Workflows

Before going into the details of every individual method I want to give a small overview of all the techniques I use for material creation to help you decide which technique to try out.


Bitmap Approximation

This is the by far the easiest but also the least accurate way. You take 20-50 photos of a surface and stitch them together in a suitable software, much like a panorama taken with a phone. All other maps are simply approximated from the color map using software.

Upsides

  • Very easy to do.
  • Quick.
  • Not a lot of hardware needed (see below).

Downsides

  • Results can be inaccurate or plain wrong (especially the displacement map).
  • Requires a lot of random tweaking when generating the maps.
  • Very reliant on external conditions (weather, lighting, etc.)

Hardware

  • Any camera. Even a phone will technically work.
  • Almost any computer. Creating a 4k texture from a couple of photos works okay on a notebook with a dual core i5 processor, 8GB RAM and no dedicated graphics card.

Software

  • Microsoft ICE 2.0
  • Krita
  • Substance B2M, Substance Alchemist or Materialize

Multi-Angle Approximation

This is an extension of the standard bitmap approximation. It involves lighting a surface from 4-8 different angles without moving the camera. Substance Designer can then use the differences between the images to create a more accurate normal map.

Upsides

  • Still pretty easy to do.
  • Requires only a camera, a light source and a computer, a laptop is good enough.

Downsides

  • The camera must not be moved. This makes this technique useless for anything larger than a piece of A4 paper
  • Results are better than normal bitmap approximation, but can still be inaccurate.
  • Requires a dark environment.

Hardware

  • Any camera. Even a phone will technically work.
  • Almost any computer. Creating a 4k texture from a couple of photos works okay on a notebook with a dual core i5 processor, 8GB RAM and no dedicated graphics card.

Software

  • Substance Designer
  • Any image editor

Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry creates much more accurate height information at the cost of more time and resources. You take 200-500 pictures of the surface and create a 3D representation in Agisoft Metashape which can then be turned into a displacement map.

Upsides

  • Delivers unbeatably accurate displacement maps when done well.

Downsides

  • Shooting, processing and editing is extremely time-consuming.
  • Requires a powerful computer
  • Very reliant on external conditions (weather, lighting, etc.)

Hardware

  • DSLR or something comparable.
  • A tripod or monopod
  • A powerful computer with a dedicated GPU.

Software

  • Agisoft Metashape
  • An image editor
  • xNormal
  • Substance B2M

Substance Designer

Substance Designer is the industry standard for creating procedural materials.

Upsides

  • Extremely flexible and powerful.
  • Maps are pretty much tileable by default.

Downsides

  • Requires a lot of practice to make use of it.

Hardware

  • A computer. Creating a 4k textures works okay on a notebook with a dual core i5 processor, 8GB RAM and no dedicated graphics card. Creating larger graphs requires more powerful hardware, especially if you want to create materials in resolutions of 8k or above.

Software

  • Substance Designer (duh!)

Choosing the right workflow

There isn't one perfect workflow for all situations. There are several key questions that you should ask yourself to figure out which workflow is the best one for a specific job.

Do you have access to the surface?

This point is kind of obvious. Substance Designer is the only option if you can't get to the material in person. Let's move on to the interesting distinctions…

How strong is the displacement?

Photogrammetry is the right way to go if the surface has enough displacement that you can feel it through a folded up paper tissue. Trying to capture detail beyond that might work to a certain extend but there is a risk that it will just get lost in the noise.
Multi-Angle Approximation is more suited for very fine displacement. It can record even the finest details on a surface but as the overall displacement gets stronger the accuracy goes down.
Bitmap approximation can cover both big and small displacement but only if the height has some sort of correlation with the color of the surface.

How large is the surface area that I want to record?

Photogrammetry can theoretically be used for any surface size. But the required processing also grows quickly. This means that the limit lies in your computer and the quality settings that you choose instead of the capturing process.
Multi-Angle Approximation can only be used for only one camera position at a time. Since you can't move the camera you will need to capture all the detail that you want in that one camera position. This limits the area that you can scan to your one frame of your camera's view.
Bitmap approximation can be used for much larger surfaces with a smaller increase in the required processing time.

What equipment and software do I actually have?

Make sure to check the list of required hardware and software for each workflow.



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