3D rendering of shuttlecock and racket

What are 3D textures and how do you create them?

Working with textures is a crucial step in 3D modeling. Think of textures as the clothing or the skin of a 3D object. Everything from color to physical appearance is controlled by texturing or applying materials.

What is 3D texturing?

By default, most 3D models will be in the program’s default flat gray color so 2D photos must be mapped onto the model’s surface using one of many methods. 3D texturing gives a 3D model substance. It includes the process we just described, of wrapping images onto the model’s surface, and it also includes setting material properties to determine how light would affect it. This approach is called physical based rendering, or PBR. PBR materials are a popular method for quickly texturing a model. While much software varies in how they approach this process, Adobe Substance 3D Painter is an industry-leading solution.

3D fingerprint texture and 3D crumpled paper texture

Image by Jean-Bastien Juneau-Rouleau.

Choose a type of material and texture.

Depending on the needs of your 3D model, you can apply 2D images to the surface, or you may choose to work with materials. Here we will break down some common terms to help you understand the tools available to you during the 3D texturing process.

Types of materials:

Materials come in many forms. Here’s what you need to know.

Basic materials.

A material is usually a square image that contains multiple categories of data that affect how it appears in a rendered 3D space, including simulating depth, shadows, and reflectivity of light among others.

Physically based rendering (PBR).

PBR materials became possible with the improvement of RAM in computer hardware, allowing for more complex algorithmic computations. PBR materials have a set of parameters artists can change to accurately mimic real-world surfaces. A PBR material can be moved into any scene, regardless of lighting configurations, and it will appear accordingly.


There are ten different types of maps that are used in PBR:


1. Albedo


2. Normal


3. Roughness


4. Metalness


5. Specular


6. Height


7. Opacity


8. Ambient occlusion


9. Refraction


10. Emissive color


It is not uncommon to come across non-PBR materials, however, these are not standardized, so every program that uses them may vary greatly in approach.

Stages of texturing 3D models.

Now that you know a little more about the industry-standard for creating materials, let’s talk about how to texture 3D models in specific.

UV unwrapping.

3D modeling software needs to know how to apply your textures and materials to a model’s surface. Traditionally, this is done first by UV unwrapping your model. Because a 3D mesh is simply a net of many 2D polygons, you can lay out the entire mesh flat if you were to strategically “cut” seams in the right places. By doing this you can unpack a model and display all its polygons in a 2D space textures can easily be applied onto.

Texture painting and shading.

Add textures and materials and set parameters accordingly to best mimic the real-world surface properties of an object. Whether you’re representing human skin, fur, fabric, or metal, all these surfaces require subtle differences so that they appear right and interact with light realistically. For example, a piece of leather might be so new and polished it reflects light, or it could be so rough and worn that it reflects none.

Lighting and rendering.

Adding textures and materials to a model isn’t enough. You need light in your scene to not only make the scene visible, but also to allow your materials to appear correctly. Because the parameters you set are all about how light interacts with your surfaces, not having good lighting will drastically affect the appearance of your model. Often, proper lighting can make or break how photorealistic a texture set appears.

3D rendering of shuttlecock

Images by Jean-Bastien Juneau-Rouleau.

3D foam and dirt 3D textures

Images by Jean-Bastien Juneau-Rouleau.

Expert tips for creating 3D textures.

Adobe Substance 3D offers five powerful apps to help 3D artists thrive. By automating and handling many of the technical aspects of 3D creation, artists who use our apps can focus on the creative process more. Learn more about how to create textures for 3D models with these three tips from experts.

1. Good texturing starts with modeling.

A model with poor topology will be very difficult to UV unwrap and texture. Because of the tiling nature of materials and texturing, often seams become unavoidable, and when poorly managed can cause issues in how a texture appears. For example, a harsh seam may appear where it doesn’t physically make sense for one to exist. This causes a visible line in a texture where two textures don’t sit next to each other seamlessly.


When you model using Substance 3D Modeler, you don’t have to worry about polygons or UV unwrapping at all. Modeler uses a voxel-based approach, which allows you to sculpt a model as if you were working with clay. Once you’re done, Modeler will handle converting your sculpt into a mesh and will also UV unwrap the mesh for you.

2. Paint in real-time.

Adobe Substance 3D Painter is a powerful 3D texturing tool. With Painter, you don’t have to worry as much about individual texture maps and managing UV Maps. An object can be painted on directly, you can apply materials and create custom ones, all in real-time. When you’re done, Painter will export your materials and texture maps, so they are ready to use in a game engine or wherever you want to take them.

3. Photo scan your own materials.

Another great way to create photorealistic materials quickly is to capture your own materials with a 3D capture software like Adobe Substance 3D Sampler. Sampler uses AI and automation to create seamless materials from real-world photos and images. Whether you use a smart phone or a high-end camera, you can get amazing results for fully customizable PBR materials in minutes.

two 3D shuttlecocks sitting on badminton racket

Image by Jean-Bastien Juneau-Rouleau.

Learn more about 3D textures.

​​​Texturing is an invaluable step in every 3D pipeline. It’s also a useful avenue for creativity and expression. Whether you are painting your textures by hand or creating photorealistic materials, getting this step right can make or break your project.


To learn more about how you can create stunning textures with Substance 3D, check out this helpful guide as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

As a part of Substance 3D, we offer subscribers access to Substance 3D Assets, an ever-growing library that currently has over 15,000 assets. This includes a number of pre-built materials and textures you can use in personal and commercial projects.

You can also create custom materials from scratch using Substance 3D Sampler, Designer, and Painter.