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Learn about commonly used terms within Substance 3D Modeler.

As 3D software, Substance 3D Modeler relies on many techniques and technical keywords which can be hard to understand at first. This page lists some words used by Modeler or commonly used in the field of 3D with a short explanation of what they mean.



Ambient Occlusion (AO) 

AO refers to how much ambient light is able to reach surfaces in a 3D scene. AO helps create a sense of depth by using shadows, and can be achieved through real-time techniques like SSAO, or by baking AO maps.


Anti-aliasing is a method of decreasing aliasing in images. Aliasing is a term used to describe to visual artifacts that can occur during rasterization, most often in the form of jagged edges on straight lines and curves.


Booleans refer to mathematical operations that can be performed on clay in 3D space. Modeler allows for add, subtract, and intersect Boolean operations.


A brush is a tool to paint on a mesh. A brush is defined by multiple parameters that control its behavior (such as the size and the strength). 


On desktop, the camera acts as your window into the scene. In VR, your head behaves as the camera.


Clay is what objects are made of in Modeler. On a technical level, clay refers to the SDF that determines the 3D geometry of a layer.

Companion tool

Companion tools are available in VR and act as a quick way to switch between commonly used pairs of tools. To use the companion tool of your current tool, use the bottom button on the tool hand.


You can use the export function to start using your creations 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.  


The Gizmo is a set of controls that exist in 3D space. The gizmo allows you to transform things in 3D such as the brush or scene objects like layers or groups.


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


An instance of a layer is linked to other instances of the same layer. This means that any changes made to the clay in one instance will be duplicated on all linked instances. Groups can also be instanced. Just like layers, if a group is instanced, any changes made within the group will be duplicated to any linked instances of the same group.


In Modeler a Layer is a container that can hold clay. Without layers, a Modeler scene cannot hold clay.


Lazy is a toggleable option available with some tools. It slows down the brush path to assist in creating smooth strokes. Lazy creates a delay/offset between the mouse cursor and the actual stroke applied with the brush. 


Linking is another way of talking about instances. When you create an instance of an object, the instance and the original object are linked to one another, so any change made to either of them will also be reflected on the linked object.


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

Low and a high poly meshes are both 3D meshes. Low poly meshes have a lower polygon density, or poly count, while high poly meshes have much higher poly counts. This is usually done to bake detail from the high poly mesh onto the low poly mesh. This is known as the high to low poly workflow and results in a performant, good-looking final product. 


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


In general, a mesh is a 3D object. In Modeler, meshes are specifically objects that you have imported to your scene that have not been converted to clay. Meshes in Modeler cannot be modified beyond transformations without first being converted to clay.

Mesh map

A mesh map is a texture baked from a mesh that contains information related to that mesh. Examples of mesh maps could be normal maps, position maps, or ambient occlusion maps.


Noise is a procedurally generated collection of random data. Noise is used in many aspects of 3D, such as in creating textures and materials.


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. 

OpenGL / DirectX

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

Objects/Scene objects

Objects in Modeler refer specifically to scene objects or things that can exist in your scene. There are 4 types of scene object:

  • Layers
  • Groups
  • Instances
  • Meshes


The origin is the center of a 3D space and is usually represented by the coordinates 0, 0, 0. 


An Orthographic projection is a means of representing three-dimensional objects in two dimensions. With orthographic projection, all the projection lines are orthogonal to the projection plane. In orthographic view, the size of a 3D object will appear the same no matter how far it is from the camera. The most common alternative to orthographic projection is perspective projection which mimics how we see 3D objects in real life.


A control that allows you to adjust how something behaves. Each tool and brush in Modeler has parameters such as size and strength.


Physically based Rendering (PBR) or Physically Based Shading (PBS) is a model in computer graphics that seeks to render graphics in a way that accurately models the properties of light in the real-world. 


Perspective projection or perspective view is a method of rendering 3D information so that objects far from the camera are smaller than nearby objects. This helps create a sense of depth in a scene. A common alternative to perspective is orthographic view. 


Pixels are the building blocks of images. Each pixel contains color information so that a group of pixels will form a picture. A pixel is the smallest unit of an image that can be displayed. 


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. 


A projection is the action of applying an image/object from a specific point of view (such as the Camera) onto the surface of a 3D Mesh. 

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, 3D renderers create renders, or raster images, by rasterizing polygonal geometry data. 


A render is an image created using a renderer. 


A renderer is a program built to process 3D information, such as lights, meshes, and materials, to create 2D images. 


Repetition allows you to duplicate scene objects across a mirror plane or around a radial axis. You can access Repetition options from the Action menu.


Resolution defines the amount of detail that can be packed into a given space. In Modeler, resolution refers to the density of the 3D voxel grid that clay depends on. The higher the resolution of a given layer, the more detail can be packed into a given space. 


The Scene in Modeler is the 3D space in which you work. Additionally the Scene is the highest level of hierarchy. The Scene acts as a container for groups, layers, and instances in your scene.


Scope refers to your focus in the scene. You can only modify objects that are within your scope. If you want to modify an out-of-scope object, you first need to scope out, until it is in-scope. Scope into an object to avoid modifying anything beyond it when you work with Modeler tools.

Scope in

Scope in to make your focus more narrow. When you scope in to an object like a layer or group, you are limiting your focus to that object. You will not be able to modify anything outside that object.

Scope out

Scope out to make your focus more wide. When you scope out of an object, you can bring other objects into focus or into scope. This allows you to modify those objects.

SDF (Signed Distance Field)

An SDF is a mathematical concept that refers to an array of values that define how far they are from something. In Modeler the SDF holds information on how far each element of a 3D array is from the nearest surface. This is how Modeler stores the geometry of clay.


Shaders define the behavior of a material when it receives lighting information. Some shaders can be simple (like toon shading) or more advanced (like skin shading that simulates light absorption in a surface). 


SBSAR is a file format that can hold materials. SBSAR materials can generate textures procedurally based on a set of parameters. These parameters can be modified to create variations. You can use Adobe Substance 3D Designer to create SBSAR materials. 

Substance Engine 

The Substance Engine is used to process 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 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. 

Support hand

The support hand is the non-dominant hand when using Modeler in VR. To change between left and right handed modes, first enter desktop mode, then use Edit > Preferences > Spatial > Handedness.


Symmetry works within a single layer and allows you to duplicate strokes across a mirror plane or around a radial axis. Access Symmetry options from the Action menu.


A texel is a single unit of a texture space. Texels are helpful to translate surfaces between 3D and 2D and the size of a texel depends on the project. For example, if you are measuring your 3D assets with centimeters, you might define a texel as being 1 cm x 1 cm in size. You can then decide how many pixels you want to store per texel. The number of pixels per texel is known as texel density. 

Texel Density

Texel density is the number of pixels per texel in a texture. For example if each texel is 10 pixels tall and 10 pixels wide, then it has a texel density of 10. It is often best to aim for consistent texel density across all models in a scene to avoid differing levels of texture detail. In other words, consistent texel density means that if two surfaces in 3D space have the same area, then they will also have the same number of pixels. 


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 generally made from a collection of textures with each texture having a specific role, such as color, roughness, and metalness 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 or pixelated up-close) and bilinear (pixels are interpolated, making an image appear blurry up close). 


A tool is something that lets you interact with or modify clay in Modeler.


The toolbar holds commonly used tools. 

Tool hand

The tool hand is the dominant hand when using Modeler in VR. To change between left and right handed modes, first enter desktop mode, then use Edit > Preferences > Spatial > Handedness.


UDIM is a method of splitting the UVs of a 3D mesh across a wider range to increase the general texture resolution. 


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.


VRAM is the memory of the GPU, used to store 2D and 3D data when doing computations. 


The Modeler viewport is your window onto the 3D scene.

Have a question or an idea?

If you have a question to ask or an idea to share, come and participate in the Substance 3D Community. We would love to hear from you and see your creations.


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