Substance Painter: An Intelligent Approach to Painting Textures

Texture painting is a necessary evil no matter what VFX- or 3D-related industry you work.  If you have three-dimensional assets that appear in your project, those assets must be painted or colored in some way.  For the longest time, this process was one that was executed in a fashion that made little sense.  Flatten your 3D model out into 2D space with UVs and then paint on those UVs in a 2D application like Photoshop. image01 Only recently have software developers began to challenge this way of thinking.  Probably the single biggest revolution is the act of actually painting your textures for a 3D model in a 3D space instead of 2D.  Beyond this, software developers really have hit the ground running to develop innovative features that improve the texture painting process. A new competitor recently arrived to race and is ready to be taken seriously.  Fresh out of beta, Substance Painter from Allegorithmic presents some brand new ideas when it comes to texturing that can both make the process feel more natural as well as speed it up.  Let’s shine a light on some of the features that make Substance Painter truly unique. image02

PBR is Default

Substance Painter speaks to the game market from its heart and does it by supporting some hot features.  One of these is that it uses a PBR format by default.  PBR (Physically Based Rendering) is a different way of setting up texture maps for games that can yield highly-realistic results.  It does this by relying heavily on reflections from image based lighting and roughness to spread those reflections across surfaces. In Substance Painter, channels are created for each new project to hold albedo (color), height, roughness and metallic textures.  If you still need a specular, a gloss or a reflection map don’t worry.  Those channels can be added at any time in addition to a number or user generated channels. image03

Paint All the Maps, at the Same Time

Sitting down and painting one map at a time for an asset has always seemed like a counter-intuitive process to us here.  If we're painting the rusted metal on a beat up car, I know that there's probably going to be more maps than color that go into that.  Likely, a normal map and event a roughness and metallic map assuming we are sticking with PBR.  It simply creates a disconnect when you go to paint all the color, then try and come back and paint all the height information and so on. Substance Painter eliminates this disconnect by allowing its users to paint into multiple channels with a single stroke.  That’s right, the same stroke that paints color information can paint height, roughness and metallic as well.  This just makes sense.  It forces the brush slinger to actually think about the type of surface that they're painting holistically and actually speeds up the process of map creation. image04

Dynamic Texture Resolution Adjustments

If you’ve ever had to re-paint a texture map because you didn’t make it large enough then this feature is for you!  In most applications when you start your project, you must specify the size of the texture maps that you wish to create.  After you finish, making those textures smaller is pretty simple because you're taking pixels away from the original.  Making those textures larger can be a bit hairier.  Unless you opt to start over completely, this process usually involves upsampling the texture maps.  Pixels are added to increase the resolution and as a result, the texture is usually blurred or loses it’s crispness. This, however, isn't a problem with Substance Painter.  Let’s say you painted an entire asset with 2k (2048x2048) textures only to find out that you needed 4k textures.  All you need to do is change the document size and Painter takes over and magically creates all that detail that you painted in the new, higher resolution.  The key here is the project history.  Substance Painter will go back and retroactively insert that size change before the very first paint stroke was executed in history.  The result is truly remarkable. image05

Integration of Substance Effects

Allegorithmic has actually been in the texturing game long before the release of Substance Painter.  Their application Substance Designer is unique in that it allows you to create custom tiled textures using a number of different parameters. Because of the maturity of Designer, Substance Painter has been able to take advantage of these Substance Effects to add a mixture of procedural texturing with hand painted textures.  Typically, these require some type of additional map to provide data to the substance.  For example a curvature map or an ambient occlusion map. Using these effects are especially useful for hard-surface models that need to be aged.  They make quick work of things like dirt, edge wear and water stains.  Substance Painter includes a number of default effects and has the ability to import user generated Effects from Substance Designer. Substance Painter Article Clip from Digital-Tutors on Vimeo.


Another example of the innovation that Substance Painter is injected with is it’s particle brushes.  The paint brush is really the one tool that every painting program has, in both 2D and 3D.  It’s even safe to say that they all function in a similar way.  While being incredibly versatile, these paint brushes aren't always the quickest and easiest way to paint some textures.  If a texture was created by natural elements like rain or wind, wouldn’t it make sense to mimic that element in painting the texture? Substance Painter accomplishes this very thing by emitting particles into your scene when painting with a particle brush.  These particles have a number of different parameters that can be customized depending on the emitter and receiver being used.  When the particles strike the geometry they leave paint behind.  This feature is incredibly fun and powerful at the same time. As you can see, thinking outside of the box to solve texturing-related problems is something that Substance Painter and Allegorithmic pride themselves in.  While game artists will absolutely love the features offered, just about any studio can pick this application up and produce some amazing results for their own projects. If you’d like to learn more about this powerful application, make sure and check out our Introduction to Substance Painter course.