Let there be light!

Today, the Substance 3D assets platform introduces a new type of content on the platform: 3D lights. As of now, you can access a first selection of over 40 assets. You might wonder, why only 40? Beware: this content is quite powerful. Each of these assets is a studio scenes dedicated to product and fashion photography. After all, lighting a 3D scene is — exactly like for photography — key to the final result.

One of the possible lighting solutions for your scene or asset is called IBL (image-based lighting). You can combine an IBL with another type of light (a light-emitting object, for instance). It’s pretty similar to how a photographer would design lights: they could be using the natural light of an exterior scene, and add extra physical lights to get more precise highlights.


What is an IBL?

Technically, an IBL is a high-dynamic range image with embedded light data, which is used as an environment to light up a 3D scene.

The high-dynamic range image is a 360° panorama. This capture area is an invisible dome/sphere that maps everything around the point of capture (including the light). The capture is very precise, which allows the calculation of intensity variations and therefore the projection of a light inside that scene.

Our IBLs are captured with a Ricoh 360° camera. This little camera will take over a dozen different expositions for every shot and from this, will recompose the 360° panorama image that will be used to generate the IBL. The camera also stitches together the images to hide the seams at the two lenses’ edges.

Setting up the shot takes some delicate preparation: you need to have fine control over your environment. Nothing other than the scene itself can be captured — not people, objects, or anything else — or they’ll be seen on your final image. And that’s not all: everything around the eye of the camera needs to be static, too! The wind moving the trees would blur the shot beyond usage.

The raw capture data isn’t used as is, and will need processing, such as cleaning up the environment elements we won’t need, and recompositing the final IBL.

For Substance 3D assets, we go even further, since we create a parametric IBL, so there’s an extra kick to the process. We work with Substance 3D Designer to turn the 360° panorama into an IBL with customizable parameters. We’ll talk a bit more just below on what these parameters are and how to use them.

For this very first series of parametric IBLs, we had to make some choices. We decided to curate the content for usage in virtual photography — that’s to say, the usage of a virtual studio to compose, light, and render images.

We decided to put in your hands the light you will find in the best photography studios! We’ve focused on packshot: a staged image of an object. It could be a piece of furniture, a person, or a collection of things; in the end, it’s an artificial environment that serves to show your hero object (or objects) in the most appealing light.

For Substance 3D assets, we go even further, since we create a parametric IBL, so there’s an extra kick to the process. We work with Substance 3D Designer to turn the 360° panorama into an IBL with customizable parameters. We’ll talk a bit more just below on what these parameters are and how to use them.

The studio light environment has a great advantage for making these perfect shots, too: it’s the context in which the artist has the most precise control over the light. There’s also quite a bit of flexibility in this lighting; since the object is at the center of attention, the environment needs to be as neutral as possible so it won’t interfere with the storytelling.

In short, virtual photography packshot is exactly like traditional photography packshot: the artist will try to reveal the hero object’s volumes to make it easy to understanding the central object, and to set the narrative. Different types of lights create quite different stories — if you want to learn more about Lionel Koretzky’s approach to lighting design, read his story here.

For this release, we created a dozen different light environments, which are the standard lights for packshot. They vary, depending on the shape and the type of object we want to light, because each type of object is usually lit in a unique manner. For instance, cosmetics lighting is very distinctive: the materials lit are very transparent, and there’s a specific message that the photographer will share, one that matches the codes and values of the industry.

You might want to use the environments to showcase product design: the lighting needs to work for all types of products and format. In the context of CPG, you’ll also need a neutral lighting to reveal the shapes of your object and highlight the printed details so your packaging looks exceptional. Fashion & apparel is an industry that has its own codes too, and that has an impact on the lighting: you’d use it to showcase an object, such as a shoe for instance, or even to light up a catwalk. Alternatively, think about a famous Swedish retailer; in interior design, you’ll need to light up a scene with the environment lights.

Portraits, too, have a type of lighting designed to emphasize the curves and creases of a person’s face. We reproduced some famous studio styles: Hollywood, Harcourt, and more. These 3D lights are also useful for character look dev in entertainment, as well as for applied cosmetics — such as virtual beauty shots of a 3D top model.

How to use the lights?

Every time Lionel Koretzky shot a 360° panorama, we asked him to capture several states of the same setup, turning on and off some lights, so we could later recompose these in Substance 3D Designer and turn them into parameters.


The result of this is that you, as an artist, can simulate turning on and off the key light, or change the temperature, exposition, and more. This effectively transports you into the studio, and gives you the ability to change the setup to have it just as you like.

Lighting design in 3D is as important as it is in photography. You’ll need to use it to read correctly the volumes of your composition, and to highlight the details; in short, to set the right mood to your final image.

Traditionally, creating hundreds and thousands of images of a product portfolio to feed online retail platforms requires setting up expensive photo-shoots. And that involves heavy logistics to get everything on location. Doing the same thing in 3D provides huge time and cost savings, and opens new grounds for creative freedom, as well as a real scalability for production.

Our team designed all our lighting content to be premium — that is, it offers the same quality and experience as a professional studio lighting setup, but in the digital space. And that virtual environment allows more freedom for creative explorations.


Environment lights are high-dynamic-range 360° panorama images which illuminate the 3D scene. Like Substance materials, environment lights are parametric!

This means that you can adapt the lighting to match the scene and objects. It works exactly like it would in a real studio! You can change the exposure, the temperature, and the intensity, independently for each source of light in just a few clicks.

Then, there’s backplates. These are high resolution images that fill the background of your 3D scene on the final rendered image. We’ve used a bit of secret sauce to calculate the angle and position of the camera in relation to the backplate; the result of this is that we’ve been able to create a camera that’s attached to a backplate.

The real game changer, though, is when you take environment lights and backplates and bring them together. Combined, they create an environment stage. This is a new type of asset that you can simply drop into Stager. You’ll see the lighting, the backplate image and the perspective of the 3D models align automatically in the viewport. And just like that, you’re ready to render a photorealistic image.

A USD file contains the camera position, and allows us to match the parametric IBL, the backplate, the cameras, and your viewport — and boom: everything comes together.


You can use an environment stage virtually everywhere: it’s the Substance format, so you’ll be able to read it in 3ds Max, Maya, Blender — every tool of your 3D workflow. The IBLs are also available in the EXR format.

The main use case for 3D lights is simple: creation of a professional visualization for a 3D object in the smallest possible amount of time. In our case, this will mostly be about the creation of images with harmonized, high-quality lighting, such as for e-commerce platforms.

But you’ll have a variety of possible user profiles:

  • Industrial designers can work on concept previzualization with a high level of photorealism to convince stakeholders of the solidity of the design.
  • Game artists can work on asset lookdev with a controlled lighting.
  • A visual communication agency will be able to mass produce images for product catalogues.

And there’s probably a lot more! Because with the environment stages, which are a curated series of assets combining high quality environments with tailored lights conditions, you will get several advantages.

The 360° HDRs will help you gain time since you don’t have to worry about setting up professional, excellent quality lighting. You don’t need to be an expert!

The backplates will give you framing presets which can adapt to the typology of the object you are working on: its shape, size, or type — is it an object, a person? For the same lighting, you will get different image formats, too: landscape, portrait, wide shot, mid shot, long shot, close-up…

The collection in itself is rich, showing quite the diverse studio light environments, such as the one you will find in the following product categories: product, fashion, interior design, cosmetics, food and drinks, and portraits. If you want to understand better these kinds of lightings, hop on to Lionel Koretzky’s article, where he detailed how he used his expertise as a product photographer to create the photo stages.

The Adobe Substance 3D suite includes apps for 3D creation, as well as content for use in your artwork. For more information, take a look at our articles:
ModelsMaterials – Lights – Creating the Lights