Brush Battle! Who has better brushes, MARI or Photoshop?

Texture painters, you knew this day was coming. Photoshop has long enjoyed its status as the go-to application for painting textures for your 3D assets. This history reaches way back before the days of texture painting in 3D space. Because of this, Photoshop is also deeply entrenched in many production pipelines. Photoshop has been adding color to models since we were all staring at our UVs, trying to remember which edges matched up across a seam so we could accurately place our painted details. Today things are different. CG in movies and games looks much better, computer’s are more powerful and texture painting options are way more plentiful. Today, a new-comer has emerged from Photoshop’s shadow and now challenges the champion for the title of go-to texture painting application. Today MARI is here and ready to be taken seriously.

Setting the Stage

For any application that creates custom textures for 3D assets, how it handles color and the application of that color to the texture is critically important. The most common tool for applying this color is a digital version of the paintbrush. As you might imagine, the nature of trying to recreate the behavior of a traditional paintbrush digitally is a very complex thing. In most cases some sort of brush engine sits on the sidelines controlling how the paintbrush works. Both Photoshop and MARI utilize their own brush engines to drive their brushes. While very different at first glance, let’s see if both are simply a different road to the same result. Image01-1

Round 1 - Brush Tips

In its most simplified form, whether it’s in Photoshop or Mari, any brush can be distilled down to a grayscale image.  You may call this an alpha, a matte, a bitmap or a stamp but it’s essentially the same thing. A black and white image where the arrangement and luminance of the pixels determines the pattern that is used to create each stroke that brush paints. The stroke that a brush makes is created when the image is repeatedly placed along a drawn path. Part of making this stroke unique comes in how the shape of the stamped image is changed each time it's aligned with the drawn path. Image01 In Photoshop’s Brush Panel, various dynamics control the behavior of the brush preset and they're fairly logically categorized. Basic changes to the brush tip are made under Brush Tip Shape. Changes to how the brush tip scatters along the drawn path are made under Scattering and so on. As you make changes to your brush, a handy little stroke preview at the bottom of the Brush Panel allows you to see what your stroke will look like. MARI can also control the behavior of the bitmap image it's using as a brush tip. This is done in the Brush Editor palette on the properties tab. If you're used to Photoshop, finding exactly the settings you’d like to tweak will be challenging at first. The brush properties are categorized into collapsible rollouts but are appropriately named. Under Paint, you'll find properties that affect the rate at which paint is applied such as opacity and flow. Under radius, you'll find adjustments for the brush tip and it’s shape. MARI also has a handy little stroke preview at the bottom of the Brush Editor palette which you will find is actually interactive if you try to paint on it. Both Photoshop and MARI allow quick access to important brush settings near the top of their user interfaces. Photoshop uses its Control Panel and MARI uses its Tool Properties toolbar to allow quick access to things like opacity and flow. Round Winner - Draw Round2

Round 2 - Tablet Feedback

Today, the process of painting anything in a digital format has never been more like painting on a canvas. This is due largely in part to the emergence of hardware that has been developed which mimics the experience and mechanics of traditional drawing or painting. Most of these devices utilize some sort of pen or stylus and a drawing surface of some kind. The surface has a tolerance for sensing how hard you press down on it with the drawing utensil and relays that information to whatever software you might be using. This data can be interpreted by both Photoshop and MARI and used to drive different brush dynamics or properties as you paint your textures. Because pen pressure is such an important part of using Photoshop brushes, it has been integrated at the heart of its brush engine. If you glance at most of the respective dynamics categories in the Brush Panel, you'll find at least one Control drop down menu that has Pressure and other tablet related options like Tilt and Stylus Wheel. You’ll also notice that there’s quite a large number of dynamics that can be controlled via tablet or stylus input allowing for almost limitless possibilities in creating and customizing a brush preset. Image02 MARI on the other hand has chosen to limit the brush properties that are capable of being driven through tablet interaction. In the Brush Editor, you’ll find a rollout for Pressure. Here you can enable pressure control for Colors, Radius, Flow and Alpha. These can also be enabled from the Tool Properties toolbar. The limited number of brush properties that can be driven by pressure in MARI may be considered limiting by some. However, there is a level of purity in limiting your options to just the most commonly needed. However, the simple fact that Photoshop can drive its brushes with more feedback from your tablet than just pen pressure is a huge advantage. Round Winner - Photoshop Round3

Round 3 - Included Brushes

As mentioned previously, your brush in both applications can be simplified to a simple image. In any painting application, the number of included brushes out of the box directly impacts the time you will need to spend customizing and possibly creating your own custom rushes in order to paint the detail you need. Because of this, both Adobe and The Foundry have been kind enough to package their products with plenty of options to get you started. What, you didn’t expect to paint everything with a hard round brush did you? Image03 Photoshop stores all of its brush presets in libraries with the default library being the initial set of brushes that you first see in the brush preset picker. These libraries can be accessed either through the small gear in the top right corner of the brush preset picker or by opening the Preset Manager. If you're just wanting to quickly access one of the default libraries that Photoshop ships with, use the gear in the brush preset picker. If on the other hand you’d like to mix and match brushes from the different libraries and save your own customized library, then the Preset Manager is where you want to be. In MARI, brushes are kept in Shelves. These shelves can be accessed through the Shelves palette, through the Brush Editor palette on the shelves tab or by using the keyboard shortcut K to access the Shelf Popup. Image04 MARI’s included brushes are Organized in the Basic Brushes, Hard Surface, Organic Brushes and Brad’s New Brushes shelves. You’ll also notice there are three empty shelves each one of which handles things you put there a little differently. The Menu shelf should be reserved for items you want to show up in the Pie Selector (F9). The Personal shelf is a good place to bookmark colors, images or brushes that you want to have quick access to. The Project shelf is very similar to the Personal shelf with the only difference being that assets saved there will only be accessible within the project you had open when they were saved there. Round Winner - Photoshop Round4

Round 4 - User Created Brushes

With the newcomer on the ropes, Photoshop looks posed to drop a knockout punch in this critical round. The ability to create any brush you want or need is a huge advantage that both applications share over any program that doesn’t have that feature. While many new artists share the delusion that an artist is only as good as the brushes they use, a seasoned veteran knows how important having the ability to quickly create a brush based the needs of a project is. The process of creating custom brush presets in Photoshop hasn’t really changed much in the last several versions. Assuming the brush you are creating isn’t one of their natural bristle brushes, you simply make a selection of the pixels you want to record and choose Define Brush Preset from the Edit menu. This will record the luminance values of the pixels. If there is transparency, it's read as white. Image05 From here you need to customize the dynamics for your newly saved brush preset. One important thing to remember after they're customized is to save a new brush preset. If you don’t, you'll loose all brush settings when another brush is chosen. The process of creating a custom brush in MARI is a bit different. First you need to save the desired pixels as a .exr file. To do this, simply paint them into your paint buffer and choose the Save Painting option from your Painting menu. This will capture the contents of your Paint Buffer as an image in your Image Manager palette. From here you can right click and choose Save As. After your file is saved, go ahead and save any brush into either the Project or Personal shelf. With the newly saved brush selected find the big Use Painting button in the Brush Editor palette. After pressed, you will be able to plug in the newly saved .exr image and replace the brush tip with it. After customizing the properties and making your brush look just the way you want, simply click the + symbol at the bottom of the shelf to record those in a new brush. Image06 As an added bonus, MARI knows that many of their users may be coming from Photoshop and likely will have their own collection of brushes saved in .abr formats. If you’d like to use all of the brushes from Photoshop in MARI, find the Import Brushes option under the Tools menu. This will extract all of the brush tips from a selected .abr file and save them as separate brushes in the current shelf. You’ll still need to recreate the Photoshop brush dynamics with MARI brush properties but this is an extremely valuable feature. Round Winner - MARI finalround

Final Round - Overall Painting Experience

To wrap this battle up, we thought it’d only be fair to evaluate the overall 3D texturing experience in both applications. After all, what good are amazing brushes if they're difficult to paint with? In all fairness, Photoshop was never designed to be a 3D painting application. It was originally designed to be a 2D image editing application. The integration of a toolset for loading in a 3D object, navigating around it in 3D space and painting textures on it is actually a relatively new addition to Photoshop. Unfortunately, the experience of simply navigating around an object is entirely different from any other application and to be honest, takes a while to get comfortable with. If you happen to frequently move between Photoshop and other applications that utilize a more traditional method of object navigation then count on an awkward feeling each time you bounce into Photoshop’s 3D space. If on the other hand, you don’t use other common 3D applications, you may be able to get comfortable with the Photoshop way just fine. Image07 MARI has been a dedicated 3D texturing application from the day it was released to the public. It has always used what is for the most part standard keyboard shortcuts for zooming, panning and orbiting around a model. This is a massive advantage in our opinion. Today’s 3D artists need to be able to move seamlessly between applications without expecting any major disruptions in their work. When simply comparing brushes between the two applications, it’s clear that Photoshop’s brush engine is more robust and includes many tablet related features that MARI just can’t touch as of right now. On the flip side, the overall painting experience inside of MARI is currently far better and more comfortable than painting in Photoshop’s 3D environment. This is largely due to the fact that MARI was designed from the ground up to paint textures on assets while Photoshop has had that toolset wedged into their existing one. In the future, we expect to see the fairly narrow gap between the two become even closer as more features and improvements are added to each application. As for who wins today’s battle we would encourage you to try both and be the judge. There are plenty of texture painting tutorials you can follow along with in both our MARI and Photoshop categories. Now jump in and start painting!