the right. However, when making patterns, channels allow you to copy and paste into them in exactly the same way you would with layers.

alpha channel

For our pattern, the channels will layer on top of each other, with red at the bottom, followed by green, then blue. The alpha at the top is mentioned a little later.

The finished image layers the channels in the order shown on the right. Images in a higher channel will obscure anything it overlaps in a lower channel, so you need to be careful about that. Fine for a tartan rug, but not good for brick!

Adding a fourth color (an alpha)…

RGB images only have three channels – a problem if you want to make a 4-colour pattern! But all we do is cheat by adding an “alpha” as the missing fourth channel. For patterns, the alpha is nothing special; it’s just another channel.

Your new alpha will probably be named Alpha 1. Only add one alpha. If you have additional alphas in your image, delete them because the game can only use four colors in Create-AStyle. Adding 20 alphas is just plain silly so don’t do it!

How channels work in the Create-A-Style tool…

Create-A-Style tool

And now the fog should clear a bit! Channels merely represent the four color pickers in the game! The picture on the right shows that every channel in your pattern relates to a color picker in the Create-A-Style screen. How cool is that?!

Any graphic you place in your red channel will be controlled by the first color picker in the Create-A-Style tool. The graphic you place in your green channel will be controlled by the second color picker, and so on. Hopefully now you can understand “why channels”!

If your pattern doesn’t use some of the channels, its corresponding color picker in the Create-A-Style tool won’t be clickable. Remember: there is no snobbery or fame to be had in making 4-color patterns! Many EA patterns use only one, and EA pretty much know what they’re doing!

Hint: The names of the channels (red, green, blue) bear NO relation to the colors of the pattern (i.e. the blue channel does not need to hold blue colors…).

For my brick pattern, I placed the mortar image in the red channel, then used the remaining three channels for different selections of brick. This allows the player to make three different shades of brick. My shades differ only very slightly in this example.

Seamless tiling

seamless tiling patterns

Before you do ANYTHING with your pattern, you must ensure that, when the pattern is repeated vertically or horizontally, no join lines are visible (and that’s known as “seamless tiling”):

  • Any lines or pattern must join unnoticeably
  • There should be no gaps between each repeated image
  • The pattern itself should have no noticeable “repeat” to it

The green squares on the right are each made up of a pattern tiled 4 times (that is: each green square is 2 patterns wide, by 2 patterns high). In fact, it’s rather obvious how many times the pattern is repeated in the left-most square because you can see the joins clearly because the pattern does not line up. The rightmost green square does tile correctly with no visible join and so is more seamless (though the middle column of tiles is a bit dark and might result in some repeated dark bands when used over large areas).

You might be making a single pattern as a motif for a T-shirt, but someone who downloads your pattern might want to use your pattern as wallpaper or the covering of a sofa (in fact, you can count on it)! It is for this reason that some Sims websites (TSR too) will reject your pattern unless you provide screenshots proving that your pattern does tile seamlessly. Extreme closeup of your pattern on a Sim’s sock does not count as evidence of good tiling! 

How to make seamless tiles

how to make Sims 3 seamless tiles

There are various plug-ins available on the net for seamless tiling in Photoshop, and plenty of downloadable widgets aimed at achieving seamless tiles. There are also tutorials on making your tiles seamless manually (and it’s actually very easy to do it manually with Photoshop’s offset filter). These are beyond the scope of this tutorial but you should find plenty of information if you search the net for seamless tiling help.

For this pattern I actually used the in-built seamless tiling option found in most recent versions of Paint Shop Pro (including Corel Photo X and X2 – under Effects/Image effects…). It works really well for most graphics, including my uneven bricks pattern (an extract of the pattern tiling shown here in Corel’s Seamless Tile preview window).

Dividing your pattern into channels…

dividing your pattern into channels

It’s now time to divide your pattern into the recolorable parts. Take a look at the picture on the right. This is how your image will begin to look as you start adding parts of your pattern to each channel. Don’t worry: it won’t look like that in the game, unless you do something so unthinkably wrong it hasn’t even been invented yet!

If not using all four color sliders for your pattern, use the channels in order of red, green, blue then alpha. That is: if you only have one color, place the entire pattern in the red channel only; if you have two colors, use the red and green channel, and so on. Don’t delete a red, blue or green channel (these are required as a minimum, even if you’re not using all of them). You only need to add a fourth channel (an alpha) if you need to use all four color buttons in the game.

What you put in each channel is up to you, but the usual approach is to put the bulk of your pattern in the first (red) channel, and then work upwards with the smallest parts of your pattern being added last.

Transferring each part of your texture…

transferring each part of your texture

Before doing anything, you might find it helpful to open the texture you’re working upon in a new window. That way, you can safely copy and paste parts of it without harming your original. But you were doing that anyway. It was only me who found she’d hacked through her only copy of the pattern at the precise moment that it was too late to redeem it!

To cut out the bricks, I used Photoshop’s Quick Selection tool (Photoshop CS4). This tool makes good guesses at outlines when selecting each brick shape, leaving me with only to trim a few bits of mortar that had been included with some bricks. Other select tools including the Magic Wand (which most programs have) are good for this too.

Sims 3 pattern making tutorial

Some selection tools have tolerance settings: the lower the tolerance number, the less “similar colors” are selected with each click. The image on the right shows the selection results obtained with the Magic Wand tool when tolerance levels are set at 0, 10, and 30 respectively. Experiment for the best results. It’s at moments like this that you might wish all those bricks were very different colors of the rainbow!

Other options…

Different art programs offer many ways to separate image parts. For example: if you have an image made of obvious different colors, you can use adjustors such as Photoshop’s Black and White sliders (Image/Adjust/Black and White) which will allow you to set some colors to be very dark , leaving you with a selection of lighter parts of your graphic (e.g. all the red shades) to move in isolation to one of your channels. For other graphics (like these bricks), selection tools are a better way to select parts of a graphic. There is no rule; use whatever is most familiar to you.  

Pasting your selection into a channel…

pasting selection in channel

For my pattern it is easier to start with the bricks, so even though I intend adding the mortar to the red channel, I’ll do that last. The mortar will be easy to select once all the bricks have been transferred.

As I’m saving the red channel for mortar, I’ve pasted my first selection of bricks into the GREEN channel of my prepared pattern image. This was simply a matter of selecting some random bricks in my original pattern, copying the selection, then selecting the green channel in my new image and pasting the bricks there. Done!

When pasting into one of your channels, DO check you have selected the correct destination channel (and that you don’t have two or more channels selected) – guess who made this mistake too! Unless you want to create any interesting effects, the separate parts of your pattern should not overlap parts in other channels. And bricks don’t really need “interesting effects.”

making a Sims 3 pattern

Happy that my bricks transferred correctly, I’ve removed them from the original image (they were still “selected” so I simply hit the Delete key).

Once I’ve repeated this for the remaining bricks, I should be left with the mortar only – which I’ll be able to place in the bottom (red) channel without any further work!

Controlling overlap and transparency

controlling overlap and transparency

When you have transferred your texture to all channels, the next stage is to balance the brightness.

With patterns, only pure white is solid. Anything of a grey shade will allow anything beneath to show through. If you make your image 100% white, you’ll have no texture or contour (just ‘cartoon’ – beginner style!), but if it’s too dark, there will be too much background showing through and the pattern will be wrongly colored or shaded. For now, aim for a brightness that looks something like the image here, but be ready to have to experiment (again and again)!

RGB Mask in TSR Workshop

Any pattern that does not result in a sea of solid white will let the background color show through. This is an additional color known as the the Background fill and we set this color in the Sims 3 Workshop later on. For now, all you need to know is that you don’t need to worry about a non-solid white image!

red green blue alpha channels

the channels combined...

With all channels combined, the final RGB image in Photoshop looks a bit of a mess here. However, it should look fine once it’s loaded into the TSR Workshop.

When looking at the combined RGB image, the red, green and blue channels show exactly where your patterns have been placed. The alpha displays differently (this is because alphas are technically black and white images rather than greyscale), but you can see by the red shading  that the bricks on the alpha channel have also been created. We will see this more clearly once we open up the finished graphic in the TSR Workshop tool.

Saving your RGB pattern…

saving your RGB pattern

You can save your pattern as a PNG or DDS file if your art program supports DDS. If you choose DDS, ensure the Alpha Channels box is ticked!

If your graphics program does not support the DDS format, any image on the alpha channel will be lost. You can only make 1, 2 or 3-colour patterns with a PNG file.

saving as a PNG file

When saving in DDS format, you will see another window of settings. Ensure that “8. 8. 8. 8. ARGB” is selected, then click the SAVE button.

The TSR Workshop Pattern Tool!

TSR Workshop pattern tool

Click the ‘browse’ button under “RGB Mask Image” to find your new pattern. Once loaded, tick every channel your graphic uses (for my bricks I have used all: red, green, blue and alpha*). This should give you a greyscale representation of your pattern.

* If your image turns solid white when you tick Alpha, then you forgot to tick the ‘Alpha channels’ tick-box when saving your graphic. You’ll be in good company! I spent days wailing about white patterns in Workshop before I (finally) realized!

Background Fill

You might not have realized this, but there is a fifth color you can also change!

Although there are only four color buttons in Create-A-Style, we can also set an overall background color for the pattern itself too. This color cannot be changed in the game so it’s a permanent color. This is why we create patterns on a black background, because black is transparent and will actually allow the extra background color to show through any parts of our pattern that are not 100% solid.

The most common color to use is black. Black will then poke through any parts of your pattern that are not 100% white and it can act like a natural contour and shading. To show what I mean, I have changed the background color of my brick pattern to red, and now what LOOKED like shading has in fact become red! My dark areas aren’t really shading at all; just areas of my pattern that are not 100% solid and are therefore letting the black background color show through.

You can use ANY color. Many EA patterns are one-channel patterns only – but they have transparent areas to allow the background to create cracks in the paint etc. Additionally, some EA tiles have a non-changeable white background (some EA tile patterns have a fixed, nonchangeable white grouting – resulting from white being used for the background rather than in the pattern itself, freeing up the four changeable channel colors for the tiles themselves. This is a nifty way to make a 5-colour pattern. Just remember that the player cannot change your chosen background color if you choose to use it as a significant part of your finished pattern.


blending the pattern

See how each color channel has a blend tick-box? This box determines whether each channel allows the channel underneath to show through or not. If you leave this box unticked, each channel is treated as a solid, non-translucent image.

If you want to make proper use of the background color, all your pattern colors must be set to blend.

* If your image turns solid white when you tick Alpha, then you forgot to tick the ‘Alpha channels’ tick-box when saving your graphic.

Apply an initial color swatch…

applying an initial color swatch

All patterns actually use a greyscale base but they all start out with pre-selected colors.

Click on the color square for each channel of your pattern to select a color for it (or you can enter the HEX color number in the “#” boxes if you already know what colors you want).

There is a lot of trial and error in finding correct colors, and you might even find yourself returning to your graphics program to lighten (or darken) your image! When working from a pre-made image, it helps to position it alongside the Workshop window so you can compare colors.

Although the player will be able to alter the colors you’ve used to fit in with their designs in the game, it’s important that your initial selection still makes your pattern look good without the player enhancing it in any way. People will expect your pattern to work immediately without first having to change its colors.

Finally, add a title and description, and select a suitable pattern category for your pattern. The surface type selects the best sound to be played whenever Sims walk over or interact with items colored in your pattern.

Is your graphic in PNG format? If so, tick the Use DXT compression box to make your pattern’s file-size much smaller. The alpha channel color for PNG patterns will be ghosted out and cannot be used.

You’ve finished – now to test!

testing your Sims 3 pattern

And that’s it – you’ve done everything! The question now is to see whether it works…

I’ve had to revisit most of my patterns more than once to adjust their brightness and contrast, or tone down areas of the pattern that noticeably “repeat” on each tile in the game. Don’t be surprised if this happens. You might want to keep the Workshop open in the background until you have fully tested your pattern (it is not possible to save your work in progress).

To install your new pattern…

Click the export button in the Workshop to save a copy of your pattern to your computer. This will create a self-installing Sims3Pack file that you can double-click to add your pattern to Sims 3 custom content and install it for you so it’s ready to play.

Uploading to TSR

If you already have an account at and wish to upload your pattern to The Sims Resource (TSR) for sharing, then you can click the Upload to TSR button instead (you’ll need to input your account email address and password if prompted). Your file will be uploaded into your File Storage area ready for when you wish to submit the pattern with some screenshots of the pattern in the game. Your file storage area is here:

You can, of course, upload your pattern anywhere. The Upload to TSR button is just an added convenience for those who wish to upload their patterns to TSR.

Sims3Packs and Packages

Sims custom content (lots, neighborhoods, patterns and objects) are all packages (files that end in the extension “.package” on your computer). However, some tools (including EA’s Sims 3 Game Launcher pictured above and the TSR Workshop that we just used to make our pattern) add a self-installing ‘wrapper’ called a Sims3Pack file. This wrapper contains your pattern in its raw package format, but the Sims3Pack wrapper adds a self-installer to it, ensuring that the content is placed in the correct folders and the game is properly updated to recognize it.

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