Substance Designer Overview


Substance Designer is an application intended for creating 2D textures, materials and effects in a node-based interface, with a heavy focus on procedural generation, parametrisation and non-destructive workflows. It is the longest-running and most mature application in the Substance suite.

To get an idea of how it compares to Substance Alchemist and Painter:


Learning CurveLowMediumHigh
Author MaterialsYesYesYes
Author Filters, Patterns, EffectsNoLimitedYes
Texture UV-mapped meshesNoYes, requiredYes, optional
Export Parametric contentNoNoYes

In short, Substance Designer should be seen as the most technical, advanced texturing application available. It allows you to author content for almost any usecase or scenario. It means you are not limited to a single type of output (such as a unique material/set of textures for a UV-mapped mesh), but can create content for a much more extended set of uses. For example, most of the procedural, smart content in Painter and Alchemist was authored and exported from Designer. Things like Brush Alphas, Generators, Filters and Base Materials can all be authored in Designer.

Contents

Workflow

Substance Designer is a Node-based editor that allows you to build content in many different ways with varying complexities. The workflow is further explained on dedicated pages, but the following are benefits of working with Designer:

  • Non-linear : you can can author a multitude of texture outputs at once. Edit one mask or slider, and automatically any connected output is re-calculated. No more need to separately author maps such as Basecolor, Roughness, Normal, etc..
  • Non-destructive : you can reverse any action without losing any of your work. It becomes much quicker to iterate and experiment, finding even more efficient workflows.
  • Integrated Baking : Substance Designer provides advanced, blazing-fast mesh baking tools right inside the software. You no longer have to perform baking in a separate software and perform lengthy import and export processes.
  • Parametric : you can set-up to control nearly any aspect of a texture through a single slider or dropdown. This allows you to add endless control and variation to just a single asset.

Filetypes

Substance Designer and its ecosystem use 3 different filetypes. To be clear: these are filetypes that are exported from Designer and can be imported in to some, or all other Substance applications.

Substance File

(*.SBS)

Substance Files are the main source files for Designer. When you open a Substance File, you can view and edit all nodes in a Graph. They are represented as packages, that can contain any number of resources such as Graphs, Functions, Bitmaps, Meshes, etc... They are harder to share and less fast to calculate. They can only be opened in Substance Designer and Substance Player.

Substance Archive

(*.SBSAR)

Substance Archives are compiled, optimized Substance files. They are much faster to calculate and can easily be shared without reference issues. Parameters can still be tweaked, but editing the graph is locked down.. Substance Archives can be used in all Substance applications and any application that has a Substance Integration (some with an external plugin) such as Autodesk 3DS Max & Maya, Unreal Engine 4 or Unity Engine.

Bitmap Files

(*.TGA, *.BMP, *.PNG, etc...)

Substance Designer always supports exporting to standard bitmap files in a variety of formats. The resolution, mode and filetype can be customized to fit your usecase, and bitmaps can be brought into any application that supports them. Bitmaps are completely static, any procedural, parametric, non-destructive functionality is lost when your work is exported as bitmap from Designer.


This generally means you will keep your work in the SBS format when working inside Designer, you'll export to SBSAR if the target supports it (Painter for example), or you will use static bitmap files if there is no need or no support for SBSAR.

Resource types

Substance Files can contain a large variety of resources that serve different purposes. Some Resources can only be authored inside Designer, some will come from external applications.

Substance Graphs

Substance Graphs, or "Compositing" Graphs are the main resource type used in Designer. A Substance Graph allow you to generate and process 2D image data and then output it to one or more texture outputs. In almost every typical usecase, a project will revolve around one or more Substance Graphs. 

We have a whole documentation section dedicated to these Substance Graphs.

Functions

Functions are a higher level of abstraction and complexity in Substance Designer: rather than processing image data (sets of pixel values), you process single values (integers, floats, vectors). Functions are used when you want to perform more complicated operations or if you want to finetune specific behaviours. Functions do not work standalone generally, and they are not used outside the context of Substance Graphs.

There is a section of the documentation dedicated to Functions.

MDL Graphs

MDL Graphs are a special type of Graph resource that can be authored inside Substance Designer. MDL stands for Material Definition Language. These Graphs are not meant for generating and processing texture files and image data, but rather to generate the look of a material in a format that is portable and exchangeable between applications and renderers. 

There is a documentation section dedicated to MDL Graphs.

Non-Graph Resources

Non-Graph resources can come from external applications (such as Photoshop or Autodesk Maya), while some can also be created inside Designer. The major difference is that they are not Node-based Graphs; most of them are elements to be used inside or alongside the previously mentioned Graph types.

The following Resource types exist:

  • Bitmaps
  • Vector Graphics (SVG)
  • 3D Mesh
  • Font
  • 3D Scene
  • AxF