Learning Substance Painter 2

Learning Substance Painter 2

3d artist Paul Bannon (ex Travellers Tales) talked about his work with Substance Designer 2 and described different ways you can use this software.

Former esportsman and current 3d artist Paul Bannon talked about his work with Substance Painter 2 (SP2). Paul is an experienced developer with about for years of experience at Travellers Tales.  However now he works as a teacher at Futureworks, a University in Manchester, where he teaches Substance Painter 2 as well as many other tools. In this post he talks about production of high quality materials for unique assets with SP2.



Hello my name is Paul Bannon and I’m a freelance games artist living in the UK.

I started out, as most people do, playing games day and night. I was heavily into the competitive FPS scene on games such as Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament deep into the nights, even getting sponsored to play at some Lans on a death match game called Painkiller.

This was all great at the time but I soon realised I couldn’t make a living doing this, only the very top players were making any money and sadly I just wasn’t good enough. After hitting this realisation I had to really think about what i wanted from my life, all I knew was that it had to involve games and so I thought to myself, if I cant play games 24/7 I will instead make them! A few months after, I was enrolled at the University of Central Lancashire to do a three year course in games design, this is where my love of 3D modelling and texturing was revealed to me, and I wouldn’t be where I am right now without them.

When I graduated, I got a job at Travellers Tales where I worked as Lead Prop Artist and Environment Artist over the next 4 years on many of the Lego titles they are known for. I had a brilliant time there but grew tired of working with Lego and left to pursue a life as a freelancer.

Currently I teach at Futureworks, a University in Manchester, England that dedicates itself to media related studies, such as TV and Movie production, Audio Engineering and Game Art and I’m also still freelancing on a couple of smaller indie games that i cant mention due to NDA.


Substance Painter 2

So previous to using Substance Painter 2.0 I had dabbled with version 1.0, just enough so I could teach it at university, but in my normal day to day workflow I use Quixel Suite (which is also a fantastic software). I had a couple of weeks off for Easter and decided to use the time to give Substance 2.0 a try and see how it compared, I was not disappointed. Compared to the previous version there is not a massive lot different, I really like the addition of smart masks, which a big improvement on generators in 1.0 – Of course the big addition a lot of people spoke about prior to the release was the Iray renderer, which makes it possible for me to now Bake, Texture and Render inside the same software. It hopefully will have some more improvements incorporated into it in the future as I think its lacking some features you find in other renderers.


Bobcat Project

The Bobcat digger was something I made in Maya a few weeks earlier just for fun really, but it proved to be a great asset to test out Substance Painter 2.0, as it had lots of different surface variations and material requirements. My target was to make something super high fidelity that you would have to look at full screen to realise it wasn’t a real photo – hopefully I achieved that. Obviously my main objective here was to learn Substance Painter 2.0, but it was also to make a nice asset that i would throw into my portfolio (sadly working freelance means work is locked away under non disclosure agreements and such, meaning my folio is looking a little old and dated).

Aiming for a More Realistic Look


Yes, I wanted to create a super high fidelity asset with minimal restrictions on poly counts and texture budgets, its always nice to release the shackles and see how far you can push something. I suppose the biggest challenge, as with most procedurally generated textures, is exactly that – making the materials not look too procedural; damage and dirt need to tell a story, and even the untrained eye can see when something is wrong or out of place.

Sadly Substance only supports 4k at the moment which is disappointing, and this forced me to have to break my asset into more pieces to keep the high fidelity i was after – It also caused me to be lazy when grouping my meshes and this caused a few small bake errors on my model. I soon found out that I would simply paint directly onto the model and alter the normal map, this blew my mind and removed the need for me to have to re-bake to fix the issues.


I always start by making the asset look factory new with clean materials, if you can get the model looking good at this stage then you are halfway there. Its then a case of looking at reference images of real world examples, examining where wear and damage gather naturally. This is one of the benefits of making something that already exists in the real world. I would always recommend anyone learning Substance to make something with a lot of reference material to use. Once you are comfortable with the software you can then expand into making your own designs.



As I mentioned earlier, I already had experience with PBR since using Quixel Suite for almost all of my previous projects, and although Substance Painter 2.0 has a completely different UI the actual PBR workflow is very similar. Its really fantastic that you can now build a huge library of smart materials and texture a bunch of assets very quickly, while also retaining the same quality across the whole project. PBR removes the guess work from texturing, where as previously we would have to judge by eye if it looked accurate, and now, you know the data has been scanned in from a real world source, leaving you confident in the knowledge it will look correct in all lighting conditions.

Adding the Unique Look


One of the best features I was able to utilise was the ability to stamp on screws and rivets to add a lot of extra micro detail at the end. This saved me a huge amount of time when i was modelling, as i did not have to add them until the texturing stage. I used a tool that I bought off of gumroad called Substance Tools – It basically gives you a super handy set of screws/bolts and rivets that you can then stamp onto your mesh.

Probably the best thing about the new update is Iray. In the previous version I was forced to simply take a screen grab from the view port or taking the whole thing to Marmoset to do my beauty shots. I love the fact that now I do not have to leave Painter and Iray gave me an extra bit of visual fidelity that i was missing before.

Layers of the Material

On the Bobcat I broke down my metal into 3 categories, painted metal/gun metal and chrome – the chrome I used on the hydraulic piston sections and didn’t need much work except for a slight layer of dust. The painted metal was a bit of trial and error to get correct, it is a base composed of aluminium and covered in a metallic paint with variations of dust and dirt on top of that. It took me a while to get the correct amount of wear that I was happy with and also finding an off white that looked good. Finally the gun metal was one of the default smart materials that ship with Substance, playing around with the sliders got me a result I was happy with. I like to treat each layer as its own material, if you can get each coat looking good then the final material should look great with the added benefit of being able to save for future projects too!


The Devil is in the Detail


There is always that one player who will stop shooting the next wave of enemies and stop to admire the scenery, that’s who i enjoy catering for, and that is why i love spending that extra bit of time to add those micro polish details. Another thing that I find a lot of game artists doing, especially students just out of university, is making the asset uglier to save a few triangles or save a tiny bit on texture budget. Its always worth pushing the art, especially if it is going into your portfolio for future employers to see.

Paul Bannon, freelance games artist





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