, by the Substance 3D content team

Parametric Materials: Back to the Source of Substance 3D Assets!

An overview of the nearly 9,000 high-end textures in your asset library for 3D.

  • Architecture
  • Design
  • E-Commerce
  • Fashion
  • Film
  • Game
  • Technology
  • Transportation

Welcome to all material lovers to Adobe Substance 3D assets, the digital material library for creatives in 3D.

It is the largest parametric content library today, with nearly 9,000 materials available for download on the platform. If you scroll through them, you will find a wide range of ready-to-use materials for all purposes and styles. 

These high-end materials are designed, built, and optimized with love. We create them to help you to obtain a photorealistic result without effort, thus producing exceptional images in a minimum of time. 

Each material is visually customizable with built-in parameters that allow for endless unique variations. Whether you are starting out in 3D as a graphic designer or an advanced 3D artist, you will find the right look and feel for your project.

These materials are created in-house by our team of technical artists (you may already know them as the Substance Source team). Thanks to their expertise in different 3D universes, we produce the highest standard of realism in our content for fashion, video games, industrial design, packaging, automotive, and architecture, among others.

Today, we want to take you on a tour of the different material categories available on the Substance 3D asset library.

What’s a Substance Material?

But for those who are just joining us now, let’s start at the beginning: what is a material in 3D? And what is it used for?

When working in 3D, materials (or textures) are the images that are applied to the different surfaces of a 3D object. Applying materials is a step called texturing. It allows us to provide each 3D surface with the information (such as color or pattern) necessary to identify what material the object is made of. That’s say, texturing a 3D object makes it appear as if it were made out of wood, or metal, or essentially any other material.

It is therefore particularly useful when generating a realistic image of the object (also known as rendering).

Now, what is the difference between textures and a Substance material?

First of all, a 3D texture is a group of maps (textures) representing different properties of a material — for example, the color, roughness, height, normal, and so on. The texture is a group of maps that represent different properties of a material.

The main difference is that Substance materials are parametric! Created procedurally in Substance 3D Designer or Substance 3D Sampler, they have built-in parameters that allow the user to modify these main visual aspects. Color, roughness, metallicity, patterns, and surface relief are variables that you can adapt to your project needs.

This means that a Substance material essentially behaves like a mini-library, capable of generating an infinite number of unique variations of a given material. The Substance 3D assets platform is a library of almost 9000 unique Substance materials. And every single one of them comes with its own set of specific parameters! 

Types of materials

There are several ways to design a digital material for 3D. The two types of materials available in the Substance 3D library are:

  • fully procedural materials
  • scan-based materials

Procedural assets are designed exclusively virtually with procedural tools like Designer or Sampler. They are fully parametric and offer the highest level of flexibility as everything in them is potentially customizable. These assets have the most exposed parameters (predefined variables that can be changed by the user).

Another very useful feature is how light a fully procedural material is: only a few Kb for a powerful texture generator up to 8K resolution.

The second type of asset is the scan-based material. That means that many of the texture maps that compose the asset have been captured by a material scanner.  The main advantage of this type of material is its accuracy, because all the details of the real surface are captures. This high precision allows a faithful reproduction of reality, but it often comes a bit at the expense of creative flexibility. 

However, the Substance scan-based materials are also parametric. We have combined the best of both worlds to provide you with hybrid assets where the user can also vary many of the key visual attributes.

Why parametric materials?

Whether virtual or scanned, Substance materials are parametric. This means that when you use an asset from the library in the Substance 3D apps, or in all applications that integrate the Substance format — and there are many of them — you will have access to modification parameters.

Design your own material look and feel:

These parameters included in the ready-to-use material allow you to visually modify the surface of the material. Looking for a material in a particular shade? Select what you want in Substance 3D assets and get it in the exact color you want thanks to its integrated color parameter.

Take wood, for example. A texture would describe a precise and definitive state of a wood material. However, in the case of a Substance 3D asset, it is more. It allows you to combine infinite variations of grains and colors, with many extra options: polished, matte, natural or varnished, and clean or damaged. To read more about our parametric wood textures, go here.

One single material in the library comprises many, many possible final results for you. And each material is available in the Substance format, which allows you to generate a resolution up to 8K.

Save your own preset variations in the Substance material

In addition to the parameters that allow you to customize the material, we curated presets for each asset in the library. Presets are pre-recorded variations of the material: they allow you to appreciate the material’s possibilities.

They behave like a backup of the parameter sets. That is to say that each time you find an interesting variation, you can save it in the Substance material and thus generate a catalog of variations in a single file.

This is especially useful for color schemes by finish for color and material designers and industrial designers. 

Navigating the Substance 3D asset library

To help you find your way through the 9,000 assets, we’ve organized the library into material categories: ceramics, fabrics, metals, plastics, and woods, for example.

We have also created collections. The materials are grouped by themes/universes such as automotive interior design, leather workshop, sportswear fabrics, home decoration, skin micro details, and more. These are toolboxes where we have pre-selected everything needed to texture a specific type of asset.

When you browse the assets on the platform, each material has a dedicated introduction page, which includes:

  • Several renders of the surface
  • The presets available for that given asset
  • Information such as the size of the digital material sample
  • A real-time 3D view of the material via our integrated web player, which allows you to test its parameters before downloading

Substance materials are available in the Substance format, which is readable in the entire Substance 3D ecosystem, as well as in many other applications in the 3D world.

This format allows you to view and modify material settings in real-time and save variations (presets). This is even more powerful because Substance materials are readable in Adobe Bridge which becomes the central point of your personal material library.

Two file formats are available: SBSAR and SBS.

The SBSAR or Substance Archive format is the compiled format of the substance creation recipe. This format includes all the exposed parameters and allows to modify them at will, up to a resolution of 8K.

A source of learning for material creation in digital

The SBS is the native format of a Substance material. It is the complete procedural recipe that can be used in Designer. And it changes everything! Everything inside is editable!

The vast majority of assets are created by our team in Substance 3D Designer: the recipe for each material takes the form of a set of procedural nodes which together form a graph. But what is Substance 3D Designer? How does it work? We put together a video to explain:

These graphs are available for you to learn how to reproduce a particular type of material. This makes Substance 3D assets an endless source of learning content, letting you take a dive into the mind of an expert material artist.

Maximum freedom! Everything in a graph is editable

For example, you can change the exposed parameters to change the material’s possible variations. Add additional details and effects from the SBS library by expanding the existing graph with your own subject expertise. Thus, a Substance material becomes bits and pieces that feed your own private material creation.

The collections

Artwork by the Substance 3D content team

The Substance 3D asset library is dedicated to creatives of all disciplines and backgrounds. The selections we curate cover all types of materials, from the most natural to the most technical. There are an infinite number of possible materials and our goal is to offer a digital twin of each on the platform. what ties all these materials together is photorealism!

The visual fidelity digital material and the physical world surface is the number 1 criterion to obtain a quality result in 3D. Therefore, our digital twin must reproduce exactly the color, the texture of the grain, the brightness, and all the other visual parameters.

For each major family of materials, we proceeded to study the existing: we created a classification of the various species, structures, and assemblies. This overview allows us to generate coherent and relatively exhaustive lists of materials by category. 

These lists are then cross-referenced with the various needs by type of industry. This helps us refine the proposal to lead to a toolbox of the most relevant matter the majority of our users.

After that, knowledge of the material design process is imperative. Understanding how materials are designed or developed in the physical world allows us to accurately reproduce their details.

Photorealism is only the first step of many: realism for a parametric material is also about producing consistent variations which need to all behave similarly to the real thing. We design the changeable parameters to mimic the way the surface appearance would evolve as a result of a transformation process, whether natural or artificial. Such transformation could be due to several factors, like rain, for instance, or varnish, or erosion.

On the other hand — and this is one of the advantages of 3D — it is also possible to get rid of real constraints. Everything is possible in the 3D universe, and it is a great opportunity for creative experimentation. 

The goal of the library is to be a “Source” 😉 of inspiration!

Whatever your professional or artistic background, our materials provide an ever-changing palette of colors and patterns to inspire new creative associations. In addition to the classification of materials, we also conduct CMF trend monitoring in order to offer preset selections consistent with the developments in each industry field.

And here, we truly try to match the needs of a diverse crowd of creative experts. We have developed specific collections for product design, interior design, fashion and accessories, architecture, but also entertainment. In video games we have explored both photorealistic and stylized collections (adapted to mobile games).

That’s not nearly everything there is to say about materials. In addition to collaborations with expert texture artists from various walks of life, we also have a large selection of atlases and decals, both of which are a unique type of material optimized to create details on your art. We’ll talk more in-depth about both, but in the meantime, read here to see some of the atlases we have, and check out our grungy decals here and here.


The Adobe Substance 3D suite includes apps for 3D creation, as well as content for use in your artwork. For more information, take a look at our articles:
StagerPainterSamplerDesigner
ModelsMaterialsLightsCreating the Lights

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