According to Allegorithmic "Substance Designer (SD) is the Ultimate 3D Material Authoring and Scan Processing Tool. It has become the standard in the entertainment industry for PBR material authoring.” I always love it when a company makes these sorts of conclusions! We'll see whether version 6 of this piece of software is worthy of the hype.
If you're unfamiliar with SD let me quickly get you up to speed. It is a node-based procedural material authoring tool which is very similar in essence to every other node based tool you'll have come across. The difference with SD is that all your connections end up as different textures which you can then use in your host application's material editor. It is therefore a standalone tool which provides a set of powerful features which may or may not be better than your host application.
So who are you? Sorry if that sounds a bit aggressive but who you are and what you create will have a huge bearing on whether SD is of any use to you! Their website states that it's tailored for game developers, architects, designers and VFX artists. In the past it's been of most use to game developers but as each year rolls by they are really opening themselves up nicely to the other industries. They are providing many tools which applications like 3ds Max and Maya just can't compete with.
Let's take a look at some of those new features. The one that I'm probably most interested in at the moment is the new Scan Processing Filters. These are part of the material creation workflow from 3D scans. This is becoming huge in a variety of industries including the visualization industry. To be able to scan a material in the real-world and recreate it in the virtual world is incredible and really increases the realism of textures. SD lets you do all this natively and the new scan processing filters make it even better. The process of extracting normal and height data from scans is very easy, and then being able to adjust a material's colour as one of the last nodes is really useful. Allegorithmic have a video showing this workflow with leather which is well worth checking out.
"Substance Designer lets you do all this natively and the new scan processing filters make it even better"
We all love nodes right? As nodes are SD's core workflow I'm glad that this release includes a couple of new node types. These are called ‘Text' and ‘Curve' and both are welcome additions. The text node lets you apply embossing, stamping and glow effects to text just like you would in a program like Photoshop. The curve node enables you to get more intricate with your material creation by making it possible to introduce things like moldings, spirals and circular windows. This node is really pushing what is possible from within a texture. This will be a welcome addition for artists working in the real-time industry as it'll enable a further reduction of the polygon count.
SD 6 has now also fully embraced a HDR workflow with both 16- and 32-bit depth workflows now implemented. This completely opens up the range of values that you can choose for the parameters of your materials.
Signs of maturity
I'm surprised it's taken so long for a number of these features to be introduced but I suppose the software is only starting to come to a place of maturity, so it's understandable that some of these features have not been provided yet. Every year SD becomes more and more enticing for a wide variety of end users and I would highly recommend giving the 30 day trial a whirl.