Learn about commonly used terms within Substance 3D Designer.

Within the Adobe Substance 3D Designer help pages, you might encounter some unfamiliar terms. The list below explains commonly used terms.




Alpha is a channel in image formats that can be used to control transparency.

Ambient Occlusion (AO)

AO refers to how much ambient light is able to reach surfaces in a 3D scene. AO creates a sense of depth by using shadows. The HBAO node can create AO maps when fed a height map.

Atomic Node

A specific type of Node, atomic nodes are the most basic building block of a Substance Graph. The small set of Atomic Nodes provides all the basic actions needed to build complex networks.


A bake (or baking) refers to the action of computing information from a 3D mesh and saving it into a texture based on the UV information of a mesh.

Base Color

Base color is one of the channels used to create a material. Base color stores surface color information, without any lighting or depth information.

Bit Depth

The bit depth is the amount of information that can be stored per pixel of a texture. The higher the bit depth, the more accurate the color. Images with high bit depth are sometimes referred to as having high dynamic range.


A static image file. Bitmaps are stored in any kind of file format such as JPG, BMP, or TGA.


Refers to a component from a set of image data. For an RGBA image, channel refers to either the Red, Green, Blue, or Alpha component. For materials, channel can refer to components such as base color, normal, or roughness.

Color Mode

The mode in which Nodes or Graphs calculate. Color mode can be either Color or Grayscale.


Displacement is a technique that uses a 2D height map create the impression of depth. There are two main displacement techniques available across Adobe Substance 3D applications, Tessellation and Parallax Occlusion Mapping (POM).

Double Sided

Polygons can be set to as double sided. By default, polygons are not double-sided, so they won't be rendered when viewed from behind. If they are double-sided, polygons will be rendered when viewed from any angle.


An environment is an image that is used to compute the lighting of a scene. Environments are usually a high dynamic range panoramic image.


You can use the export function to start using your Designer creations in other applications.


The process of making a parameter available to the user. Exposing a parameter allows you to adjust your graph directly in other applications.

FOV / Field of View

The FOV is the extent of the world that a camera can see. Field of view is usually represented by a number in degrees that is the horizontal angle component of the FOV.


Functions work on small sets of variables like floats and vectors instead of images. Functions can be used in many contexts. They are often used to modify the behavior of exposed parameters, but can also be used within nodes like the pixel processor and FX-Maps.


A GPU or "Graphical Processing Unit" is a chip that is efficient at performing operations commonly used in 2D and 3D graphics. GPUs are commonly found on video adapters.


A chain or network of Nodes meant to generate one or more outputs, like a texture or material. Graphs are built by connecting nodes in sequence and can be used to process image data and numerical data.

Graph Instance

A graph packaged into a node. Any graph can be reused as a single Node, saving time and reducing complexity.



Height is one of the channels used to create a material. A height map is a texture that stores the vertical offset of each pixel relative to the surface. Height maps can be used to generate normal maps. Use displacement techniques with height maps to add more detail to models.


A histogram is a graphical representation of color distribution in an image. It is used to visualize how colors are balanced inside an image between shadows, midtones, and highlights. Designer includes various histogram based nodes.


The opposite of an Output, an Input is a blank starting point of a Graph. When used in Graph Instances they allow you to connect custom, external data instead of relying on built-in data.


IRay is a path-tracing renderer created by NVIDIA, used to project realistic lighting over a 3D mesh. IRay can be used to render the 3D viewport.


Levels refers to brightness levels. The levels node allows you to control range and color/grayscale information via a histogram. It can be used to invert colors or control brightness for example.


A log is a text file that records important information from the software as it runs. This information includes data about errors and tasks that the application is working on.

Low / High-poly mesh

High and low-poly meshes are both 3D meshes. Low-poly meshes have a lower polygon density, or polygon count, while high-poly meshes have much higher polygon counts (often 100 times higher). You can create meshes of different detail levels to bake detail from the high-poly mesh onto the low-poly mesh. Following this process is known as the high to low-poly workflow and results in a performant, good looking mesh.


A material is a collection of information that helps define the properties of whatever surface it is applied to. Often this information is related to how light interacts with a surface such as roughness or color. It can also be used to achieve other effects, such as displacement or masking.


A mesh is a 3D object. In most applications meshes are made of vertices, edges, and polygons. You can create parametric meshes using Designer.


A set of data that describes and gives information about other data. For example, metadata about a photograph can have information about where the picture was taken and with what hardware. In Designer, you can add graph metadata under the Attributes section of graph properties.


Metallic or metalness is one of the channels used to create a material. The metallic channel defines what parts of a texture behave like a metal. A white metallic value means that an area is completely metallic, while black metallic means that an area is not metallic at all. Avoid using gray values in metallic maps as they are rarely physically accurate.


The basic building block of Graphs, each node performs some operation and can send the result onto the next node.


A noise is a procedurally generated and random image. Noise can be useful for creating organic shapes or breaking up flat textures.


A normal is a vector that points perpendicularly away from a 3D element. Normals show the direction that an element is facing. For example the normal of a flat floor plane will point straight up, while the normal of a flat ceiling plane will point straight down. Vertices, edges, and planes all have normals.

Normal Map

Normal maps make up one of the channels used to create a material. A normal map is a special texture that adds detail by changing how light bounces off the surface of a mesh. Each pixel of a normal map holds a vector that tells the renderer which direction that pixel is facing. The renderer can use this information to adjust how much light hits that pixel.


Opacity is the opposite of transparency. Opacity maps are black and white textures that determine how opaque a surface is at each pixel. A white opacity value means that the pixel will be completely opaque, while a black opacity value means that the pixel will be completely transparent.

OpenGL / DirectX

OpenGL and DirectX are Application Programming Interfaces (API) that allow programs to directly access the functionality of GPUs.


The actual result of a Graph, the Node in which a chain terminates and returns its final result. Outputs can be tagged or marked to indicate a specific channel or map.


A container for resources, similar to a compressed archive. Packages are the main filetype used in Substance Designer. They contain one or more Resources.


Packing is the action of storing multiple images inside one texture. Textures are composed of separated Red, Green, and Blue channels, and each channel can store different information. As a result it's possible to store multiple single channel images in an image file.

Parallax Occlusion Mapping (POM)

Parallax occlusion mapping is a technique that uses a height map to simulate depth on a 2D surface. POM does this by making higher parts of a surface occlude lower parts of a surface based on the angle of the viewer.


An external control for a Graph. Parameters make Substance Graphs dynamic. They allow you to customize a Graph by changing sliders, setting color, and choosing options from a list.

Physically Based Rendering (PBR)

Physically based Rendering (PBR) or Physically Based Shading (PBS) is a model in computer graphics that tries to render graphics by using real world physical properties.


Plug-ins are packages of extra functionality that can be added to Designer, extending the Designer's capabilities.


Procedural is a term to describe a set of instructions, or procedure, that a program can follow to create a consistent result. Procedural tools often have input parameters that allow you to control their output.

Random Seed

A number that defines the result of a Procedural or random operation. The same seed number will always give the same sequence of random numbers. Change the seed, and the sequence will change as well.

Raster Image

A raster image is an image formed by pixels laid out on a 2D grid. Rasterization is the process of converting other forms of data into a raster image. For example, renderers create renders, or raster images, by rasterizing polygonal geometry data.


Resolution defines the size of a texture on its X and Y axis (or width and height). In 3D applications, resolution is often a power of 2 (2, 4, 8, 16... 512, 1024, 2048...) because these values are optimized for computations on a GPU.


Any type of item that can be contained inside a Package. There are a few types of resources, the most common ones being Substance Graphs, Bitmaps, and 3D Meshes.


Roughness is one of the channels used to create a material. Roughness values change how reflective a surface is due to the microstructure of the surface. A white roughness value means that a surface diffuses light, while a black roughness value means that a surface reflects light strongly. For example, frosted glass would be represented with a high roughness value, while a mirror would be represented with a low roughness value.


Shaders determine how to render all the elements that make up your material. When you make maps for your material, shaders process the maps to render your mesh and material. Substance applications include advanced shaders that can render high quality industry standard effects.


Specular maps can be used as one of the channels to make up a material. Specular maps are used to define how light reflects from a surface. Specular maps are used in some non-PBR workflows such as Blinn/Phong shading.


SBSAR is a file format that holds materials. SBSAR materials generate textures procedurally based on a set of parameters that can be modified to create variations. Use Designer to create SBSAR materials.

Substance Engine

The Substance Engine is used to process SBS and SBSAR files wherever they are used. The Substance Engine is integrated in many other applications so that your creations will look the same even outside the Adobe Substance 3D suite of applications.

Substance Graph

The most common type of Graph, meant for calculating 2D image results. A Substance Graph can calculate multiple results, or even modify an existing result.

Substance Material

Substance materials are procedural materials made using the Substance Suite of tools. Most Substance materials have unique parameters that you can modify to customize the final result.


Tessellation is a technique that is able to add geometry to a mesh to help the mesh appear smooth. Tessellation works by adding vertices and edges to a mesh with various subdivision algorithms. Tessellation is often used to improve the visual results of displacement since displacement works best with higher geometry resolution.


A texture is a 2D image made for use in 3D. Textures can be grayscale, meaning only one channel is being used, or colored, meaning multiple channels are being used. Materials are made from a collection of textures with each texture having a specific role, such as color, roughness, and metallic textures.

Texture Filtering

Texture filtering refers to how textures are rendered when displayed at higher or lower resolution than the original texture. Most common are nearest (pixels are read as-is, making an image appear blocky up-close) and bilinear (pixels are interpolated, making an image appear blurry up close).


Tiling is the repetition of a texture so that seams are not visible at the borders of the UV space. Tiling textures are often used for surfaces that don't have a definite size, such as floors and walls.


UVs are a representation of a 3D model in 2D space. They are used to map 2D images from 2D space onto the surface of the model in 3D space. The process of creating UVs is often described as cutting seams into the model to unfold and flatten it.


The viewport is the place where the 3D or 2D scene is displayed on the screen. This is also where it is possible to interact with the tools and the 3D Mesh by controlling the camera.

Video Adapter

A video adapter is an expansion card that is added to a computer to enhance the computer's ability to display images or perform GPU operations.


VRAM is the memory of the GPU, used to store information and textures when doing computations.


What's next?

Learn more about Designer's interface so you can get started creating awesome assets. 

Have a question or an idea?

If you have a question or an idea to share, join other Designer users in the Substance 3D Designer Community. Get help, make suggestions that could be incorporated into Designer, or show off your work and techniques.

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