What Adobe Substance 3D Tools Do VFX Artists Use?

industry vfx Aug 22, 2023
What Adobe Substance 3D Tools Do VFX Artists Use?  - Featured

Do you need to add Substance 3D tools like Designer and Painter to your VFX pipeline?

The 3D and overall VFX landscape is constantly changing. Companies are finding new ways to innovate the way artists create. One of the companies driving change in AI and procedural workflows is none other than Adobe. The company took a large leap into 3D and video game production when it acquired Allegorithmic in 2019. Allegorithmic developed a collection of tools under the Substance umbrella, and many like Substance Designer and Painter have become staples in the 3D industry. 

Since the acquisition, Adobe has continued to roll out significant changes, updates, and integrations that have streamlined 3D artists' workflow with the Substance 3D plan. In case you’re unfamiliar, let's talk about each of the tools. 


What is Adobe Substance 3D? 

Adobe Substance 3D is a creative suite that gives 3D artists access to a collection of tools and content to create, capture, and texture 3D assets and compose and render 3D scenes. It's a little bit of everything, essentially. The apps that come with the Substance 3D suite are Designer, Painter, Modeler, Sampler, Stager, and Assets. 

Adobe Substance 3D is used in hundreds of games in a variety of ways including asset creation and texturing. Here's a sneak peek from their latest games showreel. 



Substance was used in recent releases like Elden Ring, Assasin's Creed Valhalla, Baldur's Gate III, Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, and It Takes Two. Assets and materials work seamlessly and have plug-ins for most game engines and 3D apps including Unity, Unreal Engine, Maya, Blender, and Cinema 4D.  


Is Adobe Substance 3D included with Adobe Creative Cloud?

No. Substance 3D is not included with a standard Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. It is a standalone suite of apps that requires an additional subscription. 

Students and teachers and higher education institutions can request a free license through Adobe's education offering. 

Adobe Substance 3D is offered in two packages:

The entire Substance 3D Collection includes all Substance 3D tools, with individual licenses starting at $49.99/month, and team licenses starting at $99.99/month. 

The Substance 3D Texturing subscription includes Substance Painter, Sampler, Designer, and 3D Assets, with individual licenses starting at $19.99/month.  


What Adobe Substance 3D tools should VFX artists know and use?

Substance 3D lets you mix and match just like you would with Adobe Creative Cloud. You don't need to master every tool, but you should have some foundational knowledge of each tool in your industry's pipeline.

A video editor is expected to know Premiere and/or After Effects, but still have a working knowledge of Photoshop and Audition. The same goes for VFX artists, but we know all too well that not all VFX artists are the same.

Some may never touch a 3D app, and some may work purely in 3D, but as things evolve and change, you are expected to have a foundational knowledge of the 2D and 3D VFX pipelines, or at least know the tools they use. 

(Other suggested reading: What Tools Do You Need to Create Video Game VFX? and What is the Best Animation Software to Create 2D FX?)

If you already have Adobe Creative Cloud, you are likely using Photoshop and After Effects. In the Substance 3D Collection of tools, VFX artists can dabble in each for different uses, but the two most commonly used tools are Adobe Substance 3D Designer and Substance 3D Painter. 

Both of these tools allow you to create textures but with varying degrees of control. Painter, as the name suggests, allows you to texture 3D objects in real-time. It's a great option for achieving a hand-painted to stylized look. Designer is a more advanced node-based tool that allows you to create an infinite amount of textures and materials. 

Let's dive into each of these tools, and then work out way through the rest of the Substance 3D collection. 


Adobe Substance 3D Designer

Adobe Substance 3D Designer is a powerful material creation tool that allows you to create seamless materials and patterns with infinite variations. Designer is a node-based tool that allows you to create non-linearly. Essentially you can go back to any point in the creation process and make adjustments to create new materials or variations. You can not only make 3D materials but also seamless 2D textures and patterns as well.



Substance 3D Designer is for more intermediate VFX artists who have a history of working with nodes in programs like Unity or Nuke. It's the most difficult to learn from scratch, but it's also the most powerful tool in the collection. It can export files to nearly any type of 3D file format and is compatible with nearly all 3D apps. This is why it has become such a staple across all VFX disciplines from television and film to video games and among independent creators.

Fun fact. Substance Designer was used on Blade Runner 2049 and the creators of Designer were recognized by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their work on the program.



Did you know that even though Substance Designer creates textures procedurally, you can create textures like dissolve maps and ground decals with a hand-painted style? You can even imitate brushstrokes with the clever use of noise textures. Check out the Procedural Textures in Substance Designer course to learn more tricks for creating stylized FX. 


Adobe Substance 3D Painter

Adobe Substance 3D Painter is an incredibly versatile texturing app. It's considered the "Photoshop" for 3D objects. It's a non-destructive tool that allows you to paint, mask, create materials, get UVs, and easily export a variety of presets for all sorts of rendering in games, 3D, film, motion design, and VFX. It allows you to texture a model in real time and is thus one of the industry-leading tools for texture painting. 




In terms of skill level, this is meant for beginners who are looking to get into 3D texturing. Whether you want to hand-draw the textures or drag and drop one onto your model, it's really an open canvas that gives you endless help and options for getting to the finish line. The most recent update released for Painter adds a new 3D path system, allowing creatives to apply paint strokes to a model along editable Bezier guide curves, and extends the Painter’s Dynamic Strokes system. 

Substance 3D Painter is compatible with most major and standard 3D file formats. You can import mesh files like .fbx, .obj, .abc directly into Substance 3D Painter. 


Adobe Substance 3D Modeler 

Now the Substance 3D Collection had basically every step in the process of fine-tuning a 3D model to get it where it needs to be at the finish line, except the one key step - creating the actual 3D model. Before the process was to create the model in a program like Blender, ZBrush, or Unreal Engine and then bring it into the Substance. That has changed with the newest tool, Substance 3D Modeler



Modeler allows you to sculpt 3D models on a desktop or inside your VR set. That’s right, the future is here, officially. Using the Meta Quest Pro allows you to see your creation right in front of you as you “grab” and “sculpt” however you see fit. Substance 3D Modeler is meant to make working in 3D as intuitive as working with clay in real life. Sculpting is supposed to feel like sculpting. Adobe has said that the intention behind the software is that you can finally “focus on the creative process rather than on technical limitations.”


Adobe Substance 3D Sampler

Substance 3D Sampler transforms imported pictures of real-world objects into photorealistic materials, 3D objects, and HDR environments. These images are then processed to create seamless, tile-able textures suitable for use in 3D applications.



Easily import the photos to automatically generate models, materials, and lights with features powered by Adobe Sensei (Adobe’s AI and machine learning framework). Then you can pair sampled assets with content from the Substance 3D Assets library (more on this in a minute), there’s really limitless potential for real-world replication and original creation.


Adobe Substance 3D Stager

The Substance 3D Stager is essentially a stripped-down version of Adobe Dimension. Dimension is a general-purpose 3D app, but Stager was built on the updated Adobe Mercury Render Engine and was built to complement the rest of the Substance 3D tools. It was built for virtual staging, where you can import and arrange 3D assets into simple scenes with controlled lighting and rendering. 




Adobe Substance 3D Assets

This is exactly what it sounds like. Substance 3D Assets is a library of 3D assets including materials, models, and lights. There’s also a great community aspect involved with the Assets, check out their free library here. So this isn’t so much a tool, as much as it is a bank of materials and “assets” you can use for your project as a whole. The libraries of materials you’ll find in Assets range from different properties, appearances, and styles, that cater to whatever you’re visual aesthetic you’re aiming for.

You can modify and create derivative work of Substance 3D Assets, and distribute or sublicense them as long as it is incorporated into a Larger Work, like video games, or into a Modified Work. In any case, you can’t share or sell Substance 3D Assets on a standalone basis.


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