If you’ve ever purchased clothing or accessories in Second Life you’ve probably run into alphas. But what are they exactly, what are the different types, and which ones should you use? That’s what I’m here to help you with!
What Are Alphas
Before mesh body parts were a thing we used alpha layers to hide sections of our avatars. These layers were (and still are) a type of texture in our inventories that we wear. Once mesh bodies came out they needed ways to hide sections as well. Designers built alphas into the mesh itself to replicate what we were already doing with the alpha layers. These new alphas were (and still are) controlled by HUDs.
You most likely have used at least one of these alpha types before. And if you’ve used both types you probably know that, while handled slightly differently, they are both really similar and easy to use.
If you’ve used mesh bodies over the last few years I bet you’ve seen an alpha section in a hud. It generally shows the body part(s) broken up into little pieces. Clicking on each piece hides that section. Clicking again makes it show again.
Alpha HUDs have a few perks. The visual provided in most of them helps make it really easy to see what you’re hiding and guess what needs to be hidden.
Some popular body parts have script options so clothing and other products can automatically hide those sections when you put them on. This makes it so customers have to do literally nothing but put the clothing piece on and the body parts are hidden. Of course if the sim you’re in is laggy it may not work as expected, but it’s still a convenient option to have.
Asymmetric alphas are a really great thing about Alpha HUDs as well. The default texture system Second Life uses currently applies the same texture to both arms/hands and both legs/feet. This results in mirror textures. Alpha HUDs are designed by their creators, so they can bypass this restriction.
Alpha HUDs do have some downsides though. Mesh bodies are limited to whichever alpha cuts are in the HUD. This means that if a designer wants to make something that has to hide one part of an alpha cut yet leave the other showing it just wouldn’t work. Instead they need to design their products around the sections that are already in the HUD.
Complexity is also a huge negative for the Alpha HUD. While that can be a whole post itself (and probably will be in the future) I’ll be keeping it pretty basic here. Complexity measures how difficult it is to draw/display your avatar. Higher complexity causes lag, and can prevent other residents from seeing you. Mesh bodies that use an Alpha HUD are by default higher complexity due to the various factors Alpha HUDs require to work.
Another pesky con is the simple fact that Alpha HUDs require scripts to work. If you’re in an area that doesn’t allow scripts to run you may not be able to use your alphas. This can result in some embarrassing outfit swaps or having to leave and come back if you need to change.
Getting Alpha HUDs
For products that use Alpha HUDs the HUD will generally come with your purchase. If it doesn’t you’ll want to read any notecards that came with your product or contact the product’s creator.
Some newer BOM (Bakes On Mesh) bodies are completely forgoing the Alpha HUD and instead just using Alpha Layers. BOM uses system layers, merging all the worn ones together into one texture. At any time, you can wear up to 60 layers/textures at once. Alpha Layers are counted toward this total.
This may seem confusing to people who are used to HUDs, but for many who used alphas before mesh it feels like a return to easier times. Using them is simple; you just find the alpha in your inventory and wear it.
Alpha Layers are right there in your inventory. If you save outfits to easily swap between them you can also save the Alpha Layers as part of the outfit. This prevents any accidental clipping of your body through your clothing after you change.
Since Alpha Layers aren’t limited to what the mesh body allows they can literally be tailored to any style. If you need to hide parts of your body to wear an outfit made of random ribbons you can. If you want to have a heart shaped alpha over your privates that’s possible too. You can even make your own alpha layers if you’d like!
The difference in complexity is another perk of alpha layers. Since they don’t require the hidden sections to be designed into the body itself, you’ll find a body without an Alpha HUD is able to have a much much lower complexity. Lower complexity means less lag and more people will be able to see you in all your glory.
At this point in time, asymmetry using only alpha layers is not possible due to how Second Life’s textures work. With that said, I really do think this is something Linden Lab may fix in the future. BOM was introduced as a way to more efficiently render textures and give us more customizability. it seems only natural that they’d add a feature like asymmetric textures to go with it.
Getting Alpha Layers
Alpha Layers come from a variety of places. Many designers will include a perfect alpha layer with their product. Some BOM bodies come with Alpha Layers, but that doesn’t mean they’ll fit all the outfits available. Keep in mind that with Alpha Layers clothing designs aren’t limited by your body. If you find yourself needing alphas you can either grab some third party layers or make your own.
Third party options are all over the Marketplace. I personally use Alpha 911 as they have so many options. The only downside I’ve found with them is while unpacking each unpacker HUD plays the Patrick WEEWOO sound. It’s silly and cute the first time, but gets a bit tiring after a few. It’s a very minor complaint though, and after they’re unpacked you never have to run into it again.
If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for making your own alpha is definitely an option too! I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so instead I’ll share with you this video tutorial made by Siddean Munro of Slink. It goes in depth on how to create an alpha layer in GIMP, which is a free editing program. While the video focuses on Slink’s Redux bodies, the Alpha creation is applicable to other BOM bodies such as INITHIUM Kupra or Rebirth Eden.
HUDs vs Layers
While Alpha HUDs and Alpha Layers are different methods to achieve the same thing, some people may find one more suited to their needs. This comparison chart is to help you see which you may prefer, and in turn what type of body parts you may be interested in purchasing.
I do want to point out that when Alpha HUDs came out, it took some time for the community to fully accept them. As more bodies are introduced without Alpha HUDs and Alpha Layers shift back into the spotlight it will take time before those who were born into Alpha HUDs fully accept Alpha Layers.
|Alpha HUDs||Alpha Layers|
|Require equipping and using a HUD.||Only require equipping the layer(s).|
|Limited to preset alpha cuts.||Can be custom made or purchased for any product.|
|Allows for asymmetric alphas.||Does not have asymmetric options at this time.|
|You interact with the visual to easily see which section you’re hiding.||Visuals aren’t always included, and if they are it’s a seperate texture to open or a link.|
|Higher complexity (can be laggy and hide you from other people).||Lower complexity (Less risk of lag and you’re more likely to be seen by everyone).|
|Cannot be saved in preset Outfits unless the clothing has it scripted in. *Scripted clothing may still need to be manually adjusted when using Outfits.||Can be added to preset Outfits for easy swapping. These alphas are easily added and removed whenever you change.|
|Can support clothing with scripts to toggle alpha sections.||Requires the alpha layer to be worn in addition to the clothing.|