Ancient Mat Armor: Texturing Workflow in Substance Painter

Francesc Loyo Valls did a breakdown on the project he worked on during the Meet Mat contest, shared his workflow in Substance Painter and shared a few tips on how to improve your approach to creating realistic textures.


Hello there! I am a 24-year-old student in the middle of a master’s degree in Video Game Art at The Superior Institute of Applied Arts (LISAA) in Paris. I’m from Barcelona, and I got my Design and Production of Video Games degree at the Tecnocampus de Mataró University. 

My first experience in the game industry was as an internship at Molomics, a small mobile company, where I worked as a Game Designer. There, I discovered that I preferred Game Art to Game Design, so I focused on Environmental and Material Art.

After Uni, I took a year off to improve my skills by myself and to test the waters in the job market. It was during that time that I learned about Substance Software and their capabilities, especially, Substance Designer. Personal projects include a small material library that I did to improve my skills in Designer and hero-props to test my modeling and texturing.  

At the moment, I’m contributing to an Indie Game Company, A Tale of Games as a Material Artist. They are competing at the Playstation Talents in Spain, working on a title called “Wukong”.

Ancient Mat Armor

The Idea Behind the Project

To be honest, I didn’t have much idea of what the Mat would end up looking like. I only had two things in mind: I wanted to improve (and hopefully master) the Substance Painter workflow, and I wanted to have fun doing it. 

It all began with the idea of making a robot. I love to create mechanical parts and remembered the Synthetic Human by the amazing “1000toys” company. That inspired me to design the different parts of the armor, but I didn’t have any specific idea of what it would end up being. For the face, I looked for ancient samurai masks as a reference. I had an idea in the back of my mind about using their iconic scary frowny face broken in geometrical parts, and that is what brought me to the final design of the mask. 

Coming from Substance Designer, I love the use of patterns and the attention to detail that they provide. I enjoy making materials as interesting as possible to the smallest perspective. In this project, I took a long time to find the correct patterns to have the impression of handmade work. The use of these circular patterns was a key feature that gave more meaning to the ancient aspect of it.

Once I had the heightmap defined, I tried different materials to see which ones pumped up the details and had a visual impact. The first iteration was a statue made of jade because I wanted to learn more about SubSurface Scattering, but I wasn’t happy with the results. After some more material-trying, I ended up with the old rusted metal armor. Using smart masks with the micro-details parameters on, I could show the details of the patterns more clearly and the weathering effect gave it a sense of realism that I didn’t expect.


Before this contest, I had only learned the basics of Substance Painter and I felt that its pipeline was interesting on the painterly creative side, but it lacked the Substance Designer automation. This is why I decided to test the program to see if I could get a middle point between these two workflows. 

Just like I am used to doing in Substance Designer, I started the project defining the heightmap. This texture defines the main shape of the material, being the perfect foundation for the rest of the development. After the shape was set, I tested different materials to find the one that best suited the shape. Once I had a final idea in mind, I only had to find the best values of materials and tweak the smart masks to get the desired result.


While testing the different ways to create shapes, I found filters very useful for the details. Using filters like Bevel, Blur, Levels, or Mask Outline, I realized that this was the way to combine procedural workflow with the direct and by hand. This is what I did for the height information:

Stage 1 - Armor Shape: To begin, I defined the shape of the armor plates painting a mask for a fill layer.  This layer only used the height information to sculpt the base of the armor plates. To stylize the shapes and have them rounder, I also used the Blur filter combined with levels to gain contrast.

Stage 2 - Deformation: In another layer, using only height information, I painted with a very soft brush to define the general shape of the Mat and emphasize the plates that I wanted. You can see this in the pectorals and the shoulders.

Stage 3 - Bevel: Using the mask information of the Armor Shape layer, I used the Bevel filter to get the rounded edges. I used this layer to define the final width of the plates, too. 

Stage 4 - Improve the Shape: in the next layers, I worked on the curvature of the plates to get a more dynamic and fluid look. Carrying the mask information of the previous stages combined with Bevel, I could add stronger angles and nice curves.

Stage 5 - Outline: Using the “Mask Outline” filter with one of the Previous masks allowed me to add the outline and give more detail.

Stage 6 - Pattern Details: Using the same mask that I used to make the outline, I overlapped the “Fabric Circles Overlap” pattern from the Procedurals folder.

Coming from the Substance Designer, I really enjoyed finding out that some of its functionalities were present as filters. To create the Heightmap, these are the filters I found especially useful and why:

  • Bevel: This allowed me to polish the edges and create interesting volumes from simple shapes. Combined with the Levels filter, it allowed me to modify the masks and have the outlines where I wanted them to be.
  • Blur: To soften the shapes and get nice curves.
  • Outline Mask: For this project, I only used this to give a simple outline detail, but I think it has a lot of potentials to add ornaments and details.

About Substance Painter

I entered the Meet Mat 2 contest to learn and improve the basic knowledge of Substance Painter that I already had, so I don’t have that much experience using this software. I used to use the Quixel Suite, and this was the perfect way to finally shift to Substance Painter. 

When working with the PBR texturing workflow, Substance Painter is one of, if not the best, software to use. It takes some practice to get the hang of it, but it has a great library of materials, smart masks, and procedural patterns/noises. These features combined with a very fast texture baker and an easy-to-use layer system makes it the perfect program to get fast and amazing results. 

As a plus, I found the heightmap displacement feature really cool, although from the game dev perspective it isn’t that useful. It was a key feature to get the Ancient Mat Armor the way it is.

Working on this project made me realize that Game Artists tend to avoid the procedural side of creation when using Substance Painter, but I think that it’s great to save time and get amazing results. 

The other thing that most people I know don’t use is the Anchor Point system. When adding a large amount of normal/height detail inside Painter, it’s very important to transfer this information to the smart masks so that they adapt. In my opinion, it’s one of the most complex features, and it took me quite a long time to fully understand it, but the result speaks for itself.

Valuable Resources to Learn

I found the Substance Academy sources really easy to understand and very handy for someone who knows the basics from other software. I found especially useful the “Getting Started with Substance Painter 2018 Course”. It covered all the basics of the software, and I kept going back to it to find answers.

From a beginner's perspective, I really recommend the Fundamentals videos on Substance’s YouTube channel. It is a great introduction to the PBR workflow, explaining its defining concepts as simply as possible.  

Other than that, the best thing is to experiment by yourself. Since the Meet Mat is always available as an example scene, you should definitely test the different features by yourself while creating a new version of this iconic character. 

Some Final Advice

For me, there are two key elements to properly texturize: observation and practice. 

Usually, we don't pay much attention to our surroundings, but the best library of material references is all around us in everyday life. Stopping for a second to stare at an interesting surface, trying to understand the different patterns that define it and guess what their equivalent would be in textures. Then, the best way to get to know the PBR workflow is to try out these guesses and apply them to a 3D object. The comparison of the result that you get with the real reference is the best way to learn from your mistakes and to improve. Doing this exercise repeatedly, made me acquire the experience that I have so far, so trust me when I say that the best way to be a texturing master is to observe and practice. Oh! And don’t forget to have fun! 

Francesc Loyo Valls, Environment Artist 

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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