Creating Imaginative Embroidered Fabrics with Substance Designer

Creating Imaginative Embroidered Fabrics with Substance Designer

Elizabeth Nedashkovskaya wrote a detailed breakdown of her two Substance Designer fabric materials with embroidered cranes, pomegranates, and other decorative elements.

Introduction

Hello! My name is Liz and I am currently working as the 3D Character Scan Artist at Lightstage! In my spare time, I like to work on 3D characters and sometimes make materials in Substance Designer. My first introduction to 3D happened when I started attending Academy of Art University to study game development. I fell in love with creating characters and decided to pursue that as a career. Since then I have worked on a variety of different projects as a student and as a professional, from games to 3D printing and high fidelity facial scanning. Currently, I am just working on my portfolio pieces and doing exciting things at Lightstage.

As I mentioned before I received my education at Academy of Art University – before starting there I wasn’t aware that game art can be a career choice, and that the world of game development is so robust and complex! There I learned my basics and even though I have graduated, I am a strong believer that nobody should ever stop learning, especially artists. In the future, I can see myself joining a development team as a character artist.

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Substance Designer Fabric Materials: How It Started

A few years ago, while working on my portfolio, I decided to learn a new tool that I thought would be beneficial to my skill set – Substance Designer. I got started with it very easily and was surprised by how relatively simple it was to just experiment and learn. I think the ease of experimentation is what kept me going. Substance Designer is mostly viewed as a tool for environment artists, but I think everyone can find a cool way to implement it into their work. For me, it was custom patterns, alphas, and fabrics that I could use to make my characters unique.

I decided to start practicing making cloth materials and learn more about Substance Designer as I went! I didn't have a set goal in mind, just wanted to make something cool.

While browsing on the internet I saw a simple crane fabric design by Genevie Gorder. I thought it was a perfect design to start with. The base shapes that are used to create the cranes are very simple and easy to understand, can be replicated by using the most basic Substance Designer nodes that create an elegant design when combined together.

Of course, I didn't want to replicate the Pindler Fabrics design completely, so I decided I would add some Japanese patterns to it and make it embroidered instead of printed.

Crane Fabric Breakdown

The crane fabric is fully procedural. I started with the base. After some experimentation, I settled on Weave 1, mostly because it created a very rough-looking fabric which created nice visual contrast.

While this is a very simple and amateur setup, it got me what I wanted. Looking at both of my projects now, I would have definitely changed a few things around, but there is no need to dwell on it, I can use this knowledge in my next fabric design!

Let's move to the fun part – cranes. I started with basic shapes and used Cone to get a nice gradient fall-off on the edges. After a lot of ​Trapezoid Deformation​, ​Transformation 2D​, and quite a few blends, I have gotten closer to the crane embroidery I wanted to see. I also added a small outline using​ Edge Detect​and turned it into a golden border later.

This is how the base crane looks at the end and I just tile it at the angle with some slight variations in size:

With basic cloth and cranes done, I didn't want to stop there. It looked empty and boring and I was having a blast with Substance Designer, so decided to make the geometric design and golden flowers.

The geometric design was an interesting decision that I think added a lot to the overall look. It contrasts the curves of other patterns, creates interesting visual noise, and is subtle enough to add a nice touch but not overpower the composition. I did a bit of research on common Japanese patterns and found the Asa-no-ha (hemp leaf) pattern. Those can get pretty cool and complex but I stopped at a simpler version and modified it a bit. I highly recommend looking up square Kumiko patterns, there are a lot of beautiful designs there.

Here is the set up for the pattern itself:

In the end, I achieved the result you can see below. I really like how it can look like a flower or a 3D box depending on how you look at it.

I blended it with the basic cloth that I created in the previous step and added a bit of a drop shadow to offset the pattern.

The flower setup is incredibly easy. I decided to add them to fill the space a bit and maybe add a poetic touch with one falling petal.

After all the important steps were done, I combined everything in the color. I used color gradients for each pattern separately and later blended them all using masks.

Notice how the geometric pattern is barely visible; I decided to add more roughness to it and that's how it began to stand out from the rest of the pattern, creating a much more interesting look.
I mostly used roughness to create a visible difference between base fabric and embroidered patterns. In my opinion, good roughness is incredibly important and can create amazing details. After that, I added some metalness to the flowers and a border around cranes. It's important not to forget about the fuzz map. It was made using my previous black and white maps which were used for height and blended with ​Fur2​. A bit of the levels adjustment and I got this:
After that, I combined all the maps in Marmoset Toolbag, set up some lights, and rendered it out. I enjoy going with the creative flow while I work and see what I will end up making! This is what I got after combining all maps in Marmoset Toolbag and adding lighting:

Pomegranate Fabric Breakdown

The second fabric was a bit more complex, but I made it some time after the first one and had learned a lot in the meantime! This time, I mostly wanted to create something that might fit into a fantasy game, maybe some fabric for a fancy cape. I wanted it to be darker in the theme, with some mystery to it – I hope I managed to achieve that.

Below is a basic fabric setup. It works well for a heavier-looking fabric, something close to a coat fabric feel.

After that, I jumped into creating the embroidery pieces. First up was pomegranate; I wanted to create two types, one untouched and one cut. The idea for this design actually came for no particular reason.

This is how I made them. The basic shape was easy enough:

Same with the inner part of the fruit. Then follows an even easier base embroidery setup:

I tried to achieve a certain look I noticed on embroidered fabrics where stitches follow in the same direction but ever so slightly off. Adding irregularity is what makes it look more handmade and believable. Looking at this now, I would have probably added stray thin threads as well.

And voila! Everything combined makes for two perfect embroidered pomegranates:

I scatter them using Color Tile Sampler and combined with the fabric. I didn't want to have a lot of them, mostly because they are medium-sized elements and a large number of them would make the composition crowded. I also wanted them to stand out and be the center of attention; achieving that was easy enough with the color contrast, size, and shapes.

Now it is time for bees. While the final product does not reflect all of their detail due to the size, they are my most favorite part of this project! It was very fun to make them, and I hope to add them to my future fabrics.

I started with basic shapes gradually forming a bee shape:

And:
And in the end, I got this kind of cute result:

I reuse a lot of the things that I already created and here I made sure to rotate my embroidery base while blending it with the parts of the bee, so that they don't visually merge into each other and look different.

For both pomegranates and bees, as well as on the crane fabric, I used the technique I saw in the tutorial by Jaakko Saari:

Now onto snakes. Actually, they were an afterthought! I needed something to fill up the void and add more depth to the visual storytelling.

Snakes are the only part that is not fully procedural. Right now I think I could have figured a better way to make them, but at that time I created them in Photoshop.

The body is separated into three segments; after that, I just followed the usual steps. I also added small jewels for the eyes and the headpiece.

After all the parts of the fabric were done, it was a matter of combining everything together. After a lot of blend nodes and masking, the final maps looked like that:

Looking at this material now, I would have changed a couple of things. Personally, I think it is important to analyse your old works and watch out for possible improvements and could-be-betters. I would have added a bit more shape variations with some slight warping over all of the patterns, better wrinkling around the patterns themself to replicate slight tightening of the cloth where they were embroidered, and more fuzz and stray threads which naturally appear on fabric!

While writing this, I actually changed some things around – nothing major, just some simple adjustments for better composition, so I decided to create a nicer render: 

Challenges

While my node graphs are big, it is probably coming from a lack of practice. My best advice for not losing yourself in a huge node graph and staying somewhat organised is to clean up as you go – try to color-code and separate parts out! Overall, as long as it is your personal project and it makes sense to you, I don't think anyone should really stress about it.

The main challenge was just figuring out things as I progressed, but it was the most fun part as well. With a lot of amazing information available online, it is just a matter of patience and curiosity to keep going and working on your project! It is fascinating to come up with designs and see them come together in a very explorative fashion, for which Substance Designer is a perfect tool!

Afterword

I don't quite remember how long it took me to complete these materials. I tend to work on personal projects after my day job, so it is always hard for me to say how much time I spend on them. But I managed to finish both of the materials in a span of several days, just a few hours of work every evening.

Hopefully, I will continue learning and making better cloth materials in the future! Currently, I am attempting another one but this time inspired by a historical garment – Lady Curzon's peacock dress!*

Thank you for reading! I appreciate the opportunity to write about my work!

*Editor's note: As of now, Elizabeth has already released the Peacock fabric on ArtStation: 

Elizabeth Nedashkovskaya, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova

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