How To: Leave Your Mark in Left 4 Dead


In our opinion, no artistic medium offers a better opportunity to express a PC gamer’s individuality and inappropriate sense of humor like a personal decal “spray” projected on your enemy’s spawn room wall during a multiplayer match. While Valve has made it a mostly painless process to import spray images into their Source engine-based games, the difficulty still lies in creating an original image you can be proud to vandalize next to an enemies corpse. And since no game offers more opportunities to grief friends and enemies than Left 4 Dead, we’re going to show you a flawless technique for creating your own ‘writing on the wall’, pun absolutely intended.

What you need:

- Photo editing software, GIMP
- VTFEdit
- Handwriting-styled Fonts
- WinRAR
Free Trial,
- Left 4 Dead (though the guide works with any Source Engine game)

Time: 1.5 hours

1. Set up Your Template

You’ll need image editing software such as Photoshop or Paintshop, though less expensive (and free) alternatives such as Gimp are available that offer the same tools required for this job. For user convenience this tutorial will use Gimp, though it is important to note most modern editing programs consist of similar tools, options and terminology, so don’t worry about specificity of tools. Other programs will follow the same guidelines.

After opening Gimp, select File > New, which will bring up the New Image dialog box. All sprays have a resolution of 256x256 pixels, which you should input into the Height and Width boxes (make sure the units are set to pixels). Now in the Fill Width box, make sure you set it to Transparency. This will make the background invisible, so when you use a spray in-game you will only see the graffiti, and not a white square box. After pressing OK, you are now ready to start working on your blank image!

2. Customize GIMP

Next, let’s customize the interface to make designing our spray a little easier. Select File > Dialogs > Tool Options. This opens the Tool Options dialog box, which will change in context with the tools you select. If you would prefer to dock it with your tool selections, click the area of the Tool Options menu that says Text (if the Font Tool is selected) and drag it under the tools on the main Gimp window where it says “ You can drop dockable dialogs here” . Also, open the Layers dialog box through File > Dialogs > Layers, which can be docked the same way.

3. Choose Your Graffiti Style

At this point you have a few options for designing the look of your graffiti. We recommend visiting or another website that provides free-to-use user made fonts. There, you can find some great styles in the Handwriting category under Script (it is important to note each artist has conditions for using their font, usually found in a Readme file bundled with the font download). Once you’ve chosen a font, download and install it. Open My Computer > Control Panel > Fonts, then drag-and-drop the font (extracted from the .rar file using WinRAR) into the Font folder to install it. Remember the font’s name so you can easily find it for the next step!

4. Start Writing

Now we can start writing. Once you’ve decided what you want your Spray to say (be snarky for extra lulz), select the Font Tool and left-click anywhere on your Canvas. In the GIMP Text Editor, type the text you want on your Spray. You can change your font and text size in the Tool Options window, as well as the color. We recommend darker colors, since they will look more like static markers on in-game wall textures. If you have multiple blocks of text you’d like to write, simply click elsewhere on the Canvas and a new Text Box will be made as a separate layer. Be sure to use a different font for more than one line of dialogue to mimic a conversation between multiple survivors!

5. Apocalypse-ify Your Text

If you are happy with your current product, move on to step six! However, if you want to really make your graffiti fit in with the game’s art style, there are a number of things you can do. Start by moving your text around the Canvas with the Move Tool, and spinning it on an angle with the Rotate Tool, or skewing it to an angle with the Shear Tool. These tools can be used by clicking and dragging your text into your desired positions, and clicking the Rotate or Shear button respectively to reflect the changes. Remember to use the Layers window to select the text you want to modify.

To add a final touch, select the Paintbrush Tool, adjust the tool settings so that the brush uses the same color as the text, and the size accordingly. Draw a few scribbles on your font text, extending some letters and underlining words to make text look unique, as if a person had written it. Play around with the other various Tools GIMP offers and have fun with it!

6. Export and Convert

Now it’s time to export your artwork into a usable game file. Click File > Save As. In the Save Image window, select where you want to save your image (we recommend making a Sprays folder either in My Pictures or in your Left 4 Dead directory), and click the Select File Type text at the bottom of the window. Scroll down and select PNG Image (extension .png), or TarGA (.tga), then name the file in the Name field at the top and click Save. When the Export File window comes up, make sure Merge Visible Layers is selected, and then click Export and Save in the Save as PNG/TarGA window.

Install VTFEdit, launch it and click File > Import. Select your PNG or TarGA image form wherever you saved it and click Open. The VTF Options window will pop up, which looks pretty imposing. For the most part you can leave it alone and simply press OK, however I would adjust a few things to be safe, which can be seen in the following screenshot. Select File > Save As, and save it where you like, which will save the image as a VTF file, the format which all Source-based Sprays are saved.

7. Import and Enjoy!

The last step is simple and painless, boot up Left 4 Dead and click Options. Select Multiplayer > Import Spray, find the VTF file you made, click Open and bind your Spray to a keyboard shortcut (T is the default key).

Congratulations, you have your own graffiti Spray to place wherever your trigger-happy hands like!


- Edit > Undo is your best friend. Remember the hotkey Ctrl+Z!
- Save often
- Try and familiarize yourself with GIMP before starting, and customize it to your liking.

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