3D texturing solution with Adobe Substance 3D

3D characters are rarely gray, flat, and blank; rather, their stories are implicit in the wear and tear of their clothes, or the color of their cheeks. An artfully crafted 3D character might be beautiful, or it might be monstrous — but it will above all be idiosyncratic, its personality apparent at a glance. And that character’s texture — the rich, detailed surface layer that clothes the model — plays a key role in conveying that flavor.


Similarly, a 3D forest scene of flat, gray trees is no forest at all. A credible, atmospheric forest is a product of the sensations it evokes — via the color and patterning of the bark on the trees, for instance, or the arrangement of pine needles on the forest floor. A forest might be sparse and brightly lit or it might be closely packed and gloomy. Here again, the scene’s textures are vital — they convey not only the colors and patterns visible on surfaces, but also information such as the reflectivity of those surfaces.


The creation of 3D materials, and the texturing process to apply those materials to models or scenes, is a key component in the overall 3D workflow. Here’s a little more information about the process.


What is 3D texturing?

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.


3D texturing techniques.


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.

How to create textures with Adobe Substance 3D.

Just as adding paint or wallpaper on drywall creates interior design, 3D object creation requires adding detail onto a foundation. Substance 3D is a suite of three different texturing desktop apps, each with a specific use.

Transform photos into textures with Substance 3D Sampler.


One of the best ways to make photorealistic 3D textures is to use photos of real-life objects, and then import the photos into Substance 3D Sampler. Sampler uses Adobe Sensei, Adobe’s AI technology to convert photos into ready-to-use 3D materials. These materials can then be easily applied to textures as needed.


With the Image to Material option, Sampler examines surface texture images to find bumps, creases, smoothness, and reflection in the material. The AI constructs an image of the appearance of this surface and interpolates how it can be applied to a broader surface area.


You can also import your own photos from Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Lightroom and transform them into 3D textures. Photos you’ve edited and enhanced in Lightroom or obtained from Adobe Stock can be easily imported into Sampler, to be converted into a usable 3D material. In this way, a photo of real grass can become a grassy surface in a 3D scene, or a picture of real-life lizard skin could become the surface of a 3D polygonal lizard.


Materials created in this way do not need to be used exactly as they are; they can also be modified to fit your needs. You might, for instance, modify the color of a fabric material, or add details such as cracks or small stones to a paved sidewalk.

Create textures from scratch with Substance 3D Designer.


Designer gives 3D artists, graphic designers, and sculptors everything they need to create 3D materials from the ground up. In this case, rather than extrapolating data from photos, you are creating your own data from scratch. In this way, you can design tiling textures, patterns, and materials with complete control in a node-based environment that breaks down complex processes into simple tasks.

Apply textures to 3D objects with Substance 3D Painter.


Painter allows you to apply your materials to 3D assets, whether characters or other models, or complete environments. Using a system of layers — which will be familiar to anybody who’s worked with Photoshop — you can paint with, combine, and customize your textures. Painter includes features such as smart materials and smart masks; if you wanted to create, for example, an object that had been discarded on a beach, you could use these features to rapidly “paint on” characteristics such as edge abrasion, or wind weathering from a specific direction. 


Painter is designed with smart, efficient workflows in mind. This is just one reason why it’s the texturing tool of choice in a range of creative industries.

A wide range of 3D texturing resources.

Note that it isn’t absolutely necessary for you to create your own textures as part of a 3D workflow. A number of online resources provide ready-made materials to use in your 3D projects. These resources notably include the Adobe 3D asset library, with thousands of 3D materials that can be used as they are or modified for a more personalized look.


For those who wish to create their own textures, however, the Substance 3D toolset provides everything you need, for whichever method you prefer.

Bring it all to life.

Regardless of the source of your 3D materials, they need to look vibrant and realistic when you apply them to 3D objects or use them in graphical environments. Materials created within the Substance toolset respect physically based rendering (PBR) principles, ensuring that they reflect light appropriately, and so appear realistic, in all circumstances.


Painter is specifically conceived to provide artists with an easy, efficient workflow, allowing you to spend more of your time on your creative endeavors. Moreover, Painter supports one-click exporting to Substance 3D Stager and Photoshop, and even supports the creation of custom export templates — an ease-of-use feature designed to give your work an extra boost in efficiency.