A skin is a graphic file in The Sims, The Sims 2, The Sims 3, and The Sims 4. Skins are used to represent the heads, bodies and clothing of Sims, but how they work in each game is somewhat different. This article primarily deals with how skins work in the various games rather than how they are used in gameplay.
The term "skin" arose because, in The Sims, they included the Sim's skin as well as clothing or a hairstyle. The wide availability of third-party skins has unquestionably contributed to the high visibility of the series.
Skins in The Sims are comprised of two parts per Sim: a head and a body. Both are simple 256 color (8-bit) bitmap images, numbered to correspond with the mesh file which gives them the desired shape on the Sim. Each image file is that Sim's entire body or head, including skin (there are 3 skin tones - light, medium and dark - and it is common for the same outfit to be made in all 3 tones) and hair. However, a Sim's hands are separate; hands are not part of body skins, but are defined separately in the Sim's character file. Originally, the default formal outfits used formal hands, but these hands were not used after Hot Date. A Sim's hands normally match the Sim's skin tone, though it is possible for a skin to have custom hands. For example, a skin might have white hands so a Sim using it will appear to be wearing white gloves. Some skins have accessories such as hats and glasses, which have separate BMP and mesh files. However, if a Sim appears to be wearing accessories such as glasses, it is usually because they are painted onto the Sim's head or body skin.
True custom skin tones aren't possible, but variations of the basic skin tones are, as long as they're named so that the game engine "sees" them as light, medium, or dark tones. Some creators made "pale" versions of the light skin tone and made them available for use by others.
Skins are available for different modes of dressing: Everyday, Pajamas, Swimwear and Formal. Some jobs also have "uniform" skins. There are also nude skins for when a Sim is using a toilet, using the Vibrate interaction on another Sim or is taking a bath or shower. (a censor blur appears on top of a naked Sim).
The basic body types are "fit", "fat", "skn" (skinny), and "chd" (child). Custom body types are possible, and they can have their own three-letter identifiers. However, if Hot Date or later is installed, clothing racks will see adult Sims with custom body types as "fit". Therefore, buyable pajamas, swimwear, etc., for adult Sims with custom body types must be labeled as being for the "fit" body type, or those Sims will not be able to access it. Likewise, buyable pajamas, swimwear, etc., for children with custom body types must be labeled as being for the "chd" body type.
In The Sims, all information about a skin file is carried in its filename. The first letter identifies the type of skin. Heads are identified with "C" (for Cranium). Everyday skins are identified with "B" (for Body). Pajamas are identified with "L" (for Lingerie). Formal, Swimwear, Winterwear[Vacation] and High Fashion[Superstar] skins are identified by their initial letters, though players should note that hand files also begin with "H". The next three characters are an identifier for the mesh. Maxis always used numbers, but creators could, and often did, use letters. The next two letters identify gender and age, respectively. Gender is identified with "f" (female) or "m" (male), while age is identified with "a" (adult) or "c" (child). Technically, child skins could be identified as "uc" (unisex child), but this was rarely done in practice. For body skins (but not heads), the next three letters identify the body type. Next, there are three letters which identify the skin tone as either light (lgt), medium (med), or dark (drk). This is followed by an underscore and the actual name of the skin. Mesh files do not have skin tone information, but otherwise follow this convention, though there are some naming conventions that only apply to mesh files.
Unlike The Sims 2, The Sims does not distinguish between custom skins and those included with the game. All head skins and Everyday skins are available when aging a baby to a child, aging a child to an adult with the Age of Instant charm, or generating a townie.
Once created, a Sim's appearance is not editable from within the game, except for their clothes, which can be changed by using a dresser. Some third-party utilities let players change a Sim's appearance.
In Unleashed, skins for cats and dogs use a single bitmap image, though there are still separate meshes for pets' heads and bodies. Pet skins use a somewhat different naming system. All pet skins and meshes start with "B" or "xskin-B", which is followed by the three-character identifier and either "cat" or "dog". Pet meshes are identified as body or head by a "tag" on the end of the "xskin-" file's name. For a dog, those are -PELVIS-DOGBODY for the body and -HEAD-DOGBODY-HEAD for the head. Cat meshes use CATBODY instead of DOGBODY .
Meshes in The Sims are ASCII text files that can be edited with an ASCII text editor such as Notepad, though caution should be used when doing this. These files use the same naming conventions as the BMP files, but do not have skin tone information. They consist of two parts. One contains the information about the shape of the mesh. These files are identified by the prefix "xskin-" and the file ending ".skn"; and there are some naming conventions which only apply to them. The other part, identified by the file ending ".cmx", "points" BMP files to an "xskin-" file, and can be used to attach accessories. These ".cmx" files point to BMP files which have the same skin-type label and mesh identifier as they do. However, the "xskin-" file they point to is determined by a line in the file, so they can point to an "xskin-" with a different identifier, though they usually do not.
The way skins and meshes work in The Sims means that some skins will work correctly with more than one mesh; a feature known as "crossmeshing". Of course, each mesh needs to have an appropriately named copy of the BMP file, so crossmeshing involves manually copying and renaming BMP files.
Crossmeshing can be available for several different reasons. Some Maxis meshes were made so that two, or even all three, body types could use the same BMP files. Sometimes, two meshes are the same, but have different filenames. For example, the F100 and S100 meshes from Hot Date are the same as the B300 meshes that were included in a skin pack, and later in The Sims Deluxe Edition, and the B401 female adult mesh from Hot Date is the B004 female adult mesh from the base game. Also, each Maxis child mesh is the same for boys and girls. On occasion, meshes that have rather different styles can use the same BMP files, either coincidentally or by design. One well-known example was a C700 series of adult female heads that could not only be crossmeshed with one another, but with the Maxis C001 adult female head.
The Sims 2
With the advent of the full 3D environment in The Sims 2 (See Comparison between The Sims and The Sims 2), skins become more complex. Skins are still in BMP format but are now contained in a ".package" file, which can be extracted (and compiled) with the included Body Shop tool.
A Sim's body is now separate from their clothing, and there are now 4 basic skin tones (light, medium-light, medium-dark and dark) with each skin tone's graphic files being divided by age and gender. Some skin tones are hidden, and can be accessed by placing Create a Sim in Debug Mode. In addition, custom skin tones are now possible, and many are available as custom content. That Sims' bodies and clothing are separate makes all outfits available to all Sims of the appropriate age and gender, regardless of their skin tone or body shape. It also means it is now possible to create distinguishing marks such as tattoos that are unique to a Sim, although in practice this is not an economical use of drive space. (Some outfits are made so that Sims wearing them appear to have tattoos. Pre-made Sims who have tattoos are actually wearing one of those outfits.)
Hair is also separate, with different colors and styles, and eye color can also be set. These traits are carried in a Sim's genetics, and passed on to their children. While The Sims 2 generally distinguishes between custom skins and those included with the game, hair is a partial exception. Some hair creators place their creations in their appropriate color bins. Hair that has been "binned" will still be marked as custom content, but it will not be treated as custom hair, and the game may use it when assigning hair to a newly generated Sim.
Clothing has also undergone changes. Not only is there far more detail, but the top half of a Sim's Everyday outfit can now be separate from the bottom half, though Sims can still wear one-piece Everyday outfits. The modes of dressing are Everyday, PJs, Underwear, Swimwear, Formal, and Gym Clothes/Workout Gear. Seasons added Outerwear, which will usually be worn in cold weather. Unlike The Sims, which used file-naming conventions to identify skins as Everyday, Formal, etc., The Sims 2 uses internal flags. While separate tops and bottoms can only be created as Everyday, whole outfits can placed in multiple categories. For example, an outfit can be flagged as both Everyday and Gym Clothes. Values are:
- 0x00000007: Everyday
- 0x00000008: Swimwear
- 0x00000010: PJs
- 0x00000020: Formal
- 0x00000040: Undies
- 0x00000100: Maternity[n 1]
- 0x00000200: Gym Clothes
- 0x00001000: Outerwear[TS2:S]
These flags are normally set by Body Shop, but they can be edited in SimPE. The Outerwear flag can only be set in SimPE by opening the file and manually editing the "category" field in the GZPS property set, but all other flags can be set from within the "Scan Folder" tool. Editing the flags for tops and bottoms will allow them to appear in areas of Plan Outfit other than Everyday, but will not cause them to appear in other areas of CAS, clothing racks, or Body Shop. Not all clothing made with a pregnancy morph will have the maternity flag set, but that flag should not be set for clothing that has not been made with a pregnancy morph.
The Sims 2 also uses internal flags to show which life stages can wear an article of clothing, and which gender it is for. SimPE can be used to set these flags, but it is not recommended to have an article of clothing available to more than one life stage unless the stages are young adult and adult. Likewise, an article of clothing can be flagged as being for both genders. This can be, and sometimes is, done with clothing for toddlers and children, as their bodies do not have gender differences. However, it is not recommended to have clothing for older Sims flagged as being for both genders.
There is now an internal flag which controls which sounds are made when the Sim walks while wearing an outfit. This flag is often left unchanged when custom clothes use a mesh that has been changed from one type to another. For example, clothes which use swimsuit meshes that have been remeshed to have shoes will often be flagged as barefoot. The known values are:
- 0x00: None - This is for Everyday tops, and should not be used for Everyday bottoms or whole-body outfits.
- 0x01: Barefoot - This outfit has no shoes.
- 0x02: Heavy Boot.
- 0x03: Heeled - Heels, of whatever height. This produces the heel-click when walking.
- 0x04: Normal shoe - Generic ordinary shoe that lacks noteworthy characteristics.
- 0x05: Sandal - Some manner of floppy sandal. This is used on Maxis sandal skins.
- 0x06: Footie Pajamas - Some Maxis outfits with slippers, such as the bathrobes from K&B, use this value.
- 0x07: Armored - Found on the Open for Business knight armor.
- 0x08: Servo
Visibly pregnant Sims will wear maternity clothes in place of their Everyday outfit. A Sim's maternity outfit is assigned when the Sim becomes an adult, and is drawn from a set of hidden, maternity-only outfits. Unless the Sim is pregnant, it cannot be seen without using mods or modified objects. Even when a Sim is pregnant, the maternity clothes cannot be changed without using mods or modified objects, but many custom content creators have made default replacements for the Maxis maternity clothes. Pregnant Sims will also have maternity PJs, swimwear, and undies, which are Maxis PJs, swimwear, and undies that are using a pregnancy morph. These outfits are not added to the household's wardrobe. Sometimes, a pregnant Sim's hair style will change to a Maxis default when the Sim is in maternity clothes. If this happens with a Sim using a Maxis hair style, it may be possible to prevent it by using Change Appearance to change the Sim's hairstyle, then using it again to restore the original Maxis hair style. However, if the Sim is using custom hair, this may mean that the custom hair style does not have a texture that is set to appear when a Sim is in maternity clothes.
- Clothes which are only flagged as Maternity cannot be added to a Sim's wardrobe unless mods or modified objects are used.
The Sims 3
In The Sims 3, all clothing types can have separate tops and bottoms, or can be one-piece items. Shoes are now separate items, rather than being part of the overall body mesh.
There are now 6 basic skin colors, though three of them are green, red, and blue. Once a color is selected, the player can use a slider to lighten or darken the skin. Patch 38 or Supernatural adds orange, purple, turquoise, black, and a bright and a pale rainbow slider. They also add light and dark color-spectrum options, in which the slider, rather than lightening or darkening the Sim's skin, runs through a range of colors. Seasons makes the default skin tone used for aliens available in CAS. Custom skins are also available. The base game does not include life stages such as aliens and vampires, but it is possible to create Sims which resemble them by using pale green tones and pale blue tones.
The Sims 4
Similar to The Sims 3, all clothing categories have separate top and bottom options, as well as full-body outfits. Shoes and accessories are once again separate items, and hats can now be worn with any hairstyle underneath.
Before Patch 105, there were 26 natural and 9 unnatural (red, blue, green, and varying shades of grey) skin tones to choose from for normal Sims, with no slider adjustments. Certain life states (aliens, spellcasters and mermaids) have access to 8 additional unnatural skin tones (three shades of blue, three shades of purple, one shade of green, and white).
As of Patch 105, there are now 135 natural skin tones, divided evenly into three categories: "Warm", "Cool" and "Neutral". Unnatural skin tones also have their own category, called "Miscellaneous". Every skin tone can have its brightness adjusted with a slider, similar to The Sims 3, and customized tones can be saved to be reused for other Sims.