Substance Painter vs Designer: The Texturing Showdown

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When one first learns about the two Adobe programs Substance Painter and Substance Designer, it’s easy enough to confuse the two. They are very similar, and a quick scan of their features doesn’t explain their differences any further. 

There is a reason for their similarity. Both Substance Painter and Substance Designer were created by Adobe, and are part of the Substance 3D package, along with some other software.

They are very similar but have specific uses. Substance Designer is meant to create meshes and materials while Substance Painter is more suited for applying textures, layers, and paint to said materials. 

In practice, the two programs are meant to be used alongside each other, instead of being two separate programs to decide between. This is why you can purchase both as a part of the Substance 3D collection.

To learn more about these two softwares and when they are best used, continue to read the article below. 

Substance Painter vs Designer Comparison Table


Substance PainterSubstance Designer
PricePart of the Substance 3D collection for $49.99 a month.
It can also be purchased as a one-time payment of $149.99 if you plan to make less than $100K/year with what you make.
Part of the Substance 3D collection for $49.99 a month.
It can also be purchased for a one-time payment of $149.99 if you plan to make less than $100K/year with what you make.
CompanyAdobeAdobe
Main UsesApplying textures, layers, and paint to meshes.Creating meshes and materials.
Experience LevelNeed some experience with nodes and painting tools, but the learning curve is relatively low.It has a steep learning curve to utilize properly and may take some time to learn even the basic skills.
Best ForGenerating textures from patterns in graphs based on nodes, creating parametric 2D and 3D materials. Creating models that will work in any engine they are imported to, animation, and 3D modeling.
System RequirementsWindows:  OS: Windows 10, minimum, 11 preferred
CPU: Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 minimum, Intel Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7 or higher recommended
GPU: Nvidia Geforce GTX 106t0, Nvidia Geforce GTX 1060, or AMD Radeon RX 580 minimum, Nvidia Geforce RTX 2080 (or higher), Nvidia Quadro RTX 4000 (or higher), or AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT (or higher) recommended
Mac:  OS: Mac OS 11 (Big Sur) minimum, Mac OS 12  (Monterey) preferred
CPU: Intel Core i9 minimum, Apple M1 Pro or higher preferred

GPU: AMD Radeon Pro 5600M or AMD Radeon Pro Vega 56 minimum, Apple M1 Pro or higher recommended
Linux:  OS: CentOS 7.0 (Enterprise ETLA only) or Ubuntu 20.04 LTS (Steam only) minimum, CentOS 7.6 (Enterprise ETLA only) or Ubuntu 20.04 LTS (Steam only) preferred 
Windows:  OS: Windows 10, minimum, 11 preferred
CPU: Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 minimum, Intel Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7 or higher recommended
GPU: Nvidia Geforce GTX 106t0, Nvidia Geforce GTX 1060, or AMD Radeon RX 580 minimum, Nvidia Geforce RTX 2080 (or higher), Nvidia Quadro RTX 4000 (or higher), or AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT (or higher) recommended
Mac:  OS: Mac OS 11 (Big Sur) minimum, Mac OS 12  (Monterey) preferred
CPU: Intel Core i9 minimum, Apple M1 Pro or higher preferred

GPU: AMD Radeon Pro 5600M or AMD Radeon Pro Vega 56 minimum, Apple M1 Pro or higher recommended
Linux:  OS: CentOS 7.0 (Enterprise ETLA only) or Ubuntu 20.04 LTS (Steam only) minimum, CentOS 7.6 (Enterprise ETLA only) or Ubuntu 20.04 LTS (Steam only) preferred 
Key FeaturesBaking tools, Particle effects brushes, Custom shaders, Iray renderer, UV tiles, Dynamic material layering, Subsurface scattering.Node-based interface, add materials directly to 3D meshes, HDR lighting creation, color management, MDL support.
Author MaterialsYesYes
Author 3D ModelsLimited (displacement only)Limited (displacement only)
Comparison table of Substance Painter and Substance Designer across various categories

Adobe Substance Painter

Substance Painter Website

Substance Painter Key Features

  • Automatic UV unwrapping to generate UV islands whenever importing 3D models
  • Smart materials and masks with layer presets and adaptability to mesh topology
  • Color management with OpenColorIO
  • UV reprojection when importing a new mesh or changing the texture resolution
  • UV tiles to create a dedicated texture across each UV range
  • Light scattering inside of materials to make realistic textures

Substance Painter Uses

The main use of Substance Painter is to apply textures, materials, and paints to meshes. These can be meshes you created in another program, or ones already created by others. These meshes are often first made in Substance Designer and then imported over to Substance Painter. 

Check out this Substance Painter Basics Course – Link Here

There are other things you can do with Substance Painter as well, including making textures, baking, and creating smart materials. It’s similar to Photoshop, in the fact that it’s layer-based, but it’s much easier and more intuitive to use. Generally, it’s more artist-friendly than other options out there. 

Substance Painter Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Smart masks mean you only have to create commonly used masks once and then they can be applied to every mesh easilyExpensive to use, with monthly costs
A lot of deep customization, especially in brushes, to make the software truly yoursMay need an expensive graphics card to run
Can add 3rd-party pluginsCannot export SBSAR files
Works easily with Unreal Engine 
Can paint fully in 3D


Popular Games That Used Substance Painter

Substance Painter is widely used by large companies and has been a part of some major games because most of the features you need are available in a single program, instead of having to combine multiple programs, such as ZBrush and Photoshop

Some games that have used Substance Painter include:

  • Uncharted 4
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Rainbow Six
  • Apex Legends
  • Death Stranding
  • Forza Horizon 4
  • The Last of Us
  • A Plague Tale
  • Elden Ring
  • FIFA 22
  • The Matrix Awakens
  • Age of Empires 4
  • Fallout 76
  • Fortnite
  • Deathloop
  • Far Cry 6

Adobe Substance Designer

Substance Designer Website

Substance Designer Key Features

  • Thousands of assets from Substance 3D and the community
  • Adjustment along any part of the process with a node-based system
  • Industry-standard materials
  • Generate lights, image filters, patterns, and more
  • Pantone and OpenColorIO support
  • Dedicated shader graph
  • Easily sendable to other Substance 3D software

Substance Designer Uses

Substance Designer is used to create all kinds of materials and meshes you want. It doesn’t matter how basic or advanced you need them to be.

Get started with learning Substance Designer today – Link Here

The software is node-based, meaning that you can go back and edit any part of the process, even back to the beginning, without having to completely restart your design. 

It’s important to note that Substance Designer is only used to create meshes and materials. If you want textures or paint on top of an object, it needs to be imported, likely to Substance Painter. 

Substance Designer Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Once you get the hang of the system, it’s easy to create anything you wantVery complex to use, especially at the beginning
Flexible settings to best suit your needsExpensive, and often requires a monthly subscription
Alpha library gets you set up and startedLack of updates and lessons from the creators themselves
Bridges the gap between many different applications, and allows you do to a lot of the work on material design without numerous exports and imports


Popular Movies and Games That Used Substance Designer

Substance Designer can be used for movies, games, art, and more. If you want to get an idea of all the uses you can get out of Substance Designer, take a look at some of the ways it’s been used professionally. 

Here’s a list of movies that have used Substance Designer:

  • Spider-Man: Far From Home
  • Zombieland 2
  • Game of Thrones
  • Frozen II
  • Men in Black: International

Here are some games that have used Substance Designer as well:

  • Deathloop
  • Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  • It Takes Two
  • Elden Ring
  • Halo Infinite
  • Psychonauts 2
  • Age of Empires IV

Substance Painter vs Designer Which Is Better?

Looking at the examples of where Substance Painter and Substance Designer have been used, you may be surprised to see that there is some overlap. This is because most of the time, the two products are used together. 

While it’s possible to use them separately, most companies and professionals prefer to use the two programs at the same time. They are designed to work together and materials are easily imported and exported from one to the other. 

For this reason, it isn’t a question of ‘which is better’ so much as ‘when to use each program’. 

When to Use Substance Painter

Substance Painter’s main purpose is to texture models. It allows for advanced masking and texturing in both 2D and 3D that are better than you would get in other software such as Photoshop

When you need to render any 3D scenes, create 3D textures and assets, or apply said textures, then you will want to use Substance Painter.

When to Use Substance Designer

Substance Designer is primarily used as material authoring software. Its main focus is making tiling textures. It uses a node-based interface to create materials and filters.

While it can technically be used as a complete asset to texture as well as create the materials, it doesn’t offer quite as many details. For a simple material and texture though, it can work and save you an import and export process.