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What is a Specular?

the finished specular image product The Sims 4

For full details on speculars, including how to make them, see Object Creation Part 2: Object Textures. This guide is designed for beginners upwards and explains ALL textures and how to make them, including all the usual textures together with lesser-known texture types that you’ll only encounter occasionally.

What is a specular?

A specular is one of the primary images of your creation. Whilst a multiplier (see: What is a multiplier?) adds shade, a specular adds highlights and shine. The image on the right is the specular of a coffee table. The table-top carries most light areas whereas the underside is darker.

what is a specularDo I need a specular? My creation is not shiny…

Yes, absolutely! Speculars don’t just add shine but natural environmental highlights too. Look at any non-shiny object around you and you will see there are lighting touches from both natural and artificial lighting. Leaving the specular empty will make your creation appear dull and flat in the game – a shame when they are so simple to make.

Will my creation always be shiny with a specular?

No, not at all. Shine is only determined by the pattern chosen by the player. Your specular will govern just how much shine when a shiny pattern is applied, but won’t add shine to non-shiny textures. Non-shiny patterns will just give subtle environmental highlights instead.

Are speculars difficult to make?

No, they’re actually very easy! For most uses, a specular merely needs to be a high-contrast version of your multiplier (see: What is a multiplier?) and so is very quick to make. Unlike the multiplier, you will need to add an all-black alpha layer to it (see: How can I edit my alpha channel?). Where your mesh will receive full light reflection (like a table-top), these areas should be full white. Any darker shade will mean that the highest-shine textures like chrome (which should be almost mirror-like as with the soap-dispenser in the screenshot below) will be dull. If you want less shine, keep the specular high-white but choose a less shiny pattern.

How do they work?

The specular is made up of a main image and an alpha layer. The game uses the main image to see how much highlight should be added (the lighter the image, the more highlight will be applied depending on the type of pattern chosen by the player). The objects in the image on the right are using a chrome pattern and so use the specular not only for highlights but full shine, with the lightest areas of the specular giving most shine.

specular shine

Additionally, the game uses the specular’s alpha to see if there are any white parts where shine should be forced regardless of whether a shiny or non-shiny pattern is used. Usually, it’s best NOT to force shine and instead leave the alpha all-black – so the player can choose whether to use a shiny or non-shiny texture (the pictured wash hand basin could equally have a dirty-ceramic texture applied and this will not shine like the chrome because no shine has been forced by the specular’s all-black alpha.

By default, the alpha layer should be all-black.

There is no specular showing in Workshop – it’s empty!

There is a specular, but the all-black alpha makes the specular appear invisible. You can open the specular in Workshop and, at the top, untick the alpha box. You will then see the main specular image.

What format should I use to save a specular?

You must save your image with a format that supports grey-scale alphas. For DDS, that’s DXT5 format.

Can’t I just ignore alpha if I’m not using it?

No. If you save your specular without an alpha, an all-white alpha will be added in its place. This will make your creation shine like a mirror regardless of the textures applied by the player. To see this effect in-game, try applying a rust texture to a vehicle. Because EA added all-white alphas to the specular, it is impossible to add a realistic rust; the car body shines regardless, removing some freedom of choice from the player.

I amended my specular and now my black alpha has become all-white!

This is a fault within the DDS format. There is normally no logic for needing a black alpha so, if you try to reload your specular for editing, the plugin kindly assumes you made a mistake and changes it to all-white again. You can prevent this by adding a tiny white spot to some unused corner of your specular’s alpha. The plugin will recognize that tiny white spot and won’t again attempt to “repair” your alpha.

fixing all-white alpha in specular

I saw color on a specular – is this an error?

Occasionally, you’ll see colored speculars by EA (lamps in particular). Using color simply tints the shine to a particular shade. For example: red gives some lamps a warmer, less stark environmental highlight. The globe on the right shows a blue specular and its effect (the shine has a blue rather than white hue), and will have a blue tint regardless of lighting hue around the object. This globe is non-recolorable so applying a fixed-color shine enhances the ocean’s blue highlight, but if the creation is recolorable, forced color can remove a degree of choice from the player so do be sure it’s an effect you wish to apply regardless.

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