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MeshTool Manual

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About MeshTool

This document contains instructions and release notes for MeshTool, included with the scenery tools download (available here for Mac and here for Windows).

Version History

Version 1.1 Changes


MeshTool < script file > < climate file > < DEM file > < dump directory > < output file >

MeshTool converts a polygon script, climate digest and DEM folder into a base DSF mesh. It supports customizing coastlines via vector polygon data, burning in airports, and adding custom orthophotos.

Important: MeshTool must be run with the current directory set to the directory that contains the project files and config folders!

DEM File Format

MeshTool can accept three DEM formats:

In all cases, DEMs used for MeshTool have some requirements, no matter what format is used.

MeshTool will issue an error for a number of common DEM problems. If your DEM is almost aligned to a tile but is slightly off, MeshTool will issue a warning, but not fail. The reason for this is that sometimes the coordinate encoding for GeoTIFF files contains rounding errors. You must ascertain whether there is an alignment problem.

You are responsible for all flattening and conditioning. (For example, you must flatten the area over airports–MeshTool will not do this.)

Script File Format (Polygon File)

The MeshTool script file contains a series of instructions for defining land uses via vector data and overlaying orthophotos. Land use areas are defined by polygon lat/lon coordinates.

X-Plane has four fundamental land-use types (defined by vectors):

When working with terrain, you can use the names terrain_Water, terrain_Natural, and terrain_Airport for water, natural, and airport land-use, respectively. When using terrain_Natural and terrain_Airport, MeshTool will pick the appropriate actual X‑Plane land classes for your climate, e.g. your airport will look dry in an area with low rainfall or lush and green in a tropical wet area.

You can also use specific X‑Plane default terrain. The terrain name is the virtual path of the terrain without the .ter extension or lib/g8 prefix. For example, to use


use the terrain


Note: name your terrains entirely in lower-case, regardless of capitalization in the library file. The library file in the default scenery pack 900 World Terrain lists all built-in terrain types.

Important: the terrains that are available are the ones defined in the config folder–the config folder that ships with MeshTool matches the default terrain that X‑Plane shipped with for version 9.00. (That is, is is the current released global terrain config spec.) If you want to use your own land classes there are two ways to do this:

  1. Pick an unused terrain type and, after creating the DSF, use DSF2Text to edit the header of the DSF, naming another .ter file.
  2. Use a library.txt file in your pack to redirect the .ter file to your resources. You can use the “region” feature of library files to to assure that this only happens to your custom mesh DSFs. See the Library File Format Specification and other library docs on the Developer site for more info.

Note: most of the subtle terrain effects in the global scenery come from the careful choice among terrains within the ruleset, not from the terrain textures themselves. Thus if you directly specify a terrain type, you will not get:

Warning: when you create a terrain area with a shap, mesh vertices are inserted to guarantee that the edge of the area precisely matches your shap, no matter how detailed. Thus if you use a highly detailed shap, you will end up with a huge number of vertices at the border of the terrain, even if the terrain is flat and the vertices are thus totally unnecessary. It is strongly recommended that you reduce the vertex count of your shaps as much as possible!

Land uses are layered, with the later land uses in the file overlapping the earlier ones. For example, you can create a single polygon covering the entire DSF tile with water, then a polygon representing an island, then another polygon representing a lake inside the island. The layer ordering will correctly create the water/land/water pattern desired. (You could also set the tile to water and then create the island as a land polygon with a hole.)

Individual polygons input to MeshTool should be simple (the mathematical definition of a “simple polygon”), meaning the edges of the polygon should not overlap each other or intersect each other, except at the ends of adjacent edges. For example, a bow-tie pattern is not a valid polygon, whether made with 4 or 5 vertices. (The bow-tie can be modeled by two triangles meeting at a point - there is no restriction on polygons overlapping, intersecting, etc.)

Individual holes must also be simple polygons, and should not overlap their outer boundaries.

There is no restriction on the relationship of individual simple polygons with each other. You can overlap, layer, or stack individual polygons against each other in any way.

Commands for Setting Land Use

These commands let you define the water and land areas of your DSF tile. Even if you are covering the entire tile with orthophotos, you may still want to use the water terrain type to have “real” physics where there is water.

SHAPEFILE_TERRAIN  <terrain> <file>

Sets the area defined by the shapefile to the specified terrain. The shapefile must contain polygons.

BEGIN_POLYGON  <terrain>

Begin specifying a polygon’s outer boundary by points.

POLYGON_POINT  <lon> <lat>

Specify one point on the polygon’s outer boundary.


End specifying a polygon. All holes must be finished before the polygon ends.


Begin specifying a hole inside the current polygon. Holes must be specified between a polygon begin/end.

HOLE_POINT  <lon> <lat>

Specify a point on the hole’s boundary.


End specification of the current hole.

Commands for Working with Orthophotos

When you import an orthophoto, it covers the land uses that are already specified. You can then specify additional land-uses on top of it; orthophotos can also overlap each other.

Orthophotos do not have to be fully inside a mesh tile - if they are not, their polygon placement is cropped automatically (but the image file is not). The orthophoto will be stretched as needed based on the coordinates specified.

Orthophotos do not have to be in geographic projection. However if you use a large orthophoto that uses an alternate projection scheme, you may get alignment errors, because MeshTool generates texture coordinates using geographic projection. The simplest solution to alignment problems is to cut the orthophoto into smaller pieces. Usually X-Plane’s 2048x2048 texture limit makes this necessary anyway.

MeshTool can optionally convert BMPs (from the QMID command) and GeoTIFFs to DDS format as they are processed. If a set of BMPs (with naming conventions to match the QMID for summer + blend) are found, or a TIFF is found, it is converted to DDS5 (QMID) or DDS1 (GeoTIFF). For GeoTIFFs, the resolution is converted to the smallest power of 2 that is not smaller than the original, clamped at 2048x2048.

If you do not want conversion, it is recommended that the DDS files already be in place (next to the original images) in your project, so that the .ter files can be built with correct image size loading directives. (See LOAD_CENTER in the .ter file spec.) If this information is not available, MeshTool assumes 1024x1024 for QMID and 2048x2048 for GeoTIFF; you may have to edit your .ter files later.

When you specify an orthophoto, a “wet” flag tells how you want water to be handled. The options are:

Command Function
0 No water. The orthophoto must be opaque, no water is drawn under it. This is the fastest option for frame-rate.
1 Water, solid. Water is drawn under transparent parts of the orthophoto, but the entire orthophoto is marked as “solid”, using the surface type in the .ter file. You may see water, but a seaplane cannot land on it.
2 Water, wet. Water is drawn under the transparent parts of the orthophoto, and the entire orthophoto acts “wet”. Note that even the opaque parts of the orthophoto act wet.

X-Plane does not allow the ‘physics’ of a tile to vary with the alpha channel of an image; see the section on masks at the end of the “advanced” section.

ORTHOPHOTO <wet> <bl> <br> <tr> <tl> <filename>

This imports a single orthophoto - < file name > should be the name of the .ter file - if one does not exist, it is created. The “wet” flag tells whether to put water under the orthophoto - if you want to use alpha as water, set this to 1. The four coordinates are the lon/lat pairs of the image corners, starting with the lower elft corner of the image and going around counter-clockwise.

Example: ORTHOPHOTO 0 -72.0 42.0 -71.0 42.0 -71.0 43.0 -72.0 43.0 foo.ter

Covers the entire +42–072.dsf tile with an ortho called “foo.ter”, such that the top of the photo is north and right side is east, and there is no “water” behind it.

GEOTIFF <wet> <filename>

This imports a single .tif image - its location in the file is placed based on the coordinates inside the .tif file. A .ter of the same name is created (if it doesn’t exist) for your convenience.

Warning: Photoshop and some other programs will remove the location information from TIF files when it saves them. Make sure to specify a TIF image that has not had its coordinates stripped!

GeoTIFF files used for orthophotos do not have to be geographically projected or cropped to the tile. Generally the image data in a GeoTiff used for an orthophoto should be “pixel is area”, not “pixel is point”.

QMID <wet> <qmid id>

Note: this command is intended for MSFS scenery developers who already have orthophotos cut into QMID tiles.

Given a QMID (quad-mesh identifier), this command places an orthophoto whose .ter file is < qmid >.ter at the location specified by the qmid. If a .ter file does not exist, a .ter file is created for your convenience.

QMID_PATH <path>

Normally MeshTool locates files via relative paths in its working directory. But in the case of QMIDs, the file name is the QMID ID. This routine specifies a path to prepend to QMIDs to form file names. All QMID statements following a QMID_PATH are affected. The path should end in a trailing slash. This directory will be used to build .ter files and locate .dds files.


Controls automatic DDS generation: n=1 means generate DDS, n=0 means do not. The default is to not generate DDS.

Advanced Commands

MESH_SPECS <point count> <error>

This command controls the density and quality of the mesh that is generated. MeshTool builds your mesh using the following steps:

  1. Points are added to form the basic mesh structure, match any adjacent already made meshes at the edges, and represent any polygonal features exactly. This step can add as many vertices as is necessary to meet these goals. A rough grid is placed in open water.

  2. Points are added in priority order from the DEM to reduce the vertical error between the partly built mesh and the original DEM. The points are added on a worst-case-first basis…that is, the point that is most wrong in our mesh compared to our DEM is added first.

    This process repeats until one of two conditions takes place:

    • We have added <point count> new points or
    • The worst error between the DEM and our mesh is less than <error>
  3. Additional points are added to assure that no triangle is larger than 3.5 km on a side.

The MESH_SPECS command lets you tune your mesh by adjusting the “point budget” and error limit. You can think of these two numbers as “stop” conditions:

The error limit can be thought of as “diminishing returns”. If you have a huge point budget, but boring flat land, you don’t want to have a very high density slow mesh. The error limit says “enough is enough”.

The default settings are 78000 points and 6.5 meters error.


The background command sets the entire DSF tile to a single terrain. This can be used to “start” a DSF as all land or all water.

The advantage of the background command is that it takes its coordinates from the passed in DEM; by using the background command and a single shap (containing water for many tiles), you can use a single script to build multiple DSF tiles.


The begin/end layer properties start a group of polygons. Inside the layer, only the polygon commands may be used (not shaps or orthophotos). Every polygon inside the layer must be of the same terrain type.

Unlike individual polygons, polygons inside the begin/end layer should not overlap in their interiors (but can share edges). If the polygons in a layer overlap, the resulting map may not come out the same as if the layer had not been used.

The advantage of layers is processing speed. If you are defining a large number of non-overlapping polygons of the same terrain type, using a layer might be significantly faster than not using one. (A layer is no faster than using a single shap.)


PROJECT_POINT lon lat s t

These commands define a terrain type based on an orthophoto. Unlike the orthophoto command, these commands define the terrain type but don’t use it; use POLYGON_BEGIN with the terrain name to then make several polygons that use the terrain type.

After DEFINE_CUSTOM_TERRAIN you will need to specify four PROJECT_POINT lines that define the corners of the bitmap as “ST” (texture) coordinates and lat-lon. The S coordinate is the horizontal position of the texture (0 is the left side, 1 is the right), and T is the vertical position of the texture (0 is the bottom, 1 is the top).

Important: make sure that no polygon coordinates for the custom terrain are outside the bounds of the PROJECT_POINT quadrangle.



These commands establish (or remove) an area mask. When a mask is in effect, all commands act only inside the mask. For example, a QMID or GeoTIFF square orthophoto can be ‘clipped’ to an arbitrary polygonal shape by first setting a mask.

One thing you can do with masks is handle water differently in different parts of a single orthophoto. First, include the orthophotos, with the water flag set to ‘1’ (solid). Then set a mask for the wet areas and issue the areas again with the water flag set to ‘2’ (wet). The wet areas will have their orthophoto replaced. (The user will not see any difference since the orthophoto has not changed, but the physics will be different in the two areas.)


QMID 1 0103333010221 SHAPEFILE_MASK wet_areas.shp QMID 2 0103333010221

In this case, most of 0103333010221 is solid, but the interior of 0103333010221 that is inside the wet_areas shape will act wet.

Warning: masks induce vertices in your mesh, so when using a mask to make wet and dry areas, reduce th resolution of your mesh. Users probably won’t notice the lack of detail in the physics mesh, but it will save triangles.


This command “burns” the polygons in a shap into the mesh without changing the underlying terrain or orthophotos - in effect it forces triangles around a polygon without changing terrain.

The main usage for this is to guarantee that certain critical contours are represented in the final mesh. For example, to make sure that an airport surface area is flat, you need to:

  1. Ensure that the airport surface area is flat in the original raster DEM file and
  2. Use SHAPEFILE_CONTOUR with a shap containing the polygonal outlines of each airport.

Note: set the segment length for the polygons to something appropriate to the level of triangulation desired. For example, if your polygon contains 1m sides then MeshTool will create a huge number of triangles to burn the contour line, even if several sides are co-linear. MeshTool does not simplify shapes!

Legacy Commands


These commands act the same as POLYGON_BEGIN - with land/water/apt_poly, you don’t need to specify the terrain type.


BACKGROUND terrain_Natural GEOTIFF 0 my_ortho.tiff QMID 1 210332123 SHAPEFILE_TERRAIN terrain_Water my_water.shp

Climate Files

MeshTool requires a climate/landuse digest in .xes format. XES is a GIS container format used by Laminar Research for imported data. You must download a .xes file for your DSF tile from Laminar Research and pass it as input to MeshTool.

Climate/landuse digest files can be fetched here

They are stored in groups of up to 100 files, numbered by the latitude and longitude of the southwest corner of the 10x10 square.

Dump Directory

MeshTool requires a directory that contains sub-folders (e.g. +30–120) for any DSF tile you generate. MeshTool places .txt files that describe the borders of the DSF tile into these sub-directories. If you don’t have a dump directory with sub-folders, MeshTool will create one for you.

MeshTool also reads the borders, so if you render two adjacent tiles, the borders will be coordinated. It does not matter what order you render your tiles in, as long as they are rendered one at a time.

Warning: if you make two adjacent tiles and the polygon definitions at the border do not match up (e.g. the border has water on one side and land on the other) the results may be unpredictable.

Version History


Fixed: clamping of ST coordinates (caused “could not sink vertex”.) Fixed: multiple custom terrain types export correctly.