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:
|Author Filters, Patterns, Effects||No||Limited||Yes|
|Texture UV-mapped meshes||No||Yes, required||Yes, optional|
|Export Parametric content||No||No||Yes|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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: