Every 3D object is covered in a variety of texture layers. Textures can range from simple repeating patterns to unique images created for a specific 3D model, and they can potentially transform simple shapes and scenes into photorealistic, evocative characters and environments.
3D materials can be solid colors, or they can be more elaborate simulation of a material like grass, gravel, or stone. The data within a 3D material typically contains information regarding elements such as its color, or combination of colors, its degree of reflectivity, or whether it is wholly opaque or to some degree translucent.
3D texturing is the process of adding textures to a 3D object. This includes: creating textures (either from photos or from scratch), applying textures to 3D objects, lighting the scene, and applying final details.
To create your textures, you have three major techniques. You can paint and create your textures by hand; you can scan real-world materials and turn them into textures; and you can let computer algorithms create the texture for you, a process known as procedural generation. Often, artists use a combination of all three methods.
Creating your textures by hand gives you a lot of creative control and freedom. You can place your own designs with the texture, or add elements like scratches or wear and tear. This method really lets you define a style; you might use it to create textures for a cartoon-style video game, for instance, that has its own distinct look. An application such as Adobe Substance 3D Painter is perfect for having full control over all textures of a unique 3D object.
Painting and creating textures in this way can require a lot of work, however, especially for very detailed surfaces, or if you want to achieve realism quickly. This is where procedural generation can prove useful. Procedural texturing techniques have smart algorithms carry out the time-consuming or difficult parts of the texturing for you. For example, a texturing application can scatter little rocks in occluded cracks, or add tiny scratches or faded colors on exposed edges, based on geometry shape and orientation. All of the Substance 3D applications have these smart techniques, but Substance 3D Designer grants you the most control to build your techniques from scratch.
Even procedural techniques have their limits when it comes to replicating something from the real world. To get around that, you can “scan” surfaces — essentially, recording an image of a surface. This might be a simple photo of the type you can take with your phone, or you could use a high-tech surface measuring machine. This scan can be used to create a full virtual material for your texturing projects. Substance 3D Sampler is very useful in this area — it can transform a photo into a digital material in just a few steps.
Two main types of textures exist: tiling textures and unique textures. A unique texture is created for one specific model, or surface; it is essentially a “form-fitting” texture that cannot be used elsewhere. A tiling texture, conversely, is created to cover any flat plane. If desired, and with a little effort, the edges of such a material can be hidden, allowing a 3D artist to “tile” the texture, so that a relatively small texture can cover very large surfaces.