DDS (DirectDraw Surface container) is a container format from Microsoft that is popular in game development for storing graphical textures and other pixel-based in-game assets for creating 3D environments in real-time.
As a container format, it can be used to store any kind of information. It can also be used to store photos and Windows desktop backgrounds. There’s the Wikipedia article on it for those of you who want to geek out on the technical details, link at the end.
You can open and save DDS files inside Photoshop, but you’ll need a third-party Photoshop DDS plugin to accomplish this.
There are two main options for the DDS plugin. One requires a manual install and the other comes with an installer. I will cover both in this article. You can install both on your computer if you so choose and while saving you will have two different options respectively. This way, you get the best of both worlds.
Please note that these plugins are only available for Windows users at the moment. If you want to open and save DDS files on a Mac, please go to the end of the article to read about the third option which works for both Windows and Mac but is much older.
I also have included a free, open-source alternative that works on both Mac and Windows and is fully updated to run on current OS versions in both cases.
If you want to know about the various uses for DDS files, check out the NVIDIA page I have linked to in section 2. DDS files are mainly used for storing computer gaming environments and textures for models within the environment. On the page, you will find examples with images that showcase what can be done with DDS.
As a photographer, you can create fantastic gaming environments and textures using your photographs. Depending on your familiarity with the game you are developing these assets for and your skill level, it can become a lucrative source of revenue and even a full-fledged career.
It does have a learning curve though, so it is better to just start with simple modifications to existing DDS-based environments and elements in a game that you enjoy playing.
Now let’s jump right in to learn how to install and use the Photoshop DDS plugin.
1. Intel Texture Works DDS Plugin By GameTechDev via Github
Step 1: Download the zip file from Intel Texture Works via Github, developed by GameTechDev. As a heads up, the link will take you to an unsecured page, but this is the correct page which is directly from Intel. This plugin was developed independently and has been vetted by a lot of users. It lacks DXT5 compression, so if you want that, go to the next section.
Step 2: Make sure you quit photoshop before proceeding.
Step 3: Go into the zip archive and open the plugins folder. Choose Win32 if you are on a 32bit system or x64 if you are on a 64bit system. You can find out which one you are on by going to Settings > About (Windows 10), look at the operating system information.
Step 4: Open a new explorer window and navigate to your photoshop plugins folder. This can usually be found under Program files > Adobe > Photoshop > Plugins (the exact path may be slightly different based on your system configuration and Photoshop version).
Step 5: Now just drag the plugin file from the other window into the Photoshop Plugins folder. You will need to have administrator access to do this. This completes the installation of the Photoshop DDS plugin.
Step 6: There is one more step to be completed before you can start using the DDS Plugin. In the Photoshop window, go back to the main photoshop folder and navigate to Presets > Scripts.
Step 7: On the other window, go up one level and open the Photoshopscripts folder. There are two files here.
Step 8: Drag these two files into the other window where the Scripts folder is open. This will install the associated scripts inside Photoshop.
Step 9: You can now open and save DDS files in Photoshop.
Open and save files as you would with any other file types inside Photoshop. When saving, use Save as and select the ‘intel Texture Works’ option from the Type drop-down menu. This plugin works Windows 7 onwards and Photoshop CS6 through CC 2015 (officially), and I can confirm that it works on CC 2020.
2. NVIDIA DDS Exporter Plugin for Photoshop
Step 1: Download the NVIDIA Plugin from the NVIDIA website. Please note that this is a developer tool so you will have to sign up for a developer account with NVIDIA before it will allow you to download the file. The good news is that it is a free account and you can choose to not receive their emails and updates during the sign-up process. If you click on the download option first and then follow the prompts to complete sign-up, then after signing up you will be taken to your dashboard and the option to download the installer will be displayed on top of the page. Otherwise, you can navigate back to the link and download it from there. You can also use the search function on the NVIDIA website to look it up.
Step 2: Once you have downloaded the .exe installer file, it is time to quit Photoshop before starting the installation process.
Step 3: Launch the installer and select the correct location for your Photoshop installation. If it is in the default location in C:/program files/Adobe… then the installer will automatically detect it. If it is not detected, it will throw up an error right at the beginning. You can then proceed to choose the correct location on your system in the installer window.
Step 4: Allow the installer to finish. Once it is done, quit it and launch Photoshop. You can now open and export DDS files. You can access the exporter by selecting save as and selecting the DDS file type. Then clicking on save will launch a small dialogue box where you can specify the settings for your DDS file.
That is about it for the NVIDIA Plugin. It is very straightforward to save an image as a DDS file. And opening a DDS file is as simple as opening any other supported file type inside Photoshop.
There is also a third option developed by another independent developer. You can find it here – http://fnordware.blogspot.com/2014/09/dds-plug-in-for-after-effects-and.html – the installation process is the same as the Intel one. Here there is only one folder with 32bit and 64bit options for the plugin file. Just drag the correct version to the plugins sub-folder inside your main Photoshop installation folder.
This is an older plugin, last updated in 2018.
However, it seems to work up until CC 2019 and it is the only DDS plugin I found that has an option for Mac. So if you are a Mac user with an older version of Photoshop, you are in luck.
Alternatively, you can try out the open-source free Photoshop alternative called GIMP. It works on the latest macOS and has a supported DDS plugin that you can install. This is also true for Windows users in case you want to explore a free alternative to Photoshop.
That’s all about the Photoshop DDS plugin and how to use it. If you are planning to use your own DDS files inside games, do share some screenshots in the comments below. As always, I welcome your questions and promise to answer them all to the best of my abilities. Connect with me on Instagram or just post a comment below.