Artwork Tutorial: Basic Deluxe Paint Techniques      


In this tutorial, you will be introduced to some of the basic features of Deluxe Paint. It is the graphics program that LucasArts used to create the backgrounds for many of their classic adventures. In order to properly show how a rather simple background can be painted with a minimum of time and effort, I'm detailing the different stages of development in a step-by-step process. In addition to that, I will further explain the Deluxe Paint features that I used, as well as provide a few general tips.

The background discussed in this tutorial was created with Deluxe Paint II enhanced, and Neopaint 3.1b. While Deluxe Paint offers excellent palette and stencil features, its geometric functions are rather clumsy (these come in handy to create the basic line sketch of a scenery). Neopaint is the more convenient program for this (and it also has a more advanced zoom mode). Therefore, I've been using both programs simultaneously.

Due to the low-res graphics mode this background was designed for (MCGA, that's 320x200x256), and due to the different aspect ratios of SVGA modes, this tutorial cannot display the pictures as they would appear in their designated resolution. If you want to take a closer look at the details of each picture, I highly recommend to save the .gif files and watch them in MCGA mode. A picture archive will be provided at a later time as a more convenient download option.


This is the scenery that I was going to copy. A simple room that can be turned into different locations by adding tiles such as doorways, mural paintings, desks, light sources etc. However, the original image was of fairly poor quality (especially palette-wise), and I was looking for a background that had good gradients and clear colors.

I decided to use the palette of this background for my picture. Quite a lot of rooms in the Colossus use its palette. It's got three separate gradients of greenish/greyish colors. The first gradient occupies 27 indexes, and its colors are very common (main colors). They make up a major portion of all the pixels. The other two gradients, together with additional colors such as brown, yellow, and blue are less abundant. They are mostly used to age surfaces or structure an object (secondary colors).

This is the initial perspective I came up with. It looked kind of distorted, but by merely flipping it horizontally this impression vanished.

Here you can see how the perspective works. The ceiling, floor, and the right wall are all of the same width (or height respectively). The left wall occupies three times that space. Since this means that the left corner of the room is at a greater distance from the spectator than the right one, the back wall is at a slightly shifted angle itself. As a result, no wall in the room is parallel to the spectator's viewing axis. This adds to the impression of a 'casual' glance into the room.

This is the basic construct, with early colors already applied. Lighting is strongest in the center, and diminishes towards the edges and ceiling. This looks a little like the light would be emanating from the floor, but compare it with the original FoA background. It all makes sense once there are light sources on the walls, but it even works without them if the room yields other objects to distract the eye.

Just a slightly modified version. It is worth noting that I initially intended to structure the floor without a gradient, but I gave up on that soon enough. Regarding that color panel on the lower left, these are all the colors I need for the floor and the walls, roughly sorted by their redundancy. This is a very awkward method and only makes sense if you want to pixel a surface that requires you to switch between colors often (I used this for the floors of the traffic grid stations, and in some of my early pictures).

Basic coloring and lighting applied to the brick walls. As you can see, I pasted in two sections of the water channel image, to use them as a model for my image. I also began structuring the wall, brick by brick. Again, this is a pretty awkward technique. It requires a lot of time, and results seldom are of the highest quality. Therefore, I switched to gradients.

To apply gradients, I had to remove the brick pattern, store it separately and then paste it back over the gradient as a transparent cutout. Neopaint works a lot better for this, but you can do the same with Deluxe Paint. Gradients are perhaps the most significant feature of Deluxe Paint. Many a classic adventure games from the early 90ies include graphics created with Deluxe Paint, and its typical gradient patterns can be easily distinguished.

The gradient used here is only comprised of the above mentioned 27 main colors (minus the really dark ones). It also uses a medium spatter value to let it look like a rough-hewn wall.

Please see Section III for explanations how to create both gradients and color spatter.

The same gradient type applied to the other two walls. Again, the brick pattern had to be removed first for this step. Although the walls do have some structuring now, they still don't look right. They are too smooth, and the seams between the bricks appear to be merely pasted over the gradient (which they are).

The pitch black of the seams is replaced by a mossy blue that gradually turns brighter towards the bottom. The floor now has an early gradient (circular style).

This is the most important step. It looks like this modification would have taken a lot of time, but it only took me about twenty minutes. The two Deluxe Paint features used for it are SHADE and SMOOTH. A third feature (SMEAR) was used for the floor. The room now looks heavily aged and the walls have lost their clean appearance. Not only did I use the SHADE function to pronounce the seams, but also to add cracks and holes in the bricks. You should spend some time playing around with these effects, they are quite powerful and can spare you a lot of time.

The next step was to add 'dirt' colors (also called false coloring - you can enhance the quality of an image by adding colors that don't really belong there). In this case, it means to add colors that are not part of the gradient. As a result, the gradient is less visible, and the walls appear more like they were painted in one piece.

Also, some minor color touch to the floor.

Next was to create a ceiling for the room. This is often a critical thing because one can easily fail to properly joint the walls with the ceiling. You're well advised to either keep it very dark or have some structures in there, like beams or a ledge.

The ceiling itself is actually made out of several gradients. It took me quite some time to find the right balance between them, and I cannot really describe how I managed to do this. Basically, it's a non-spattered gradient that gets darker towards the edges, with the centre painted over in one color, then filled with a spatter. You can see this if you adjust your monitor to maximum brightness. The result is that the spectator cannot be certain if the ceiling is flat, or shaped like a dome.

The finishing touches. The floor has been modified once again, with more colors added and mixed into each other using the SMEAR function. It's a really handy tool to add details without changing the actual colors. They simply get shifted by a few pixels. It's like throwing small pebbles and debris on the floor, which adds to the half-decayed looks of this place.

With the basic construct of the room completed, tiles can be added to create different locations. This provides a very flexible and efficient method to add or remove rooms, just as the storyboards warrant. We can thus balance the length and complexity of a scenario without actually having to paint each and every room.

If you inspect the scenarios of FoA, you will find many locations that utilize the same trick.

III. How do I...

...create a gradient?
  • In Deluxe Paint, open the palette (on the lower right, right above all those colors...there you go).
  • Select "Gradient".
  • Use the Copy/Spread/Swap tools to arrange the colors you want to use. The easiest way is by placing the brightest color on the first index you want to use, and the darkest color on the last. Then, simply click on the first index, select spread, and click on the last index. You now have a set of colors (1 to n) spanning the difference between the RGB values of index 1 and index n (i.e., a gradient).
  • Select a drawing tool. Example: if you want to fill an area with a gradient, right-click on the bucket, and select the gradient style you want to use (straight, shaped, ridges, circular, contours, highlight). Be sure to experiment with the different gradient styles.
  • Left-click on the area you want to fill. By moving the mouse around you can influence the direction of the gradient (any degree is possible). Then, left-click a second time to apply the gradient.
...enable gradient spatter?
There's an option in the Palette/Gradients menu called 'spatter'. Activate it to determine up to what extent the single colors are to be mixed into each other. You can thus remove the typical 'rastering' of a gradient. Depending on the spatter value, the gradient will become more smooth or rough. You can thus simulate different surfaces, skies, fluids etc.
...apply smoothing?
Deluxe Paint has a rudimentary anti-aliasing function (MISC -> ANTI ALIAS). This will create half-tone colors around the line, circle, or pixel you are placing. In addition to that, there is also a smoothing function (TECH -> SMOOTH), which is a very powerful tool to age surfaces, disguise gradients or merge foreground and background objects. Both the AA and the smoothing function require a sufficient amount of colors. The more colors there are, the better the result.
...apply shading?
Shading can be activated under TECH -> SHADE. Please note that shading is dependent on the color you have selected (you can also select an entire gradient!). Shading is a great method to apply structures to a surface. You can create the contours of a doorway or the bricks of a wall with it. It is also used to darken the lowest line of the image, which is a typical feature of all backgrounds in FoA.
...add additional colors to a surface?
There are several techniques, here's the fastest of them: within the palette menu, select the colors you want to add. Then, select the spray tool. Right-click on it and use the left mouse button to increase the radius to the max. Activate the tag of the MISC -> COLORIZE option. Now, shortly click where you want to add those colors. You will notice that the preset fill rate is a little high, and may need some adjustment. You can also select any other drawing tool in combination with the Colorize function to add colors. This gets especially interesting when you make them translucent, too (you can adjust the transluceny by right-clicking on any drawing tool).
...cycle through colors?
This somewhat goes beyond the scope of this tutorial, so I'm keeping it brief. In the palette/gradient menu, activate "Cycling Speed" and set it to something around 50. Be sure to have the colors selected that you want to cycle! Then, simply hit the tab key. If you're just curious how this will look like, you can try it with any screen grab from FoA that has cycling water, lava, etc. (must include proper palette dump from video memory, of course).


  • Always use a palette from FoA. Only create your own if there really aren't any proper colors that you can use.
  • Never work with backgrounds extracted via SCUMM Revisited. Instead, use a proper screen grabbing utility that captures the entire video memory (you know you want those extra colors, too).
  • Study the way they did it in FoA. Take a lot of grabs. Never work without the original if your scene is meant to resemble it.
  • Don't rely on the UNDO function of Deluxe Paint! Always keep lots of backups. If for nothing else, you can still use them to write a tutorial =)
  • Try to keep your picture open for changes.
  • Concentrate on the overall appearance, care about the details later.
  • No tutorial can substitute experience. Experiment with the functions of Deluxe Paint.

© Alexander Zöller