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How to Make Tool Kit with History Using ZBrush & Substance 3D Painter

Huangyulong showed us the steps behind the Combination Tool Kit creation, demonstrated how they reflected its history with texture painting, and explained the work on the wood.


Hello, I'm Huangyulong, a college student currently working at a game company on stylized projects. I've been learning 3D modeling since my sophomore year, and it's been about two years now. I'm quite skilled in creating realistic models. I am self-taught in texture painting. As you can see, I tend to enjoy making aged objects because they can have more storytelling potential, allowing people to imagine the era, background, and stories behind their production.

I've shared some project files for free on my ArtStation profile and I've posted screen recordings of the production process on my Bilibili account, which everyone can learn from and reference.

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I want to thank everyone who has appreciated my work and offered me suggestions. Today, I'd like to share my experience in creating the Combination Tool Kit.

Combination Tool Kit

Initially, I just wanted to create a practice file for a file tool, but then I remembered I had made a small knife before and a friend had provided a screwdriver he had created. That's when I got the idea to make a combination tool kit.

I first searched for other artists' work on ArtStation and then I looked for old files on various second-hand websites. I also used some scanned textures as references. Finally, I settled on the main references for my project.

During the process, I found that the wooden handle looked too plain, so I added a crack to it in the design. I then wrapped it with tape and secured it in place using .zip ties.

Furthermore, during the reference search stage, I began to think ahead and consider how to model the various elements of the model, taking into account the design features and the history it has been through. Even as I search for and study references, I can start to formulate a plan, including which parts to create in DCC software, which to create in Marvelous Designer, and which elements to model in ZBrush, as well as which details to add during the texture creation.


I created the basic shape in Cinema 4D and then added some details and edge damage by sculpting in ZBrush. I prefer carving small detail textures on wood, as it allows for baking more intricate curvature maps, resulting in richer masks during texture creation.

I reduced the model's polygon count, merged it, and imported it into Marvelous Designer. Then, I created a fabric panel and set its pressure to a negative value to make it adhere to the surface of my model. After that, I adjusted the preset cloth parameters and particle spacing to achieve the desired effect.

I remeshed the tape in ZBrush, added thickness, and then sculpted the edges to simulate the deformations that occur due to aging, heat, and everyday friction.

I sculpted and detailed the box, and set its pivot point so that it could open and close correctly without any issues like clipping.

I didn't create the file pattern in ZBrush during the high-poly stage because I felt that using height maps in Substance 3D Painter offered more control, allowing me to generate selections for color modification and work on fine details in conjunction with anchor points.

Since it's a personal project, for efficiency, I directly used ZBrush for retopologizing and creating the low-poly model. And I unfolded the UVs using RizomUV. I bake textures in Marmoset Toolbag. I bake all the maps needed for texturing (normals, AO, curvature); normals, object, and position will be baked in Substance 3D Painter.

Texture Painting

When I'm painting textures in Substance 3D Painter, I keep all settings at their defaults and don't deliberately adjust contrast, exposure, or saturation to achieve the most realistic lighting effects. I chose Studio Tomoco because this is an HDR map with rich lighting layers, including flat light, shadows, and highlights, to achieve the desired effect.   

When I create textures, I typically divide the process into four to five main layers:

  • Base Layer: This is where I create the foundational textures and characteristics for the object.
  • Texture Layers (added as needed, for special textures, like the patterns on my file, I incorporate them into the base layer): These layers are used to add unique textures to the object.
  • Color Variation Layer: This layer is used to enhance the object's color, roughness, and add slight variations in metallic properties to enhance the object's texture.
  • Volume Layer: This layer is used to add ambient occlusion, dust, edge wear, and highlights to the object. When adding these elements, I take into consideration the object's historical context and the story it has been through, ensuring that it makes sense and enhances the narrative.
  • Additional Layer: This layer is where I incorporate the essence of storytelling, such as stickers on the object, written text, moss on stones, dirt at the bottom, water stains, dried water ripples, and more. These details significantly enrich the model's texture, add depth to the narrative, and allow the audience to use their imagination.

When painting, I spend a significant amount of time observing the color and roughness channels because rich color variations and roughness changes are crucial. A good PBR model's color layer should have the same richness of color variations and volume as a hand-painted model, and the roughness should also reveal the model's structure.


For the base layer of wood, I used a base material as a foundation because wood doesn't have specific textures. So, the base layer consists of just one layer. You can also start with a scanned texture for the base and use the HSL filter in Substance 3D Painter to adjust the color.

Observing the reference images, I aimed to create a wood texture with slightly darkened and weathered ends. I used two position generators, adjusted the blending modes to create selections, and added anchor points for ease of later adjustments. Then, I used the distortion filter and hand-painted certain areas to obtain the desired selections.

Next, I created another fill layer for highlighting, creating contrast with the previous dark areas. I hand-painted a mask and applied a wood texture over it to break up the hand-painted brush strokes for added realism.

I used the hand-painting technique in combination with overlaying textures from Substance 3D Painter to introduce additional colors. Adding color also enriched the roughness in the process.

Notably, the current layers do not include any edge highlights, wear and tear, or AO and dust; they solely focus on the inherent color variations of the object.

Here, I divided the volume layer into curvature and AO layers. The creation process for curvature and AO layers is similar to color variation. I use generators or hand-painted masks, overlay textures to create selections, and pay close attention to color changes. It's important to create multiple layers and focus on color transitions and variations rather than relying on a single layer.

I put a lot of thought and effort into the additional layer. For instance, the wood splinters on the old wood.

I created small indentations and pits on the wood's surface, and at the same time, I used anchor points to ensure a seamless transition for their color and height. When tiling textures, I like to overlay a "Cloud2" texture with the blending mode set to "Multiply" to add variation and prevent the tiled texture from appearing too uniform.

I used a hand-painting technique combined with overlaying textures to create selections for the adhesive residue on the wood. Additionally, I used Substance 3D Designer to create a small tool to address the issue of not being able to independently control the brightness and contrast of externally imported images.   

I used a similar approach to create the material for the tape and I employed the HSL filter to individually adjust the colors in specific areas to make them more diverse and rich.

When creating the stationery box, after baking the required textures, I duplicated the model several times and re-imported it to facilitate better observation and examination.

I set it as an old stationery box from the 1970s or 1980s with paint that has chipped and aged over time. Due to the manufacturing processes of that era, its craftsmanship may not be particularly high, and improper storage has resulted in numerous cracks, deformations, peeling paint, and rust.

In the middle of the process, I found a scanned image of a toolbox and I decided to use it as a reference.

I created the base layer for the paint material and worked on its color, roughness, and height to give it a more weathered and patina-like texture.

As for the color variation, like the one I created for the small knife earlier, I prefer to make it somewhat exaggerated for a striking effect.

When creating the chipped paint, I initially used the "Metal Edge Wear" generator to create the initial selection and then achieved the final desired effect through hand-painting.

I used the built-in material spheres in the software as a base for the material and added hand-painting beneath the fill layer to enrich the colors.  

Then, I used anchor points to create selections and worked on the peeling around the chipped paint. I used mapping techniques to create rust seeping into the selected areas of the paint.   

When adding dust, I focused on creating a sense of storytelling. I included dust that appeared to have been wiped away with fingers. I imagined the owner of the box looking at a thick layer of dust on the bottom, having a spontaneous idea to try to clean it up with their fingers but quickly giving up because the dust was too thick. During the creation process, I filled in the mask for finger smudging and added an AO generator to control the area, concentrating it on the bottom of the box.


I used dynamics simulation in Cinema 4D to make the object's placement appear more natural. Then, I rendered the scene in Marmoset Toolbag, creating a plane as the background. I used the same HDR used in Substance 3D Painter for lighting. I adjusted the rendering's exposure, contrast, and sharpening appropriately. To achieve a more realistic effect, I increased the number of light bounces to 4, the transmission value to 8, and turned off denoising. I also increased the sampling to 2048 for the final render.

My only regret is that I overlooked adding height information and dust at the edges when creating the stickers, which made them appear unnaturally dissolved into the paint rather than aged and peeling on top of it. Many friends pointed this out to me, and I also noticed it during rendering. However, due to the limitations of my computer configuration (RTX 3060 on laptop), making these modifications was too slow and rendering would have taken a lot of time. So, I decided not to make those changes. I will definitely pay attention to such issues in future projects to avoid making the same mistakes.

Huangyulong, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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Comments 2

  • Anonymous user

    Thank you Li Ge for sharing


    Anonymous user

    ·6 months ago·
  • Bogomolov Ilia

    Wow, just wow, it's incredible how much thinking and attention to details you put in the asset, really impressive! Thanks for sharing it in such a thorough manner!


    Bogomolov Ilia

    ·6 months ago·

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