Creating Textures: Tri-Color Navy Camouflage

In my previous post I finished the case of so-called “two-color” U.S. Navy camouflage, which was used between September 1941 and January 1943. You can observe on the archival photos that its non-specular Sea Gray / Light Gray combination was especially prone to weathering, and accumulated every grain of the soot and drop of the oil stains. Simultaneously the weathered Sea Gray paint became more and more white.

The new, “tri-color” camouflage, introduced in January 1943, fixed these flaws, and provided better protection on the vast, dark waters of the Pacific. You can see an example of this pattern on an SBD-5 from VB-16 (Figure 78‑1):

Figure 78-1 Archival color photo of an SBD-5 from VB-16 (April 1944)

However, this historical photo has a technical flaw: its colors are “shifted toward blue”. You can unmistakably see this “shift” in the color of the bottom surface (it was Intermediate White). I was not able to correct this deviation, finding acceptable. Below you can see another photo of a SBD-5 from VSMB-231, which colors are more balanced (Figure 78‑2):

Figure 78-2 Archival color photo of an SBD-5 from VSMB-231

There were two variations of the tri-color painting scheme. While the most probably the “white 35” from the first picture represents the painting applied in the factory, the photo below shows a case of another variation (Figure 78‑3):

Figure 78-3 Another variation of the tri-color camouflage (“Norfolk scheme”)

The main difference is the dark Sea Blue section below the cockpit. It is creating a “bridge” of the Sea Blue color between the upper areas of the wing and fuselage. Most probably such a camouflage was applied by the Navy workshops, when the older aircraft were repainted from the “two-color” scheme. Note that all of the SBD-5s on this photo have larger national insignia than the “white 35” from Figure 78‑1. Their stars have precisely the same size and location as those in the two-color scheme. (It seems that the workshops just painted the two rectangles on each side of an existing roundel). You can also encounter aircraft that had the “bridged” camouflage and the smaller (i.e. standard) insignia, but it seems that all aircraft without the “bridge” below the cockpit had the standard roundels. This fact seems to confirm the “workshop” hypothesis of the “bridged” camouflage origins. Many modelers think that this variant of the tri-color scheme was created in the main Navy overhaul facilities at Norfolk.

In this post I will recreate the “white 35” shown on the first picture. This particular aircraft belonged to VB-16 squadron from USS Lexington (CV-16), and was flown by Lt. (Jg) George T. Glacken, with RM Leo Boulanger at the rear gun. There is another close-up photo of this aircraft, most probably taken during the same flight (early April 1944, over New Guinea) (Figure 78‑4):

Figure 78-4 Close-up of the “white 35”

This SBD-5 seems to be n much better condition that the weary SBD-3 from my previous post. From the photos of the other VB-16 aircraft it seems that the crew of this squadron had enough time to take care of their machines. All of them had uniform squadron emblems, the flying staff names were painted below the cockpits, and every mission was marked with a small “bomb” on the fuselage.

Unlike on the SBD-3, on this SBD-5 the anti-slip strip ends at the main spar (there is no forward part, painted in the glossy black). There are no visible deep (“bare-metal”) scratches on the center wing upper surface. Just some irregular areas and a few seams of the dome rivets are brighter. Most probably the paint was scratched from the heads fo these rivets. (There is no such a thing in the front of the main spar, because its seams were made of the “flat”, countersunk rivets).

I started my work on this camouflage by creating a new copy of the previous source GIMP file (Color.xcf). Then I modified its contents by repainting some key layers. Finally I exported the resulting pictures, overwriting the existing images (texture components in the skin material of my model).

The first repainted elements were the basic layers of the camouflage (color-camo.jpg image) – as in Figure 78‑5a). This is one of the three color texture components. I simultaneously modified the ref-specular.jpg component of the reflectivity map, providing the “gloss” to the dark Sea Blue surfaces (Figure 78‑5b):

Figure 78-5 Modified images of the basic camouflage colors

I left the weathering layers of the camouflage image intact (hey are the same as in my SBD-3). You can see the first test render of this new camouflage (combined with modified color-dirt.png image) below (Figure 78‑6):

Figure 78-6 First render of the tri-color camouflage

This first render revealed that while the non-gloss surfaces look quite convincing, I had an issue with the more glossy upper surfaces. The dirt pattern disappeared on the highlighted areas. They look unrealistic smooth and clean (like on a polished airliner!).

The remedy for this issue is yet another texture, which will “modulate” the color of the specular reflections, making some areas darker than the others. It is quite simple – a neutral gray background and just some darker splashes. I named it color-specular.jpg. Figure 78‑7 shows this image and its place in the material schema:

Figure 78-7 Specular color texture and its place in the material scheme

I also could put these splashes on a white background. However, I did not know if I would need some lighter elements. That’s why I used a neutral gray here.

Figure 78‑8 shows the test render of this updated material:

Figure 78-8 Improved specular reflections

I reproduced the scratches on the center wing in the same way as in the two-color SBD-3: using the scratches mask (mask-scratches.jpg image) (Figure 78‑9):

Figure 78-9 The scratches mask and its results

In this case the only bare-metal spots are the heads of the dome rivets. I recreated them using an inverted copy of the reference image. I also added some partially scratched areas in the front of the anti-slip stripes (they “reach” just the primer color).

Finally I prepared the “decals” picture in Inkscape, then exported it to the color-decals.png file. Analyzing various photos of other aircraft from the same squadron, I determined that the serial number on the fin was black, and small radio-call numbers (“35”) were also painted on the wing upper surface. I repainted in GIMP the VB-16 emblem (it seems to be in the contemporary cartoon style). Then I exported to a *.png file, and placed it in the SVG source image as a linked picture (Figure 78‑10):

Figure 78-10 The VB-16 emblem and the markings texture

Figure 78‑11 shows another test render, featuring the complete texture set:

Figure 78-11 Test render of the “white 35”

In overall, the tri-color painting looks acceptable. However, this model badly needs the details: the cockpit interior, radial engine, crew… Thus, in this post I am finishing the third phase of this project (“working with textures and materials”). Now I am starting the last, fourth phase: detailing. For most of the small parts that I will create in this last phase, I will use simpler materials that do not require any UV-unwrapping and texture images. For example – on the picture above the propeller hub requires different material (in this “white 35” it seems to be painted in a glossy Sea Blue). At this moment I kept the hinges and canopy rails in the natural metal color. I will have to “repaint” them, using simpler versions of the camouflage colors. Finally, it seems that I have to improve the glass material of the cockpit canopies (comparing with the archival photos, they are too “clear”). Anyway, I will describe my solutions to all these issues in the future posts.

In this source *.blend file you can evaluate yourself the current version of the model, and here are the Inkscape and GIMP source files of its textures. Because of the large size of the original GIMP file (*.xcf), this post is accompanied by its smaller version (2048x2048px), packed into *.zip file. I think that such a version is sufficient for checking all the details of this image (the structure of its layers, their opacities and mixing functions). The resulting textures (4096×4096) are packed into accompanying Blender file.

6 thoughts on “Creating Textures: Tri-Color Navy Camouflage

    1. Unfortunately, not. Ten years ago, when I started to play with Blender, I wrote a plug-in for Blender 2.4 that directly used SVG images as textures. (See its description).

      However, since that time Blender was completely rewritten (in version 2.5), and its new internal architecture does not include a “slot” for such texture plugins. On the other hand, my experiences with these vector textures show that in most of the cases these vector textures have no special advantages on the final render. In fact, it is easier to KWH (“Kill With Hardware” 🙂 ) this problem by using static high-resolution texture images exported from an SVG source…


    2. Wonderful work – I have a particular question about your model – could you explain the boolean object on the wing you are using to make the openings in the wing. I can see you modeled the object – but I do not understand how its is creating the transparency illusion/ paralax effect in the wing mesh. I would love to understand how you achieve this – is it a texture feature or an add-on?

      Many thanks


      1. Am I right, supposing that you are asking how I made the cut outs for the landing gear in the wing? They are created in the “0.110.Wing Center.Forward” mesh with two Boolean modifiers: one that uses the auxiliary “T.110.LG Bay object”, and another, which uses the “T.110.Wheel Well” object. (See the [Modifiers] section of the “0.110.Wing Center.Forward” object properties). You can encounter such modifiers in most of the 3D graphic programs, like Blender, 3D Max, and similar.
        These Boolean modifiers create “non-destructive” (i.e. reversible) changes in the final wing mesh, removing a part of it. More on this subject you can find in this post:


    1. WebGL is another (simpler) rendering engine, based on the Open GL 2.0 standard. This means that the effects you can get in WebGL will be less “spectacular” than in my original models in Blender.
      I have no direct experience with WebGL.
      However, a short Google query about its bump maps functionality shows that it requires so called “normal maps” for this purpose, not the grayscale bump maps that I have used for the Blender Cycles renderer. Every pixel of the normal map is treated as a 3D normal vector (its R,G,B color components as the X,Y,Z vector coordinates). Thus the normal maps are usually pictures “in all colors of the rainbow”. There is a GIMP add-in that converts the grayscale pictures into the normal maps. (I suppose that there is also similar Photoshop functionality). Use them to convert my bump maps into your normal maps


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