Noob Dude: A beginner’s guide to Catwa Bento mesh heads for the Second Life male avatar

Please note: This post was originally written in September 2017. I will return to it from time to time to keep it updated.

If you’re completely new to Second Life you should read my Absolute Basics of the System Avatar post, preferably before you get stuck into this post about Catwa Bento heads. While you won’t be using much of the system avatar if you’re looking at getting a mesh head and body, you still need to understand the fundamentals of it—such as how shapes work, etc.—in order to be able to work more effectively (and with a minimum of frustration!) with your mesh body parts.

Yeah, okay. That’s another gobful of a post title, and this one was  intended to show up much further along in the Noob Dude series, but I figured that—with the Catwa Bento mesh heads all updating to v3.0 v3.2 and motion capture animations—it was better to get this done now  rather than later. So… welcome, to my beginner’s guide to using Catwa’s male Bento mesh heads :-)

As of August 2018, Catwa has six male Bento mesh heads: Daniel, Stanley, Shaheen, Dino, Victor, and Skell. I own them all, and will be using Daniel throughout this post, where I will be:

  • Guiding you through the basics of the three main Catwa HUDs: the Master, Animation, and Beard HUDs
  • Showing you what you need to know about the important blokey stuff like how the hell you tint all  of your beard
  • Explaining how to layer and avoid those mishaps where putting on facial hair takes off your eyebrows or hairbase
  • How to fix common issues such as lines or gaps where your head meets your body, eyes sometimes going white, eyes poking out a bit too far, etc
  • Covering the various free add-ons and HUDs in the Catwa store to help you save and change your looks once you’ve got them set up

Note: this is one hell of a long-arsed post, so sit down to it piecemeal or when you have time to get stuck in and figure it all out.

What you get

So we’ll begin with what you actually get in the folder, which is this:

The numbering may change, depending on updates. Always check Catwa’s Bento Updates page to see if you’re using the most current version of your head:

Yeah, that’s a lot, so I’m going to highlight the basics of what you need to wear to get set up, which is just the six items shown highlighted and in bold here:

In short:

  • The full alpha layer – which will make your entire system body invisible
  • The Catwa Head (SL Neck) – Use this for all  mesh bodies except the Niramyth body
  • The Rigged Eyes
  • The Master M (male) HUD – This is the one you’ll be spending most of your customisation time using
  • The Animations HUD – Initially you may want to just use this to stop the motion capture animations until you’ve customised your avatar to your liking
  • The Hair and Beard HUD

Make your life a bit easier by creating a new folder inside that main one, and dragging all of those items into it, to make them easier to find when you need them:

For this post, I’m going to assume that you have a mesh body. If you dont  have one, then the general guidelines will still be the same (this is, after all, a post about the heads, not the bodies). The only difference is that you’ll need to wear the alpha that states it’s for head and eyes only, and not the full alpha. For reference: Skell wears the Slink Physique Male body, so that will be the one in all of the images here.

Let’s get started

So, let’s begin with the full body alpha on, Skell’s Slink body, hands, and feet on, and OHAI I HAZ NO HED.

OK, let’s put that sucker— What the…?!

Yeah. I know. I am such  a little shit XD

That up there is what will happen if you try to put your Catwa Bento head on over the top of your usual shape. So why didn’t I tell you to wear the included shape first of all? Because most people want their mesh head to look exactly like their original shape. Aaaaand I wanted to show you that, without a bit of work, that’s not going to happen. Because of the way these heads are rigged, you need a specific base shape to begin with, which you then edit to get it looking how you want to. So shove that included shape into your new ‘essentials’ folder and put the damn thing on. (If you don’t like the body shape you can always change that later.)

Much better. Sit back and watch for a bit as your new face mugs and flirts at you. Pretty good, ain’t it? If the animations are a bit distracting while you start figuring all this stuff out, though, they’re easily disabled. Click your animation HUD (it looks like an old movie camera) to open it, and click the stop button at the bottom of the Full Face AO section, arrowed here:

The Master HUD

The Master HUD is the main control centre for all Catwa heads. When you wear it, you’ll notice that it has five tabs along the side. I’m going to cover each of them briefly. Note that I have a few extra icons showing on mine. These are where I’ve saved certain things, such as hairbases to my HUD, for ease of use later.

Info – Mouth – Hair

This tab is where you can save and apply hairbases, teeth and gums. Take note of the Blend and Mask buttons at the top left of each section, and also the Lower and Upper checkboxes in the Hair section, as well as the Clear button and the Blend slider. We’ll get to these later once we start applying extra stuff. Note, too, the three ‘blank’ sections in Hair. These are hairbases that I’ve saved to the HUD. (Unfortunately, because the creator didn’t include icons, I have to remember – or guess! – which is which.)

Quick fixes in this tab:

  • Has something turned your mouth or tongue a weird colour? Hit that ‘reset’ button to the right of the mouth section to get it back to normal again.
  • Does your hairbase look very faint or greyish? Check that the ‘blend’ slider on the hairbase section is all the way across to the left.

Alpha – Lashes – Tint – Neck Size

This is the workhorse tab, and it’s where you’ll be spending most of your time. It looks like a lot  of stuff right now but it’s really simple once you know the few settings you need to use. And, of course, I’ll be covering all of that shortly ;-)

This is also the tab where you can hide certain parts of your mesh head if you want to wear versions of those parts (such as ears and teeth) by other creators, as well as choose different lash lengths and styles. And, of course, it’s where you TINT ALL THE THINGS!

IMPORTANT: See that red ‘RESET‘ section over on the right of this tab? If you mess up and get completely lost, just click ‘ALL’ in that section, and it will set your head back to the out-of-the-box default, so you can start again.

Quick fixes in this tab:

  • Does your face look really shiny? Click the ‘skin’ button (to the right of the big monochrome-shaded box) so that it’s surrounded by a dark circle, as in the image below, then click the ‘x’ under the slider beneath it.
  • Do you have a weird-coloured band of skin around your neck? Check that you have ‘off’ selected under the Body Type/Neck Fix section. (You may also need to check your mesh body’s HUD to ensure you don’t have a neck fix enabled there, too.)
  • Bits of your head not showing? Check the Show/Hide section. Everything that’s showing will have its icon surrounded by a dark circle, as in the image below. If you’ve lost your ears, make sure they’re circled in this tab!

Eyes – Brows – Neck Tattoo

Here is where you can add your own brow appliers (assuming that you’re wearing a browless skin applier), add eye makeup such as guyliner, and also neck tattoos. As before, note the Upper and Lower checkboxes, the Blend and Clear buttons, and the Blend slider. I’ve got two of my own brows and one eye makeup saved to this HUD. The brows, as you can see, do  have an icon, which is helpful.

Quick fixes in this tab:

  • Are your brows really pale, or grey, or not showing at all? Check the blend slider in the Brows section. It should be all the way across to the left.
  • Have you tried on a hairbase applier, but you’ve got bits of it still on your neck after you’ve removed it? Hit the ‘clear’ button on the Neck Tattoo section (check both ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ boxes, and clear them both).

Blush – Lipstick

Don’t assume that, because you’re a manly man  you won’t be using this tab. If you want to wear facial hair, you’d better get cosy with the blush and lipstick tab, because that’s where you’ll be applying and clearing it! Don’t think of it as actual blush and lipstick; instead, think of the location. Blush = cheeks. Lipstick = mouth.

Quick fixes in this tab:

  • Have you tried on a hairbase applier, but you’ve got bits of it still on your forehead or around your sideburns after you’ve removed it? Hit the ‘clear’ button on the Blush section (check both ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ boxes, and clear them both).
  • Have you tried on a beard applier, but you’ve got bits of it still around your lips after you’ve removed it? Hit the ‘clear’ button on the Lipstick section (check both ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ boxes, and clear them both).

Skins – Ears

The final tab, this contains premade skins by Catwa, and you can click through them to find one that you like to begin with. You can stick with one of these and buy the matching body applier from the Clef de Peau vendor in the male section of the Catwa store (note that the body skins from the Clef de Peau mainstore do not match the Catwa head skins) or you can go out and pick up demos from the many, many skin stores in SL and create your own unique look. There’s even a skin demo wing at the Catwa store, to one side of the male heads section.

With all of these tabs you get some good starter options, including hairbases and brows, so we’ll spend a few minutes playing around with them to get used to how the HUD works. First up, head back into the first tab, and click one of the icons for the hair appliers. I’ve chosen the black one:

Click another one to try that, but stop there. Now we’re going to get rid of it completely. To do this, you need to know where it’s applied to, so now we’re getting into those Upper and Lower checkboxes I mentioned while showing the HUDs.

Pay attention: this next bit is important!

Catwa’s Bento heads have two layers: an upper and lower. This allows for, well, as the name suggests… layering. It means that you can have a shaved hairbase over the top of a scalp tattoo, or guyliner over the top of eyeshadow. And the one thing that’s vitally important about these heads is the following:

All appliers will automatically default to the LOWER LAYER.

This is to say that, if you apply a scalp tattoo it will go onto the lower layer. If you then apply a shaved hairbase, it too will go on the lower layer… and in the process of doing so it will remove the tattoo. This is where those Upper and Lower tickyboxes come in. To fix that problem, you need to save to the Catwa Master HUD whatever you want to put on the upper layer (in this case the hairbase). You then apply the tattoo, which defaults to the lower layer. Then, you check/tick the Upper box on the Catwa Master HUD, and apply the saved hairbase onto that upper layer. By doing this, both items go onto your head, and the hairbase won’t remove the tattoo.

For a much more detailed visual walk-through of this, click here (will open in a new tab).

So, to clear that hairbase, check whichever layer it went onto, and hit the Clear button. Welcome back, baldie ;-)

Tinting – for hairbases, brows, facial hair, guyliner… hell, you name it, you can tint it

We’re now going to move onto tinting. One of the things I try to do when buying appliers such as hairbases and brows, is to make sure they include a white tintable version. This allows me to change my look according to whatever hair I might be wearing. If you only ever wear one colour that’s not a problem for you, but I’m a hair h0r and I’m kinda fond of changing things up.

Tinting brows

Click around in the Skin tab until you find a browless version of the default skin, like this:

And then go into the Brows tab and click until you’ve applied a set of white brows, like this:

Not seeing them? Check that the blend slider on the Brows tab of the HUD is all the way across to the left. (Check the upper layer and look, then check the lower layer and look. It’ll be one of the two.)

Now we’re going to tint those brows. Before we do that, make a note of which layer box is checked/ticked on the Brows tab – lower or upper – and then head into that workhorse of a tinting tab.

Find the brows icon and click the left side of it if your brows went onto the lower layer and the right side of it if your brows went onto the upper layer. You’ll see it highlighted with a dark semicircle, as arrowed on the left in the pic below. Next, click in the black box shown by the other arrow, and your brows should turn black.

If they didn’t turn black, try checking the right side of that brow icon and clicking the black box again. Remember: left = lower, right = upper.

You can also change the colour by clicking in the rainbow panel and then clicking into the big colour box. To enter RGB colours, click the little pen icon above the rainbow panel and enter the RGB numbers separated by commas. You can save colours that you like by clicking the little black ‘save’ icon under each of the small boxes in the two rows at the bottom.

One of the most common shades to want (but the hardest to get!) is a good brown. To get a brown tint, first click in the reddish-orange part of the rainbow bar (at the top), then click in the big colour panel. Click around in there until you find a shade that you like.

Tinting Facial Hair

This is where a lot of guys come unstuck. Face fuzz can be a tricky beast. Depending on how hirsute you are, facial hair can apply to multiple layers, but mainly the cheeks (blush layer), around the lips (lipstick layer) and sometimes up to the ears (this touches on the hairbase layer). Very occasionally (and for some weird reason, since you don’t actually see  any of the beard up there) it may also apply to the brow layer. That’s a lot  of layers to check, but you’ll mostly be dealing with cheeks and lips (aka: blush and lipstick; don’t come over all macho on me now!)

Open up the Beard HUD and go into the third tab. Click around in that lower section until you find a beard that you like. Note that they all start off as white, so you can tint them. You can see that I’ve got a lot  of different facial hair appliers saved in the top half of that HUD:

I’m wearing a nice full-face beard here:

Now you need to go back into the Master HUD and that workhorse of a tinting tab. Find the blush icon (it looks like red blush on the cheeks). You did remember to make a note of which layer your beard applied to, right? Click the relevant side of the blush icon and then click the black box, as you did to tint your brows:

That’s all well and good, but here we’re bumping up against a small issue: not all of the beard has tinted. There are white sections lingering around the lips:

This is where we dive back into the tinting tab and check the lips and tint those as well, Make sure you click the relevant side:

Et voila.

Another way to tint your beard (both blush and lip areas in one go) is to click the beard icon (at the bottom left; it looks like faint stubble on a white head) and then click the colour you want to tint it. (This won’t, however, tint any sideburns that go onto the hairbase layer. You’ll need to select the hairbase layer and tint those separately.)

A reminder: For a quick, all-in-one visual guide to this, click here.

Putting it all together

We’ve got a lot of this post under our belts so far, but there’s still a way to go until I’ve covered the basics. Don’t worry if it’s not all sunk in yet. Come back and re-read anything that doesn’t make sense to you, click around on your HUD and see what does what. You can’t break anything, and even if you somehow manage to screw your HUD up by deleting the scripts (or anything like that) you can always just unpack a new version or get a redelivery from the store. For now, though, I’m going to give you an example of putting everything I’ve shown thus far together.

Here’s an example of how I would put together a look comprising the following:

  • a browless skin
  • applier brows
  • a hairbase
  • eyeshadow/liner
  • facial hair

That might seem fairly simple, but look at the names and think about it. That eyeshadow is probably going to compete with the brows for position on my face, for starters.

I’m beginning with a browless skin from Swallow:

To that I’m adding a brow applier by Odeco. I’m wearing the white version and I’ve tinted it black. I’ve also clicked the Save button on the Brow section of the Master HUD to save the brow there:

Next up, the hairbase (by Stealthic) and beard (by CDC Creations). Both of them white, tinted black (I’m halfway through doing that in the pic below) and both saved to the relevant sections of their HUDs: the hair to the Hairbase tab of the Master HUD, and the beard to the upper section of the Beard HUD:

This is what it all looks like together:

Now I want to add some eyeshadow by Zibska. And… uh-oh…

Yeah, it took off everything. Even the brows, although I’d put those back on by the time I took this screenshot (my bad!) That’s because I’m using an Omega eyeshadow applier – which is a cross-brand applier type that works by using a relay HUD – and it applied to the ‘whole head’ area.

How to fix this so I can wear the eyeshadow without losing my hair, brows, and beard? Well that’s the fiddly bit. Remember what I said earlier about how all appliers default to the lower layer? What we have to do is leave that eyeshadow where it is. It’s clearly using most of the lower head layers, so I need to check the upper layer and then re-apply the stuff I saved to the HUDs: the hairbase, the brows, and the facial hair. Beard first:

By clicking the upper beard layer, the beard goes on without removing the makeup. Same with the brows and hairbase. I will have to tint them all over again (because I saved the white versions), so I have to remember to click the right side of the icons (for the upper layer) on the tinting HUD.

And here it is, all done:

Omega appliers

I mentioned Omega appliers briefly in the previous section. Without going into painstaking detail, I’ll summarise thus: Omega is a cross-brand relay for many different mesh body parts. If you have the correct relay for your body and head, you can wear any applier that is sold as an ‘Omega Applier’. For example: Skell is wearing a Catwa head and Slink body, so he needs the Catwa relay and the Slink relay.

Note: the Omega relays work differently, depending on the brand and body part. With Slink, you only need to wear the Omega HUD and click it once, and Omega is installed into the body. This kind of Omega HUD is an installer. With Catwa, you have to wear the Omega HUD every time you want to apply Omega items. That kind of Omega HUD is a relay, which ‘talks’ to the body part in question and sends it the relevant textures.

Omega covers everything from skins to eyes, hairbases to brows, makeup to clothing. Here I’ve changed Skell’s Catwa Daniel rigged mesh eyes using an Omega applier from Avi-Glam. Note the purple Omega relay half-hiding behind my various windows:

Omega relays can be purchased on SL Marketplace, or at the Omega Solutions store inworld. They cost L$99 per item.

Basic Troubleshooting

One of the main issues some guys have with Catwa heads and mesh bodies is matching the neck. Be aware that it’s not possible to get a 100% perfect, seamless match. We’re talking about two different products by two different designers, after all. But there are ways to mitigate certain issues that tend to crop up. I’ll list a few problems that I occasionally see being queried in the Catwa support group, and detail the fixes that are usually suggested for them.

A small, but visible gap (ie: you can see daylight through it) at the neck line (happens most often with the Signature body)

Tips to fix this include:

  • Make sure you’re only wearing one  all-in-one alpha layer (the full body one from the Catwa head pack) and not the Signature body alpha and  Catwa head alpha.

A huge (as in several inches) gap between your head and shoulders

  • If you’re wearing any mesh body other than Niramyth (AKA: Aesthetic), make sure you wear the [SL neck] version of your Catwa head. The version that’s labelled as [Niramyth] is ONLY to be worn with Niramyth Aesthetic bodies.

Light or dark bands around your neck (happens with any body)

Tips to fix this include:

  • Make sure you’re wearing head and body appliers in the same skintone by the same designer. Don’t mix skin designers or skintones. (The exception to this would be if a store only sells head appliers and tells you that their head appliers match to body appliers from another store.)
  • Visit the skin store and get a redelivery of your body appliers. Skin designers sometimes update their body textures, and if you’ve bought a newer head applier but you’re still wearing the older body applier they probably won’t match.
  • Turn off the neck fixes on both body and head HUDs, and if you still need a neck fix, only use the Catwa one, and re-apply your head applier after enabling it.

Appliers look very faint or pale

  • Check your blend sliders. For an applier (such as brows or hairbase) to show up fully, the blend slider needs to be all the way over to the left. If it’s already to the left, slide it to the right and then back to the left (sometimes this ‘jolts’ an applier into working again). Remember to check the sliders on both upper and lower layers.

Eyes poking out through your lower or upper lids

  • Make sure your shape’s eye depth is set to 50 and this problem will go away. Also, wearing the rigged eyes for your Catwa Bento head is preferable to wearing non-rigged eyes, since the rigged ones sit at the correct depth.

Area surrounding eyes is all-white and untextured

Face is stuck in an animation

  • Right-click your avatar and select Appearance > Reset > Skeleton. You might also want to click Appearance > Reset > Skeleton & Animations, too.

Glossy shine on your face

If you look like you’ve just faceplanted into a vat of oil…

…this is what you click on the Master HUD to get rid of the shine:

Visible seams at the sides or back of your neck (happens with any body)

Seeing this when you wear your body and head?

Apart from checking the above fixes for neck issues, this could simply be down to the Windlight setting that you’re using. As I mentioned before, you’re never going to get a 100% perfect match, but by going through different Windlight settings you can limit those lines on your viewer. (Note that changing your Windlight settings won’t affect how others see you.)

Suggested Windlight settings for softening those lines are in the image below. My preferred one is in the Firestorm viewer, and it’s [NB] Alpine Skinlight RGB.

For all other troubleshooting regarding Catwa mesh heads, join the (free-to-join) Catwa Head Friends group and ask your question there. They’re an incredibly helpful bunch of people and will try to get your issue sorted out as soon as possible.

Useful Videos

The Animations HUD

All of Catwa’s Bento heads have recently updated to v3.0 v3.2 with motion capture animations, and they look incredible. I showed you earlier how to disable the full face AO if you found it distracting while you worked on practicing with your Catwa head, but now it’s time to get those animations back up and running again. Some of it is self-explanatory, and you’ll have more fun discovering what each section does through clicking and playing around with it than you will if I tell you everything about it, so I’m only going to show you a couple of bits:

Before we go into numbered detail, the four Full Face AO icons that I have switched on (the bottom row, surrounded by thick black lines) are nice, neutral ones that are great to keep on all the time. These add just a bit of natural animation to your lips, brows, and eyes.

1 is the eye poser, which is really useful for taking posed shots, especially in combination with the full face AO.

2 is the ‘broken neck’ icon. When you see the lines beside it, it’s enabled, and it will allow your neck to move fully with the animations. This makes a hell of a difference, turning this –

into this –

3 is the button to stop all of the full face AO animations (as shown earlier).

Aaaand 4? That’s the button that will make all the ladies (and gents, depending on your—and/or their—orientation) fall into a heap at your feet ;-)

Note: If you have static lips and/or eyes set, they will override the full-face AO, so if your face AO doesn’t seem to be working, check that you don’t have dark circles around any of the static eyes and lips.


Saving the best for last, of course. In the Catwa store you’ll find several great free HUDs that will help you save those precious looks once you’ve put them together. These are all group gifts, so you’ll need to be a member of either the Catwa group or Catwa Head Friends, then wear your group tag and click the relevant small box for the group you’re in.

If you’re someone who changes his looks as often as I do, the Bento presets HUD will be a godsend. Get everything applied to all the right layers, and hit ‘Save’ on a new button on this HUD. The button will flash red and green for a moment and an image will appear above it. Once the icon has stopped flashing you can remove the HUD. Whenever you want to re-wear a saved look, just click its button on that HUD and, after a few seconds, everything will apply just as it was when you originally saved it.

As the HUD states, it’s heavily scripted, so use it in a low-lag region and remove it when you’re done.

What I do with this HUD is save one per outfit (that rules out having to remember what goes where, after all). Once I’ve set up my outfit with all appliers on my face, I click the top left circular arrow and wait for it to stop flashing. Then I minimise the HUD and remove it. I save the outfit, then copy the HUD from my inventory and paste it (as a full HUD, not as a link) into the outfit folder.

The next fantastic item (and this one really is great, especially if—like me—you have a lot of appliers) is the set of Extra Save Slot HUDs.

Another gift from Catwa, you’ll find these in the same area as the other freebies. Inside the folder you’ll find extra copiable save slot HUDs for the following:

  • beard
  • blush
  • brows
  • brows with eyeshadow
  • ear tattoos
  • eyeshadow on its own
  • hairbase
  • hairbase with blush (this one’s fantastic for saving those hairbases that go on both of those sections)
  • lipsticks
  • neck tattoo
  • lashes

The other free little bit of awesome in the Catwa store is the Skins HUD. This contains four tabs, the first of which is partially filled with female skins (you can overwrite these if you want; the HUD itself is unisex) and three blank tabs. Here you can save all of your applier skins, both Catwa and Omega, for ease of re-applying:

Well them’s the basics. I did warn you it was long, but you’re armed and ready to go out there and look fucking awesome now. Slay ’em, dude ;-)

Noob Dude: A Style 101 for the Second Life Male Avatar – Part 1 – The Absolute Basics of the System Avatar

OK, that title is one hell of a mouthful, not to mention a pain in the arse  to type, but needs must when it comes to search terms and all that.

Welcome, newbies and oldbies alike, to this first in a ‘Style 101’ series for the Second Life male avatar. Whether you’re freshly-rezzed and brand spanking new to the grid, or you’re a grizzled old SL fart looking to upgrade his system avatar to the bewildering array of mesh heads and bodies, I hope to cover your pixel arse (in a manly fashion, of course) with these posts.

As a resident of SL for the past twelve years (and a dedicated fashion whore for about ten of them) I’ll be guiding you through the minefield of putting together a great-looking male avatar. I’ll try to do it on a budget as much as possible, but I’ll be honest upfront: you will  probably need to invest a bit of real life cash into this (you’ll definitely  need to, if you’re upgrading to mesh) so be aware of that.

We’re going to begin, though—as all tutorials should—at the very beginning. I’ll be explaining the system avatar: what it comprises, how to work with it, how to get into edit mode so you can change it, and what the relevant terms and meanings are.

The Second Life starter avatars have gone through several iterations since I joined up back in 2007. If you’re new around here, you’ll probably be wearing one of the great new starter avatars that have been available for the past couple of years. The most recent ones were released just a month or so ago, and they’re fantasy-themed. From left (2007) to right (2017), here are some examples of how the male starter avatars have changed over the years:

And you see the stylish bloke in the blog’s background image on the right there? Here he is on the second day of his SL existence, way back on June 25th 2007:

*shudder* Yeah, being someone who loves black, I picked the Male Goth avatar. The day I figured out the viewer’s camera controls and finally saw my face, I shrieked  and went shopping. You kids don’t know how lucky you’ve got it these days ;-)

The System (or Classic) Avatar

What you’re seeing in the first two pics of that composite image up there is what we call the system avatar. You might also see it referred to in SL as the classic avatar. It’s the basic, underneath-it-all avatar that we all have. It comprises four parts that cannot be removed, which are:

  • shape
  • skin
  • eyes
  • hair

Without any one of those four items your avatar won’t rez, which is the term we use for something appearing inworld. You would just appear as a swirling white cloud, or maybe a white egg-shaped blob, depending on which viewer you’re using to access SL.

Here’s what the inventory icons look like in the official viewer:

And what they look like in the Firestorm viewer:

I mentioned that those parts can’t be removed, but they can  be changed. You can only change them by replacing them with a different version of the same thing. Want to change your skin? Wear a different skin. Want brown eyes instead of the blue ones you’re wearing? Wear a new set of (brown) eyes. And so forth.

Let’s break it down a bit more. I’ll be using ‘LL’ to denote the official Second Life viewer by Linden Lab, and ‘FS’ to denote the third party Firestorm viewer, since the menus are slightly different in each.


The Second Life shape is a series of numbers that give form to your avatar. You can access your shape settings by right-clicking on your avatar and selecting Edit My Shape (LL) or Edit Shape (FS viewer in default menu mode) or Appearance > Edit Shape (FS in pie menu mode).

Once in the Shape menu, you’ll see a bunch of different tabs for body parts such as torso and legs, as well as other tabs for individual facial features such as your eyes and nose. In each of these tabs you’ll find finer gradations, or individual settings. For example: under the Nose tab you’ll see options for size, width, nostril width, nostril division, and several more, each with their own slider.

You can make your own shape or buy one that has been created by another SL resident. If you’re buying from someone else, always make sure you look for a shape that states it’s Copy/Mod (can be copied and modified). To wear a new shape, right-click it in your inventory and select ‘wear’.

You can ‘demo’ shapes, too (that is: you can pick up a free copy of the shape to try out). However, demo shapes will always be distorted in some way so that you can’t just wear them and never buy the full version. Usually they will have enormous hands, or—in the case of a shape created specifically to be worn with mesh heads—they may have matchstick-thin arms and/or legs.

The Shape settings are also where you can change your avatar’s gender.


Having a shape is all well and good, but without anything to cover it, there ain’t much to see! This is where you need a skin, which is a layer that covers your avatar shape. As you can see from my starter avatar composite image, the original avatar skins were bloody awful. Thankfully, we now have much better ones. A good place to start, if you want to try new skins, is your Inventory’s Library folder, but we’ll get to that in another post. For now, we’re just covering the terminology.

I strongly suggest that you don’t try to make your own skin if you’re brand new to SL. While it’s perfectly possible, it’s not a ‘starter’ thing, so you’re best off buying one that’s been created by another SL resident. There are  a few freebies out there, but be wary of ones that you find in ‘Freebie Warehouses’ as these are usually poor quality ‘photorealistic’ ones, or they might even be stolen content.

All skin-makers offer demos of their skins. These are (usually) free, and show you what the skin will look like, but they will be defaced by the addition of fine contour lines, or the word ‘demo’ (or maybe the creator’s logo) somewhere prominent, such as across your forehead. A demo is only intended for you to see what the skin will look like on your avatar, so you’ll need to purchase the full-priced version of the skin once you’ve found one you’re happy with.

ALWAYS TRY THE DEMO! In fact, try lots of demos. There are hundreds of skin creators in SL, and a skin that I love might be one that you really don’t like. There’s something to suit every taste out there, so don’t be afraid to take your time trying lots of demos.

Side-note: Classic Avatar skins vs Skin Appliers

In the past few years, add-on mesh heads and bodies have become very popular in SL. If you haven’t specifically purchased a mesh head and/or body, you need to make sure you only demo and purchase skins that are created for system/classic avatars. The ad image should include either the words ‘for classic avatars’ or should show this icon:

If you see the word ‘applier’ or ‘installer’ on the ad (or what look like different logo images) then that skin is probably not for you, unless it also shows the above ‘classic avatars’ logo. As before, always  try a demo.


Well, those are pretty obvious, I guess. System eyes will change the look of your, well… eyes. To wear a new set of eyes, right-click them in your inventory and select ‘wear’.


Hooboy. Now the terminology gets a bit complicated. And we’re still only in the four things that can’t be taken off!

The hair that I mean here is this ugly stuff, shown on ‘Roth’ – the basic noob male avatar from 2007:

Crap on a cracker, that shit is horrible. But that’s the system hair, which—no matter what avatar you’re wearing—you have underneath it all. So why is it complicated?


That hair can be known as any variant of the following:

  • hairbase
  • brow-shaper
  • brows
  • bald base

Like your shape, this hair can be edited via sliders. It’s now obsolete and nobody uses it for its original intent of actual hair, because… well look at it! O.o However, it will show through any additional hair that you’re wearing if you don’t have your system hair sliders set a specific way, which is why you’ll sometimes see the hair referred to as a ‘bald base’. That specific setting is literally to get rid of the fugly system hair.

However, among the slider settings for system hair you’ll also find sliders to shape your eyebrows, which is why you’ll also see this referred to as a ‘brow-shaper’ or simply just ‘brows’. In fact, that’s the main use for it these days.


A hairbase (the first bit of terminology in that list) can also refer to something different: a tattoo layer (or an applier for a mesh head) that puts hair textures onto your avatar’s head, which go underneath add-on hair to give a more realistic and natural effect, or to cover any patches where your bald head might poke through.

On the left is a tattoo hairbase, worn with prim/sculpt-mix hair on a system head, and on the right is an applier hairbase worn with mesh hair on a mesh head. (More on the types of hair in later posts.)

In short: context is everything. If your avatar isn’t rezzing and someone tells you to change your hairbase, they mean this system hair. If they’re telling you where to find great hairbases for your avatar, they mean either the tattoo or applier type.

OK, we’re done with the four basics. What’s next?

Clothing Layers

These are pretty self-explanatory, in terms of what they are: undershirt, underpants, shirt, pants, jacket, socks, gloves, skirt.

We’ll get to the shoes in a minute, because yeah… that’s another hairbase-type thing.

Here are the icons in the official Linden Lab viewer:

And in the Firestorm viewer:

As you would expect, these can be layered, and they work just as they do in real life. Tattoos are the bottom layer, on top of your skin. Underpants and undershirt will go over the top of tattoos. Shirt and pants will go over the top of the underwear layers. And the jacket will go over the top of the shirt. Socks and gloves are self-explanatory, and the system skirt is something that—assuming you don’t fancy doing drag inworld—you will only encounter in the form of a base for jackets. However this is now obsolete and rarely in use.

Unlike your shape, skin, eyes, and system hair, you can wear more than one of each clothing layer, to a combined total of 60 layers. Be aware that—on their own—clothing layers are now considered old and dated. However, you’ll often still find them paired with sculpted additions such as cuffs and collars for shirts, to give them more of a 3D look.

A few useful tips concerning clothing layers

1. Underpants layers (which, yes, aren’t only for underwear but can also be used for jeans etc) will always be skintight, making them ideal for tucking into tall boots. Pants can be edited to have more of a flared leg. However, this looks pretty bad on its own, so you’ll often find sculpted ‘leg cuffs’ included with older clothing layer pants. These are intended to be worn with the layers, to give the effect of more realistic pants bottoms. Here’s an example:

The sculpted cuffs are far from perfect (you can see the joins halfway up the leg) but they’re infinitely preferable to the system cuffs.

2. You can edit variables of your system clothing layers, such as sleeve or pant leg length (turning jeans into cutoff shorts, for example). Right-click your avatar and (assuming you’re wearing the clothing you want to edit) look for the option to edit your clothing. You can also right-click worn clothing layer items in your inventory, and select ‘edit’ from there. As with your shape, you’ll find various sliders to play around with.

3. Tattoo layers aren’t just for body tattoos. They are also used for texture hairbases (as shown earlier in this post), facial hair, makeup, and other facial details such as scars and freckles.

4. Gloves and socks can also be used for nail polish, although—given the awful paddles that are the default SL feet and the mapping of nails on the SL hands—they’re, as before, very  outdated now.


The default SL shoe is another hairbase-like, multi-use thing. Sure, it can be used for the horrible painted-on SL shoe (look at the 2007 avatar in the first composite photo of this post) but its main use now is to shape the foot and give it height (in the case of platforms or heels) for wearing with add-on shoes. Hence the other names it goes by, which are shoe-shaper or foot-shaper. And, if you’re using the classic avatar, you will also need an alpha layer (more on those in a moment) to hide parts of your system feet so they don’t poke through the add-on footwear.

And, finally for this mammoth post, we have the other main wearable items, which are…

Alpha Layers, Objects, and Physics Layers

As before, here are the icons in the official Linden Lab viewer:

And in the Firestorm viewer:

Alpha Layers are special layers that hide specific parts of your classic avatar so that it doesn’t poke out through add-on items, such as sculpt or mesh clothing that you’re wearing.

Physics Layers add a bit of realistic ‘bounce’ to your body when you move. Yes, you too can have a jiggly butt if you so wish ;-)

And finally… Objects. These are a subject in their own right, but this icon could mean a bewildering number of things when you find it in a clothing folder (and it means other things when you find it in other folders). It might be any one of the following:

  • an item of mesh clothing
  • an item (or one of multiple parts) of sculpted clothing or sculpted add-ons for clothing layers
  • an applier for a mesh head or body part
  • an accessory (eg: hat, glasses, etc)
  • footwear
  • mesh, sculpted, or prim eyes
  • mesh, sculpted, or prim hair

… and several other things I’ve probably forgotten. Yeah, it’s a long list, so—as with the hairbases—context is everything. We’ll get to the various types of object once we move into details such as hair and clothing.

So, to sum up this post:

You’ve learned about the basic parts of the system (AKA ‘classic’) avatar. You know how to go into Edit Appearance mode, so you can change your shape and your clothing layers. You understand the basics about the various clothing layers. You also understand that they’re really  bloody dated and not recommended these days, however I believe that it’s good to at least learn about them to give you a good grounding for what’s to come.

And what is  to come? Well we’re not quite into the styling bit yet. The next post will deal with something a lot of SL newbies and oldbies alike struggle with: editing clothing, hair, and accessories so that they fit your avatar better. I’ll be explaining how to edit worn items manually, the difference between types of resize script, plus what can and can’t be edited. I’ll also be covering some basic viewer tips, like familiarising yourself with the Camera Controls, keeping your avatar still while you edit items you’re wearing, and some useful editing tricks that I’ve learned over the years.

Don’t worry if you’re not a newb and all this stuff is old hat to you. I’ll be getting to the stuff about mesh heads and bodies later in the series ;-)

Do, please, let me know if this post has proved useful. I’ll be creating a new page to hold links to the entire Noob Dude series, which you’ll be able to find in the left-hand sidebar of the blog.