Substance 3D materials for Photoshop

Learn to use the Substance 3D materials with Photoshop to create realistic 3D effects earlier reserved for 3D native applications

  Try Photoshop's beta features today!
Beta features are now available for development, testing, and feedback. For help, please visit the Adobe Photoshop beta community.

Substance Materials Overview

Substance Materials can be created and customized using specialized Adobe applications, Substance 3D Designer or Substance 3D Sampler. Materials represent photorealistic surfaces (like cloth, stone, marble, brick, metal, etc.) with customizable attributes (like light reflectivity, lighting angles, patterns or random effects like scratches or aged material) that can be wrapped around objects in 3D-enabled applications to blend them realistically into a 3D composition.

Materials can be shared and used in Adobe and other 3rd party applications to add state-of-the-art realism to any 3D composition.

Pioneered by the Adobe Research team, the Substance Photoshop plugin is an extension that allows Photoshop users to have access to the power of Substance materials, formerly reserved for 3D native applications. Within Photoshop, these materials are great for boosting the photo-realism of architectural renditions or interior designs, or as added content options for more abstract digital creations. They can be thought of like Photoshop’s existing patterns, but with controls for limitless variations and a more sophisticated (and different) workflow for editing and applying than existing Photoshop patterns.  

Panel interface

Plugin interface

A. Materials and Lighting modes: Click the Materials or Lighting mode buttons at the top of the panel to reveal materials or lighting editing control panels. 

B. Search: The Search bar allows you to enter text searches to filter the high-quality materials section below (by name). 

C. Get materials: There are two huge libraries of materials on the web that can be browsed to find different materials for use in Photoshop:   one from Adobe,  and another from the Substance Community of users . At this time, only .sbsar  format materials are supported in the Photoshop plugin, so note that while additional content types can be browsed and downloaded from those sites, only the .sbsar files can be used in Photoshop.   

D. Your materials: The ‘Your materials’ section is where .sbsar materials downloaded from the web, and imported would appear. To get new materials from the Substance materials site noted above, you must first download the material, then use the ‘Add new materials’ button (the ‘+’ icon below the materials presets) in the plugin window to import the material. 

E. Built-in materials: Included materials appear as spherical previews. You can scroll down the list using the right scroll bar or enter text searches in the search bar to filter the results.  Select a material to reveal customizable sliders in the lower section of the panel. 

F. Adding/Deleting materials: Click the ‘+’ icon to add a material to the ‘Your materials’ section of the panel. The material must be pre-downloaded, and can only be in the .sbsar format to be used in Photoshop. To remove a material, hold the Command/Control key and click on the material in the panel.  Once selected, clicking the trash icon will remove these materials. Note: Built-in Adobe Substance materials cannot be removed.  

G. Materials Properties: Once a material is selected, its customizable attribute controls will appear in the lower section of the panel. You can scroll down to review additional controls using the scroll bar to the right for the lower section.   

H. Substance Properties: These are properties that vary for each specific material. These properties are purposely exposed by the material’s creator and are available for tweaking. These are available under Substance Properties and Technical Parameters. 

Additional points to remember when working with the Substance 3D plugin

  • The panel is context-sensitive, meaning that it will not allow interaction unless there is a valid ‘target’ layer. A valid layer is either a pixel layer or a selection on a pixel layer, or a smart object. The plugin will either create a new layer or replace a material previously applied to a layer.  
  • Note that currently, the Photoshop plugin only supports .sbsar format; .sbs, .sbsm, .spsm are not supported.  
  • Panel Resize: You may resize the entire size of the panel using the Resize control in the lower right corner of the panel.  
Material properties

  • Material Properties: There are two distinct groups of adjustable properties that can be tweaked. Common properties (which are shared across all models) include — Resolution, Random Seed, Repeat X, Repeat Y, Position: Offset X and Offset Y, and Rotation.

Variable material parameters (Substance Properties) are properties that vary by material and only the properties that are exposed by the material author are available for tweaking.

Substance properties

A few examples are — Embedded Presets, Integer Inputs, Float Inputs, Angle Inputs, Boolean Inputs, Color Inputs, and String Inputs.

Lighting Panel & Properties: The lighting applied to materials can be edited in the Lighting tab. Here there are controls to change the rotation and height of the lighting relative to the material’s surface: 

A. Change the color and exposure of the light 

B.  You can adjust these controls to modify how the light reflects on your material.

Lighting properties

Working with Materials 

  • Adding a new Material Layer: To add a material layer, click on one of the material presets. This will convert the currently selected layer into a Smart Object with a layer mask and the selected Material applied as a Smart Filter. If a material layer already exists, selecting a non-material layer before selecting a preview in the Materials tab will convert it into a new material layer.
  • Updating material: When a material layer is selected, clicking on another preview in the Materials tab will update the material in the selected layer.
  • Transforms: Before applying transformations, the material layer must be converted to a Smart Object. This parent Smart Object will display transformations applied to it. The material parameters can be adjusted by opening the Smart Object and selecting the material layer within. Saving after making parameter changes will display those changes in the parent Smart Object.
  • Blending material layers: Blend modes can be used to improve the realism of your image. In the example below, a black and white copy of the base image is placed on top of the material layers and set to an Overlay blend mode. This has the effect of transferring lighting and shadows from the base image to your material layers. The blend mode of individual material layers or the Smart Objects containing them can also be adjusted to achieve the desired look.
Blending Material Layers

  • Smart Objects: Smart Objects are layers that preserve an image's source content with all its original characteristics, enabling you to perform nondestructive editing to the layer. Smart Objects can be used with substance materials to transform and make other secondary adjustments to a layer without altering the base material layer.
  • Masks: Material layers are created with a smart mask, which can be used to hide and reveal parts of the layer. If the layer needs to be transformed, first convert the material layer to a Smart Object (See the Transforms section above). Apply a mask to the parent Smart Object, then unlink it before transforming. Now the mask will stay in place while transforming the layer.
  • Materials as brushes: Substance materials can also be used as brush presets. To start, load a new Substance material into a new document with a large resolution at a 1:1 ratio. Transparent Substance materials work best, such as Medium Road Eroded Cracks from the Adobe Substance 3D Assets page in the example below. Once the material layer is created, go to Edit > Define Brush Preset and name the preset as desired. In your working document, create a new layer, switch to the Brush Tool, and select your brush from the list. In the Brush Settings, attributes such as Spacing, Angle Jitter, and Size Jitter can be customized to randomize the brush strokes. Note that this method does not include the color information of the material in the brush.
Materials as Brushes

If you would like to include the color of a Substance Material in the brush, you can load the material into a document and sample it with the Mixer Brush tool set to Dry, Heavy Load.

The Brush settings can be adjusted as described previously, and the brush layer can be blended as desired.

Filters: Filters applied to material layers will be applied as Smart Filters. This type of non-destructive filter remains listed under the Smart Object and can be re-adjusted or turned on and off.

Common questions

How can I match the material’s lighting to my composition?

Matching the lighting on your material with the lighting of other images on your canvas can be done by editing the light’s settings in the Lighting tab of the plugin. While each composition or photo you are trying to match may have unique lighting, try to match it by looking at the direction of the strongest light in your photo. This might be from the sun in outdoor images, or a bright point of light in interior images. You can then tweak the exposure to adjust the brightness of your material’s light to match your image, and the color tone of the light. As you start working with materials layers, you will notice that the light’s effect can be seen more distinctly on some materials than on others. This depends on the type of material you are using, for example a rock wall material might show more distinct shadows and highlights (i.e., more contrast), while a flat paint material might show less. Generally, it’s helpful to adjust the material’s light settings until you get something that is close to your overall composition. 

Where can I get additional materials? 

Adobe offers a large repository of Substance 3D assets online. The plugin provides a direct link to this asset library (buttons next to the search field). More free materials shared by other Substance community members  can also be fetched from Substance 3D community assets.

How can I make my own materials presets? Should I learn how to use Substance Designer or Sampler?

You can create your own materials using Substance Designer or Substance Sampler

Substance 3D Designer is a node-based materials and model authoring tool. Nodes are used to provide deep levels of creative control with unique noises and patterns.

Check out Designer's Product Page for more details on Designer, as well as learning material in our Designer First Steps tutorial series.

Substance 3D Sampler transforms real-world photos into 3D materials. An extensive library of filters, generators, and effects let you quickly explore the endless variations with a familiar layer-based approach.

Check out Sampler's Product Page for more details on Sampler, as well as learning material in our Sampler First Steps tutorial series and some specifics on the Image to Material capabilities.

What material formats are supported? 

The plugin supports .sbsar files which could be generated from Substance Sampler or Designer. Substance Painter files are not supported in this version.

Can I export Materials presets from Painter, Stager, Dimension etc.?  

Materials from Substance Painter or Stager cannot be exported and imported in the plugin. Additional materials can be downloaded from Substance 3D assets or Substance 3D community assets websites.

Why and when should Substance materials be used in Photoshop?

Substance materials are a great replacement for any workflows in Photoshop where a texture or pattern is needed. Since Substance materials are parametric and highly customizable, you will find you have much more freedom to get unique visual results. Plus, you can always go back and edit them if you want to keep exploring.

How can I change the visual perspective of my material layer?

As described above you can convert your whole material layer to a new smart object and then use Photoshop’s transform controls such as skew or distort (found under the Edit > Transform menu) to adjust the perspective of your material. Another way to adjust your material layer’s perspective without converting it to a smart object is to use Photoshop’s Perspective warp (found under the Edit > Perspective warp menu item). This will allow you to tweak the visual perspective of your material layer nondestructively and see the results in real-time on your canvas. 

Some materials take longer to update when I change parameters; why is that? 

Materials can have large bitmaps integrated as part of the design, and these larger presents can slow down the rendering time. Please be patient with these larger models, and expect that sometimes very large bitmaps might be embedded in additional materials that you might download from the web.

Adobe logo

Sign in to your account