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Paul's (PCAS1986) Trainz Blog

Substance Painter - Getting Started

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Substance Painter is a specialist tool for 3D modellers to create textures for their models. It is not a 3D modelling tool: you need a 3D modelling tool such as 3DS Max, Maya or Blender as well.

For Trainz purposes the basic workflow would be:
1. Create your 3D model in your 3D editor.
2. Export the model as FBX and import into Substance Painter.
3. Create your textures and export as image files.
4. Create your materials within your 3D modelling tool and use the textures provided by Substance Painter.
5. Re-export the model as a new FBX file and import into Trainz together with textures.

3D editors can also create and manipulate textures, but Substance Painter does it much better, at least for Blender, and probably 3DS Max and Maya as well.


So, what does it do?

Substance Painter (SP) provides a layered approach for creating textures using a combination of smart materials, materials, textures and generated effects such as grunges, procedurals and even hard surfaces. A “Hard Surface” is like a normals stamp of an object such as a hinge. For example, if you had hatches on the side of a diesel loco then you can just "stamp" these hinges onto your texture. Very cool.
You can use existing smart materials, modify those, add to them and store your new smart material for use on another object.

SP can use import normal and ambient occlusion (AO) maps or generate those and others. These maps are important since they are used by the “generators” to create effects. For example, a curvature map is used to detect edges when an edge wear generator is used.


What do I need, and how do I get started?

Substance Painter is a product of Allegorithmic and is a subscription-based tool. You can look up the costs on the Allegorithmetic website. You can get a 30-day trial.

If you are like me and complete new to this, you are likely to watch a whole lot of videos. Allegorithmic have a Substance Academy with lots of free videos. There is also a course on using Blender with Substance Painter on CG Cookie but that is a subscriptions service. I think the tutorials at Substance Academy are very good.

The beginners section of Substance Academy is not well laid out. I’ve yet to find a video that describes the user interface except in a sequence of videos made back in 2015 and, since the interface has changed, I’m reluctant to recommend that.

The videos I do suggest watching are:
Fundamentals of Baking Textures This describes how imported textures such as normal and AO are used and why it is necessary to bake other textures before starting to paint.
Understanding UVs and Texel Density This describes why texel density is important to SP and, while some may seem obvious to experienced 3D modellers, it may want you to go back and UV map your model again. Worth watching.

Those two tutorials appear to be part of the original 2015 course.

The really useful tutorial is this one:

Getting Started with Substance Painter This course is based on the 2017 version of Substance Painter and appears to be a replacement for the 2015 series. I recommend you download the project files, open Substance Painter, load up the project files and follow the tutorial. The tutorial runs for about an hour and 20 minutes, but it took me all day. I was wishing I could bookmark sections of the tutorial as a reference. I can see myself watching this video a few times.

Other tutorials:
Baking and PBR Texturing – Substance Painter This was recommended by a TrainzDev member. Covers much of the same ground as the Getting Started video. You do get a different perspective.

Substance Academy has a bunch of other tutorials/videos for the more advanced user but I haven’t looked at those yet.

If you are interested in Substance Painter, I suggest you download the 30-day trial, and follow the videos I suggested. By the end of those you should know whether a subscription is worthwhile for your purposes.


Using Substance Painter for Trainz Models

My early impression is that SP will be very good for items such as cab controls and smaller models. I wonder how well it will work for larger models such as buildings and traincars. I need more experience before I can qualify that statement. Using it for my CNJ840 model will be a good start.

There are some decisions, or actions, that may be necessary before importing your model into SP.

1. Model the entire mesh including the visible moving (animated) parts. Do the actual animation after texturing.
2. Work out what the "base colour" might be for all meshes. For a loco body, you might want a painted metal finish. For a cab control that has chipped/worn paint, then the base colour might be the raw metal underneath.
3. Decide what parts will be metallic like for the purposes of PBR.
4. Decide what parts will have grunge or rust. This can be very effective, but beware of the standard SP grunges as they can be overdone.
5. If you intend to use an existing smart material, including those you make, you will probably need to ensure that your UV map has equal texel density. See the video I mentioned above. This might be an issue for meshes such as a traincar body where some parts, that are barely seen, don’t usually get much texel density.
6. Plan out your UV maps wrt to the final texture. For example, if you intend using two main textures for your model, then you may need to assign each set of meshes to a separate material in your 3d modelling program. I intend to discuss this further when I texture my loco body.
7. Consider making a super high poly mesh just for creating a decent normal and AO map. This mesh will never form part of your model. This may not be useful for traincar bodies but I can see advantages for cab controls.

(I will update this list as I progress through my model with the purpose of extracting it later for a general guidelines section of the WiKI.)

(next: making a fun test asset to try out some stuff)
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