The Substance 3D Assets team explains how they created thousands of parametric wood materials.
Artwork by Maximilien Vert
Hi material lovers, welcome to the first evergreen article about content. The purpose of these articles is to present digital content across industries. It was designed as a map to overview the content diversity in a specific category.
Our goal is to share our passion for digital materials independently of industries, styles, and workflows — and perhaps inspire you to use digital matter in new and unexpected ways. Whether your purpose is virtual or manufactured, here is an overview of the diversity and functionalities you will find on Substance 3D assets.
Of course, as our library is constantly evolving, we’ll be sure to keep you up to date with the new possibilities offered by existing and upcoming content.
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What could be better than to start with a symbolic category for this cross-cutting theme: We’ll talk about wood. Indeed, wood is totally ubiquitous and has always been. From objects to furniture, from architecture to transport, wood is used literally everywhere in our lives. The need to visualize wood digitally is therefore almost universal.
The wood category on Substance 3D assets currently offers more than 1,400 unique and fully parametric materials.
This category includes a diverse range of wood types, finishes, and assemblies, both generic and specific, to meet several different situations. From worn out wood to be used in ancient themed video games to pristine veneers for today’s cutting-edge interior designs, creatives from all backgrounds may find useful assets in this “wood” bucket.
We believe that the study and understanding of the real material allows us to create numerical doubles: ultra-realistic visually but also coherent in terms of customization parameters.
Recently, we have expanded this category, with more than 1,000 new elements splintered into: wood grain, bark, and various assemblies.
Bark is the outermost layers of stems and roots of trees. Acting literally as a skin for trees, the bark material surface is influenced by a lot of factors.
First, each species of wood wears its own skin. This skin is subject to the effects of its environment (such as the climate) and especially the organic elements that make up its close ecosystem.
The digital bark is particularly complex to produce due to the multiplicity of factors that combine to form the fine and intricate details of its living surface.
We have created several species of tree bark that are completely procedural, allowing us to influence both the variations in color and shape of the bark itself, but also the moss or lichen cover that is very often deposited on the trunks.
Most of the bark materials are indeed inseparable from their “natural weathering” effects to look photo-realistic. That’s why most of the materials contain extra parameters: to tweak the parameters of the moss, lichen, and, sometimes, decay that grows over the bark, such as the color, roughness, and spread across the trunk.
Wood is a porous and fibrous structural tissue found in the trunk, stems, and root of trees. Like for the bark, the vein of wood is specific to each wood species.
Before we get into all the different wood varieties it’s important to understand the three basic types of wood: softwoods, hardwoods, and engineered wood.
Softwoods are the wood and lumber that are milled from conifer trees. Conifer trees are any trees that have needles and produce cones.
Contrary to popular belief, the distinction between hardwood and softwood has little to do with the actual softness.
Popular softwood trees used in woodworking, construction, and furniture are pine, cedar, fir, spruce, and redwood.
Hardwoods come from any trees that do not produce needles or cones. Commonly they are known as deciduous trees. Common hardwood species include oak, maple, cherry, mahogany, and walnut.
There are also some woods that are considered to be hardwoods that are not deciduous trees, such as bamboo and palm.
The third type of wood you may encounter is engineered wood. Engineered wood is manufactured.
Also known as composite wood, these products are often made from the waste wood of sawmills.
Engineered wood is often treated through a chemical or heat process to produce a wood product that can meet certain sizes that would be difficult to achieve from nature.
Popular examples of engineered woods include plywood, oriented strand board, medium density fiber board, and composite board.
Wood veneers can also sometimes be classified as engineered wood, since they often need to be manipulated either through specialized cutting techniques or joining pieces together to achieve a specific size or wood grain patterning.
While there are three main types of wood, there are thousands of varieties and species of wood. Some species are considered more precious, others more common, and, therefore, will not utilized for the same purpose.
However, in 3D everything is possible, and artists should have the creative freedom to experiment outside the natural constraints. Whatever you decide to do with it, our aim is to provide you with a material that reproduces the grain of the wood in a photorealistic way and in as much detail as possible.
To date, you will find more than 40 different wood species on Substance 3D assets, and all of them are parametric, resulting in an infinite number of fine variations in the details of the wood.
There is a wide variety of wood colors, ranging from white to brown and red tones. Within the same family, the coloring differs according to certain criteria (geographical location, place on the tree, richness of the soil). Not to mention the age of the wood, which also has a direct impact on color. Guess what? In the digital world you can tweak it!
Grain and veins patterns are two other key elements in the visual appearance of each type of wood. The grain corresponds to the patterns formed on the surface of the wood. The direction of the grain differs depending on the cut of the wood. Finally, the grain, i.e., its roughness, is also a determining factor. And that is where it gets interesting …
The Grain of the Wood
Realistic and Functional
It is here that observation of the actual process enabled us to create realistic but also functional digital wood materials.
Structure of the Wood
By structure of the wood we mean the vein patterns that are perpendicular to the trunk or the branch. The wood that is perpendicular to the growth of the tree trunk is known as “end grain”. The patterns in longitudinal sections wood is known as “straight-grained wood”; and the tangential section, as cross-grained wood.
Thus, the visual appearance of the natural wood grain is directly related to the way the tree trunk is cut in the sawmill.
Let’s dive into the process. There are four different cuts of wood that have their own distinct look: live, plain, quarter, and rift.
This cut of wood is the most common, cost-efficient, and produces the least amount of waste when cut into planks. Each plank is cut straight off the log in one direction, without changing the orientation. This cut is best suited for those who want a more rustic look, as you can see more of the log’s characteristics.
This cut of wood is also common and is distinguished by its sawing method. The board is cut, turned 90 degrees, then cut again. This cut also produces a minimal amount of waste, and produces a cathedral grain pattern.
This cut of wood is the most expensive and least common. The planks are cut perpendicular to the tree’s growth rings. This cut can provide a more modern look through the very linear grain pattern and is popular with oak and maple species. However, it is difficult to get these types of planks wider than four inches across.
Crown cut wood veneer is characterized by irregular grain shapes that are formed by cutting on a tangent to the axis of the log. Crown cut wood veneer is characterized by the grain closing on itself in irregular rings, forming certain elliptic shapes. These shapes are called cathedrals in the wood industry.
We have created procedural digital twins of the cut driven wood veins and integrated these graphs into each of the 40 wood species on Substance 3D assets.
The result is not just a wood texture whose color can be parameterized, but a complete generator by species capable of generating variations for each type of vein.
Combined with the other finish parameters, each asset becomes infinitely versatile.
Wood finishing refers to the process of refining or protecting a wooden surface. More broadly, in 3D, wood finish separates all the surface characteristics of wood regardless of the process. Indeed, in this article, we can consider natural processes like bare wood, aged, or even decayed wood, and mechanical processes such as cutting, sawing, and sanding or softer surface treatments such as painting, polishing, and varnishes as a “finish.”
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To complete the latest collection, we created dedicated parametric assets to allow for a more focused control over the materiality of wood finishes.
We designed dedicated parameters per finish to have a fine control over each finish’s characteristics, like the thickness and glossiness of a layer of clear varnish, the intensity of a cerused effect in order to draw out the detail and character of the grain.
The most commonly used application is, of course, parquet flooring. There are many aspects to consider when selecting wood floors: color, size, type of wood, and, of course, the pattern.
We have created more than 25 procedural parquet patterns in different styles, from the most modern to the most traditional, to offer interior designers and level artists a wide range of possibilities.
Many households have straight patterns, which is traditional. However, there are many more to choose from.
Each procedural parquet pattern offers parameters for changing the proportions and distribution of the parquet planks. All types of parquet can also be combined with specific surface effects such as wear, patina, or varnish effects to obtain a variation as close as possible to the desired use and context.
The most common type of pattern is the English pattern, as it is the easiest to lay and causes the least amount of wood loss. Planks of the same width are laid without cuts except at the ends, where the cuts are reused for the next row.
The parametric version of the English wood parquet encloses all the possible English layout variations, like planks of the same width and uniform length, except at the ends, laid by staggering the cuts halfway along the length of the plank or with alternating strip widths.
The second pattern is chevron, which is composed of strips of uniform length and width laid at right angles to each other in a V-shape, alternating the overhang of each strip. There are two versions to chevrons patterns:
The herringbone brings changes in orientation of the parquet of the different pieces are made by means of a rosette.
Hungarian point (French herringbone) is similar to the broken-stick laying, where the angle is not fixed at 90° and the V-joint is made by cutting at the chosen angle. The majority of parquet floors are laid at a 45° angle.
Other common patterns are Echelle (in ladder), which involves laying short, parallel planks, separated by long planks laid at right angles, and mosaic, which is composed of small pieces of wood assembled to form patterns.
The more ancient patterns showcase a complex and fine craftsmanship of the past centuries with some iconic motifs like Versailles, a tile flooring pattern assembled by square sheets. The design of this parquet flooring is composed of small squares shaded in interlaced wooden strips laid at 45° in a frame, all held together by dowels and mortises. Chantilly is a pattern similar to Versailles parquet, where the internal pattern of the panels alternates between a 45° and a 90° alignment in relation to the frame.
Aremberg is parquet flooring assembled by square sheets, including an internal pattern. This square tile approach is a common design feature of the wood floors of this period.
Regarding modern layout, practically all shapes and size can be experimented upon, and we designed a collection of generic patterns to choose from. However, this is only a starting point, as you can always design your own patterns using substance tools.
And many more
And the list goes on from floors to wall exterior and interior and new and more exotic finishes. For instance, siding, also known as wood cladding, is a building material installed on the exterior facade to protect it from damage.
As for the roof: Wood shingles are thin, tapered pieces of wood primarily used to cover roofs and walls of buildings to protect them from the weather. We designed a collection of 10 distinctive shingle patterns that may be utilized in various styles and for decorative purposes and their dedicated set of parameters to make variations in the roof texture.
You may also like it burnt!
Charred wood, also known as burned wood, is one of the most highly sought-after wood siding types available. The charring process entails applying an open flame to a wood plank to create a slight char along the board’s surface without weakening it. This char weather proofs the plank and repels insects, in 3D too.
Or finely engraved! Woodcutting and engraving are two of the most popular applications for using lasers and can encompass a large variety of products, from objects to decoration panels and even cutting-edge car interiors. Again, choose from the collection of 10+ parametric patterns we designed.
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That’s it for the overview of wood and its derivatives. Of course, there are still dozens of wood types and tree species, finishes, and possible effects to create, and we are already working on it, so stay tuned and let us know if you have any suggestions.
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