PowerSDR Skins Tutorial - W1AEX

Important Copyright Information - Please read before beginning

Before you begin, it's very important to understand that PowerSDR contains some components which are recognized as open source, and other components such as the provided skins, which are expressly listed as copyright protected material at the bottom of the Flex EULA. (Reference SECTION B:
FLEXRADIO SYSTEMS TRADEMARK AND COPYRIGHT NOTICES) Therefore, it would be very unwise to take components from the copyright protected graphics files in the skins provided by Flex, modify them, call them your own, and then distribute them. To avoid this issue, I used Adobe Photoshop to create all the required console graphics files from scratch. This includes the console panel files, the ON and OFF states of each button, and the background slides for the adjustable components on the front panel of the user interface. This was a fairly tedious task, as there are around 400 individual graphic files involved, but what the heck, you can have my custom file templates for nothing! To be honest, there are not that many different shapes required, and PowerSDR is very forgiving and will compress or stretch whatever graphic you provide to fit the space assigned to a particular file. Rest assured that all the buttons, sliders, and console pieces in the template packs will work fine! So, to be perfectly clear, you should NOT modify any skin files provided by Flex! You absolutely DO have my permission to use or modify anything I have created here and I don't care what you do with it.

1. Making the Console Panels

To create your own graphics for PowerSDR, you will need software that is capable of manipulating PNG files. I use an old version of Adobe Photoshop (version 6.0) but there are many other programs that can do the basic tasks that are necessary for this project. If you have a digital camera, it's very likely that it came with graphics editing software that might have the ability to work with the PNG format. There are 3 different types of components found within the Console folder of each PowerSDR skin. Those components include 10 Console "panels" that form the background of the GUI, hundreds of "buttons" that toggle functions ON and OFF, and 15 "sliders" for adjusting levels of various parameters in the PowerSDR interface. The easiest of the three components to work with is the collection of 10 Console panels that give PowerSDR its most visible characteristics. The panels actually have the greatest impact on the appearance of a skin, so it makes sense to start with them. To edit these files, download the W1AEX_console_templates.zip file, unzip it, and open up all 10 of the template files in your graphics program. The console templates pack contains console panels that are used in the W1AEX AL82 skin pack. The picture below shows the color, relative size, and the shape of each panel.

console panels

The easiest way to create a new look is to import colors of your choosing into the panels and then copy them into one of the skins you downloaded from here. When you restart PowerSDR and select that skin, you'll end up with something that looks entirely different. If you want to get really creative, as an alternative, you can use your digital camera to grab a color or a texture that you would like, and simply cut and paste those into the panels.
The screenshot below shows a black wrinkle version of PowerSDR that was made by taking a photo of the rack that houses one of my vintage transmitters and then pasting the black wrinkle texture into the ten panels that form the console. I did apply some Photoshop filters on these textures to even them out, but it actually looked pretty good with the raw photo textures. When loaded into PowerSDR, the "panelModeSpecific" parts of the console do not expand as much as the main Console.png or the picDisplay.png file. This will cause textured graphics to not appear uniform when they are displayed in PowerSDR, so to compensate, I used a Console.png file that was 1024x600 so that PowerSDR would not need to expand it to fill the minimum screen size and simply made the picDisplay.png file that forms the background of the Panadapter display dark black. If you want to see what a texture skin like this one looks like at your own station, create a new folder named Wrinkle inside the PowerSDR Skins folder, create a Console sub folder, then download the W1AEX_black_wrinkle.zip file (1.3 mb in size) and unzip it into the Console subfolder. When you restart PowerSDR you will see "Wrinkle" as an option in the Skins selection window of PowerSDR and when you select it, your PowerSDR interface will match my old vintage equipment rack like the picture below. The possiblities are endless and limited only by your imagination. Keep in mind that PowerSDR is very forgiving with the panel sizes and will take just about everything you throw in there and make it work, as long as the file name is correct!


2. Making the Control Buttons

Once you have mastered manipulating the Console panel files, you might want to take a shot at designing your own buttons and sliders. Creating your own custom button set is a fairly large task as each button requires an ON and an OFF graphic as well as an RX1 and RX2 version for each function! Fortunately, one size is used for most of the buttons, and PowerSDR simply overlays the text onto whatever background you provide. The picture below shows the different types of shapes you will encounter if you decide to give this a shot. The two buttons at the top that are enlarged are used for almost all of the functions in PowerSDR. The enlarged orange bar on the right is actually the LED that is added as a layer to a plain black button to create the ON state when you press a button. The black notches in the corners soften the shape of the illuminated LED and add a little realism to the appearance of the front panel of PowerSDR. The buttons on the left with lettering on them are "special" in that PowerSDR does not overlay text onto them. I did my best to try to match the font in PowerSDR but from the screenshots on this page you can probably see that they are just a bit "off" and that I need to keep working on them! When you press the REC button in PowerSDR it brightly lights up like the REC image next to the OFF state button. The elongated buttons are used for the MultiRX function and also in the FM panel for the CTCSS, VAC, and MEMORY buttons. The little square buttons at the lower left are used for the RIT and XIT buttons. I found that it was helpful to have those two buttons announce themselves brightly when they were ON to prevent me from operating with them engaged by mistake. You are welcome to use any of my button sets as forms to create your own set of buttons. The picture below shows parts of the simple set of orange buttons that appear in the Kenwood TS-590 skin that is available for download.


The next picture shows the two first sets of buttons that I created for my skins. The orange button set at the bottom was created by hand in Photoshop. The bright button set at the top was created by taking a photograph of the bright "Charge" light on my office desk phone and then using that to create the lighting effect for each button when it is switched on. I really like the effect it gives on the retro skins such as the Black Wrinkle, National, and Collins skins. You can switch to any button pack with any skin simply by unzipping the desired button pack into any existing skin and allowing it to overwrite the existing buttons. I finally got around to writing up a batch file that allows me to make a small number of "base" files and then executing the batch file creates the whole set of +300 button graphic files. That makes life much simpler! There are five different button packs available for download by clicking the link under each small sample picture down below.

button packs

Note: These button packs are compatible with all the free skin packs on the download page.

Download W1AEX Bright Button Pack

Download W1AEX Orange Button Pack

Download W1AEX High Visual Button Pack

Download W1AEX SmartSDR 1 Button Pack

Download W1AEX SmartSDR 2 Button Pack

Download W1AEX SINCGARS Military Button Pack

3. Making the Variable Control Sliders

The last component to play around with is the graphic set that forms the sliders for the variable adjustments in the user interface of PowerSDR. Each slider has a "slide back" which is the slot that the virtual control moves in, and a "slide head" which is the little button that is moved to set the value of the slide control. I started out by making the simple flat slider set below. I have found that I prefer darker colored consoles that make PowerSDR's white over-lay text stand out clearly. That's the text that PowerSDR writes on the console panels to display your Mic gain, Drive level, and other such information that is variable. The simple, flat-looking dark slider below seemed to blend in quite well with my early attempts at making custom skins. You can download a set of these by clicking on the link above the picture.

Simple W1AEX Dark Slider


If you decide to experiment with lighter colored console panels, you will most likely find that the dark sliders stand out too much. To avoid this distracting contrast, I created a light set of sliders to use with console panels that are lighter in color. Again, my first attempt at these was not too exciting and was made using simple, flat graphics as seen in the picture below. Feel free to grab this set by clicking the link above the graphic if you would like to mess around with them.

Simple W1AEX Light Slider

light slider

It wasn't long before I experimented with the "Airbrush Tool" in Photoshop and found that it wasn't very difficult to make sliders that had a three-dimensional and recessed look. After playing around with this for a while, I settled on making a dark, medium, and light set of sliders to allow blending with a wider variety of console colors. If you look at the three "Mesh Skins" on the download page you can see pictures of what each slider set looks like when installed with consoles where they are most appropriate. The picture below shows the various graphic pieces that are created and assembled in layers to create the sliders. If you would like to use them, feel free to download the three gradient slider packs at the links below the picture. To install a slider pack into an existing skin, simply unzip it into the Console directory for that skin and let the slider graphics files overwrite the ones you are replacing. When you restart PowerSDR they will appear when that skin is selected.

custom slider construction

W1AEX Light Gradient Slider Pack

light gradient

W1AEX Medium Gradient Slider Pack

medium gradient

W1AEX Dark Gradient Slider Pack

dark gradient

I received an email with a suggestion that the sliders might look better if the slots were made less obvious. After giving it some thought, I have to agree that they might be much thicker than necessary. The three gradient packs below are identical to the gradient packs above, except that the slots are about half as wide. It you like how they look, simply download and unzip them into the console directory of an installed skin, and allow them to overwrite the existing slider files. I have installed them in several different skins, and I think I'm beginning to like the narrower slots better. The two "Metallic" skins pictured in the download list will give you an idea of how they look. At any rate, you can choose what you like and go with it! As always, if you have suggestions or ideas for enhancements, feel free to contact me at the email address that appears at the top and bottom of the page.

W1AEX Narrow Light Gradient Slider Pack


W1AEX Narrow Medium Gradient Slider Pack


W1AEX Narrow Dark Gradient Slider Pack


SUMMARY: That's pretty much all you need to know to give your PowerSDR interface a custom look. The short story is that if you combine 10 console panels with a button pack and a slider pack, you will have a complete skin. That's all there is to it. Hopefully, you will come up with something great to share with the entire Flex community. If I come up with anything that looks decent I'll stick additional file packs and screenshots in the section below. Feel free to share anything you make with my graphics packs, but remember that the original graphics files in PowerSDR should not be distributed without permission from Flex or the individuals who created them. Have fun! 

Rob - W1AEX

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