Author Topic: Where does Substance Designer fit into pipeline?  (Read 2379 times)

Hi everyone,

I've recently started using Substance Designer, and I was curious where it would fit into the pipeline of production (mine specifically)

Currently I have Zbrush, Modo, and will have the indie live for SP and SD.

So I get the main idea of it, but just wanting to make sure I see its full potential.

Zbrush- Organic Modeling
Modo- Hard Surface and Rendering (currently can't afford another render software)
Substance Painter- Textures for models
Substance Designer- Tileable geometry/textures and large scale textures?

As an example, do I use SD to generate the textures and mesh detail for mountains, instead of sculpting them all? If so, is there anything else SD is primarily used for in a production pipeline?

Sorry for the wall of text, just wanting to really figure out where SD fits in. I'm really enjoying learning it, and just wanting to make sure this is something I could bring with me to different studios, etc.


One thing that SD is most useful for is creating dynamic (changing) materials. For each project, you can set up in Designer the types of materials you'll need, made in the art style you want, and have them react realistically/believably to the mesh (done through baking maps like Curvature, AO, World Space Normals, and that sort). You can also set up user-specified parameters that will be exposed, such as age, paint color, wear-and-tear, dirtiness... And then pass these over to painter, and combine them all as appropriate on your mesh.

I'll describe an example. You're building a construction site, and you want it all to look like it belongs in the same universe. So you make a material for metal, rebar (rusty colored, with a particular pattern of indents), concrete, gravel, a paint overlay, rubber, and wood. Then you model/sculpt building foundations (half made, with rebar poking out), a wheelbarrel, a shovel, cement blocks, slabs, etc.

For the wheelbarrel, you'd put that into Painter, with your custom Materials, and bake some mesh data maps. Set it as your custom metal material, with the Age parameter that you made set pretty high, because you want that rust to show through, set the Wear reasonably high so the parts that curve outwards will be less glossy and show scuff-marks, set the dirt very high (it's been used all day, after all), and all the cracks will fill with dirt.
The next layer will be paint, set to be colored dark red, and flaking off to the point of almost not being there anymore. These are also custom settings that you'd set up earlier.
Paint on wooden handles, and paint the tire rubber. Maybe even plastic hand grips... Same as before, these materials can all be customized and mesh-reactive, so the slots in the tire might fill up with dirt, plastic grips might be less glossy where they can expect to be roughed up (where the AO map detects no occlusion at all, for example), and colors can be customized.

In the end, maps can be baked and put into the engine of your choice like with any other workflow. That's how I do it... although many engines can use substance files directly, and make the maps on-the-fly, for dynamic choices selected by the level designers, in-engine code, or players.

And later on, if someone contacts you with a job, and they want you to texture a series of freight ships with different colors of paint, levels of wear, etc... well, you already have some materials owned by you, lined up and ready for your next job!


You will probably get a few answers here.  I'm sure we will phrase our answers in different ways and perhaps with different emphasis, but hopefully we say essentially the same thing.

For DESIGNER, I see that as a tool to create your basic "materials."  They can be very sophisticated, but what you are making is the visible surface of everything you modeled.

A beautiful thing with Substance Designer/Painter is you can parameterize your substances, so (as mentioned by Cory) you can adjust things like the amount of rust, or the roughness, or the the visibility of decals, etc.  Another great feature is the ability to have "smart materials" that use your curvature (and other) maps to automatically create edge wear, grime in crevices, and so on, without painstakingly hand-painting all of that on every item you texture.
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Thanks for the detailed answers! Having the adjustable parameters outside of the actual "material" does sound very beneficial.

So is SD used as a way to quickly generate normal maps for things that would have very similar structures in large quantities? (i.e. mountains, large scale city buildings that aren't main focuses, etc.)

I think that would be the last thing I am confused on.


Some people have, I believe, used Designer/Painter on terrains, but not me, so I'm not well-qualified to answer the terrain question.

Disclaimer aside, Designer is NOT a terrain building tool.  It doesn't create or edit the underlying mesh.  You need some other tool to sculpt the valleys and mountains, I believe.  But you could use it to help paint on some smaller details and colorations.  <--- Or I could be wrong...

BETTER ANSWER... Do a SEARCH for "Mountain" or "Terrain." (At the very top of the page.)

I searched for "Mountain" and found this thread, for example:,5590.msg26992/highlight,mountain.html#msg26992
Last Edit: June 29, 2017, 12:32:41 am
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I've seen some excellent examples of buildings made in SD (there is at least one example on Substance Share... called Night Life, or something, I think). The general shapes and properties can be easily made and placed on distant cubes to give the impressions needed.

I don't think it's the right tool for terrain... Ground materials can be done, certainly, but the resolution an actual terrain asset would need makes using actual maps for it impractical. Most game engines use splat-maps, where several terrains mix together based on an overall splat image, so the terrain has random variation, but still has close-up details.

Even for just simple, distant mountain assets, I think SD isn't well-suited. I'd be more inclined to use photographic or hand-painted textures on planes or simple geometry. Procedural generation is more suited to times when you want to mimic the world, whereas building set pieces, so to speak, is much more of an illustrative task, and so should be approached with an illustrative technique.

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