As many of my readers are sure to know, I’ve done a lot of work recently with Substance Painter and Substance Designer. Both of these softwares are my go to softwares for texturing anything. The reason is really straightforward: it’s really easy to use. Substance Painter allows me to paint details right on to the mesh itself. Substance Designer lets me create great textures without going through too many contortions using the flow chart, node based interface it has. For someone like me, who actually is a software developer by trade, this sort of interface couldn’t be better.
Some of you probably remember the old days, before software like Substance Painter and Substance Designer, of using Photoshop, to make textures for models. I’m not very good at using Photoshop, but the basic idea back then was to export the UV layout you had painstakingly generated and paint on them by hand in Photoshop, and generate the normal maps, etc. using tools in Photoshop. I’ve never used this approach, mainly because I have no clue how to, but also because of the amount of hassles in it. The pipeline is fairly tough to figure out and presents a lot of challenges. People managed back then, if only barely. Of course, there are procedural textures as well in Maya, using Arnold, Mental Ray, etc., but in this scenario, it’s tougher to get precise control over what part of the object the texture is mapping to and what part it isn’t mapping to. Of course, neither approach is horrible: many artists still use these approaches for a variety of reasons. I personally don’t think I could ever get used to using Photoshop. Maybe I’m just too lazy.
There’s also a ton of other great tools out there too. Autodesk has Mudbox, which is almost like ZBrush in some ways, without the gigantic suite of tools that ZBrush has for sculpting (which I will also get back to in this post). Now the best way to think of Mudbox is like an extension of the texturing tools in Maya. In some ways, it’s similar to Substance Painter, and in others, not so much. One of the major differences between the two is that Mudbox is also a sculpting tool, whereas Substance Painter is exclusively used for texturing. The other difference is that Substance is Physically Based Rendering (PBR) texturing, whereas Mudbox is doesn’t use PBR. This last point is really important. One of the reasons why Substance Painter is really popular is because of PBR. Many rendering engines, and game engines in particular, make extensive use of PBR. Mudbox has been around for longer than Substance Painter, with some of the first versions coming out in 2006, and Autodesk acquiring the software/company in 2007. It represented a step up from previous methods, and also reflected the changing nature of CGI software. In terms of just straight up texturing, Mudbox and Substance Painter are more or less on par with one another in terms of capabilities. Both can achieve similar results, depending on what you are aiming for. Mudbox isn’t too expensive for an annual subscription. Substance Painter/Designer are a bit more expensive, but are a one time payment for a license, which is what I prefer as opposed to annual subscriptions, but it really just depends on your needs.
Many people have also used ZBrush for texturing, though I personally would not want to. It is possible to create maps from ZBrush sculpts and use those as textures. It’s not something that I would personally want to do, but it is possible. Other software for texturing includes tools like 3D Coat which I have never used myself. From what I’ve read, 3D coat is really good at stylized texturing, even better than what Substance Painter can achieve. There are also tools like Mari, BodyPaint, etc. At this point, these tools are better at some things and worse at others, so the choice of the ‘best’ tool really depends on what you are aiming to do. Now Substance Designer is a whole different story. I haven’t seen software like Substance Designer quite yet, and is fairly unique in that regards. It’s a great tool for generating tile ready textures.
Texturing isn’t nearly as tough as it used to be, with the large variety of tools available. Really what I’m hoping for now is software to make UV unwrapping easier. It’s somewhat easier, but still fairly tough for anything more complicated than a box. Someday, perhaps?