Substance Painter Tutorial

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Welcome to my Quickstart Guide to Substance Painter! My name is Alex Meister, better know as Dark-Minaz, one of the Sketchfab Masters and I have roughly over 180 Models that are made with Maya, 3D-Coat and Substance Painter.

This tutorial is aimed at people who have just started with Substance Painter, but might have a few tips for slightly advanced users.

For simpler navigation I added an Index:

Starting a new Project

Baking Textures

Map Type Descriptions

Normal Map

ID

Ambient Occlusion

Curvature / Position / Thickness / World Space normal

The Baking steps

Navigation

Layers

Smart Materials / Materials

Alphas

Adding “New” Alphas

Generators

Symmetry

Export

Starting a new Project

To start we will need a finished Model WITH UV’s.

This is so Substance Painter knows where to store the Texture Data.

If you need to create those first, I made this Guide to UV’s


Now that we got that we go to “File – New” and select our mesh.

Next we have to decide for the Normal map format, between DirectX and OpenGL. Sketchfab can handle both but defaults to DirectX.

The Document resolution doesn’t exactly matter at this point, as substance painter can freely change that at any given time, while certain applications might prefer a specific map.

I generally go with 2048 as it uses less performance to run while painting (again, this can be changed at the end in case you need a higher output quality).

Then we press okay as we don’t have any pre-baked maps yet.

Pressing F1 (2D/3D view) lets you do a quick check if everything got imported correctly. (I added a material just to display it better).

Now before we start painting any little details or adding tons of materials, we first need to bake.

Yes, even if you don’t have a high poly mesh baking is quite important for a lot of materials and effects. Most need a some information to work with.

Baking Textures

So let us get into baking, click on “Bake Textures” and we get a popup with multiple settings.

I will explain what those Maps are used for to give a basic understanding.

Map Type Descriptions:

Maybe you are already familiar with what each map does, in that case skip to the next point.

Normal Map:

It is used to add details without using more polygons. It simulates as if there were more bumps or dents which rrequires a highpoly (a model with more details) to be baked.

ID:

Is used to quickly create masks based on already stored information

Requires a Mesh with multiple Materials (with colors) or Vertex Colors.

Ambient Occlusion:

Creates lighter and darker areas based on the Geo of your model.

Can be baked from a Highpoly or without.

Curvature / Position / Thickness / World Space normal:

All of those 4 Maps are needed by Substance painter to Read your 3D model and help the textures get where they need to be.

The Baking Steps:

If you have a Highpoly or an ID Model we have to add that into the “high poly Parameters”.

In my case I’ve got an ID Model that looks like this:

As I have the ID map setup by Material Colors, I have to change the Color source to that.

Then I go to Common and set it to 512 to make a simple test bake, just to make sure it all works as intended.

I added the Baked ID map to the color layer just to show the bake. As you can see it colored it the way it should, but of course it looks quite bad.

So let us set it to 4096, add some Antialiasing (2×2 is generally good enough) and hit bake again (can be rebaked even higher later if needed). Depending on how high you set this step you might as well get yourself a drink, as it can take a while.

Now that we have all our models we can take a look at the Channels we can work with. By default those are Base Color, Metallic, Roughness, Normal, Height. If you plan to use more we have to press the small + and add those.

In my case I wanted to add an Emissive Map to make things Glow in Sketchfab.

Substance Painter uses the “Maya” navigation controls by default, but those can be changed by going to Edit – Settings.

Layers

Similar to Photoshop, Substance painter uses a layer system. Higher up means that one will take place. To start with we add a new fill layer and change the color to Dark Grey.

Now if we add another one of those it will change back to our Default Grey. To counter that we need to start working with masks.

Select configure mask and we get multiple options, we can add a white mask (everything selected), a black mask (nothing selected), bitmap maps (we can add bitmap for the selection) or a mask with color selection.

In my case I take the last one, as I already have an ID map and I’d like to use that one.

Now pick a color and we instantly see a result.

What if you don’t have an ID Mask? Well there are simple options for that as well. Add a black mask and go to polygon fill. That will open a new window with a few options what you want to fill.

Vertex selection, Polygon selection, object selection or UV selection.

The color can be toggled with X so it’s quite fast to select and deselect objects.

Now that we got a Mask Selection we can (at any time) change the settings on the left again, such as the color, the metallic or the emissive if we decide the previous look wasn’t the intended result.

I wanted to change them to orange for example.

Smart Materials/Materials

What makes a material “smart”? Well most of those smart materials are multiple layers with generated masks. The simplest way to understand them is to add a smart mask and enable/disable layers to see what each of those did.

This helps a lot in learning how you can use certain elements.

Now that we got the basics covered we should use them, add layers with masks and give the entire model a basic Texture.

For this model I simply added a Smart Material Called “Silver Armor”, an extra layer with a mask set to multiply (like in photoshop) for the darker parts of the same material.

I also added an orange Emissive layer, a plastic armor smart material and a fill layer with an ambient occlusion set to multiply.

Alphas

Substance Painter 2017.1.0 Added quite a lot of Alphas you can use instantly, and many of them are quite useful for adding additional details to your Model without having to model those in a high poly.

There are 2 ways to use alphas, both have a pro and a con, so it is up to you what way you like more.

Option A:

Add a “layer” this will create an empty layer, next we select an alpha and double click it, or drag it into the alpha slot.

Now we can set the settings for that alpha, for example a new color, emissive, height and “paint” by clicking where you want the alphas to be.

This option also has the ability to add filters.

Sadly, this option has a big downside when you want to change certain things later, for example in case you want to have a new Color or change the Height setting you can’t simply edit those and you have to erase those and repaint them.

Option B:

This way works with masks, but causes certain filters to not work – mainly “MatFx HBAO” “MatFx Detail Edge Wear” and “Glow”.

If you plan to use one of those you need to stick with Option A. This might get changed in a future update, as Substance painter is constantly evolving and adding more things.

For the mask option we start with a fill layer, select the layers we want to work with and create a black mask.

These settings do not matter as much as in Option A, as we can change them in the future. In General this is a better way to try out ideas and to have a nondestructive Workflow.

Now we select the mask, add the alpha and paint.

This next image show’s me changing the settings, demonstrating that you can edit the settings after placing the alpha.

Adding “New” Alphas

So what if you have a logo or some other decal you would like to add as alpha?

Well there is a really simple way to add those to your collection.

  1. Make sure your alpha has even dimensions 512 x 512 for example.
  2. Only black and white, make sure the outer area is Black.
  3. Take your alpha and simply drag it into substance painter – a popup will appear.
  4. Now click the button next to your image and select Alpha.
  5. Select the preferred save settings for this Alpha: Current session, project or shelf.

Once the Custom Alpha is imported we can use it directly with your Fill Layer on our Black Mask.

Generators

There are multiple Generators, and they are used to create effects like Dust or Edgewear. You can even download more on Allegorithmic’s share site.

Those work on a calculated principles and are often quite useful for giving your entire model (or a part of it) a few extra details.

To use one, the best way is to add a fill layer, add a black mask and add a Generator. They also have a lot of Options to set, letting you tweak things until you are happy with the result.

Of course you can also just apply these effects to part of the Model. Simple add a group, add a mask and select /deselect the objects you want.

Symmetry

A small but useful button is Symmetry. In a lot of models you might like to have matching details on both sides, and this is what Symmetry is for.

Clicking on the first of the 3 buttons enables it, the 2nd is to select the axis, the 3rd shows or hides the plane.

Export

At this point of the Tutorial you should have a basic grasp of the functions and you should be able to texture your model the way you want.

When you are ready to export to Sketchfab, go to File – Export Textures. (A new popup will appear)

Now in the drop down box you select Sketchfab, select the output size of your Textures if you want to change that and then hit Export.

For the first time you will have to Enter your Email and Password for Sketchfab, once that is done enter a Title and a description, then click Upload.

Congratulations, you now have a Textured Model on Sketchfab.

Here is my Finished Model after using the Steps mentioned above:

About the author

Alex Meister

I'm working as a Freelancer since 4 Years, currently living in the Kingdom of Wonder, Cambodia. Since February 2016, I'm a member of the Sketchfab Masters program.


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  • Alan says:

    Great tutorial, helped me so much!!

    But I have a doubt when exporting to Sketchfab. I have uploaded a model made with vertex colors for color select them when applying materials and when i upload it, only one material appears in the materials stack on 3D settings. Yes, in substance painter there is only one “material” texture set. What is the ideal workflow, multi material or only one material with vertex colors?

    Thanks for your time!
    Alan

    • darkminaz says:

      Hey Alan, sorry i totally missed your Question in my Email for some reason.
      Generally there are 2 answers to it depending on what the model is. Sometimes having more than one material (for example if something needs to be transparent like a tube or a glas contrainer) is the way to go. But in general id advise to put it all on 1 material set (or 2 if you have a floor / external details)
      Baking the Vertex colors into an id map and using that to texture is my default workflow (or simply using the picker to select uv shells)

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