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Create with Clay | Substance 3D Modeler

Create with Clay

What is Clay?

Modeler is a little different from most 3D software. Most 3D applications make use of vertices, edges, and polygons to define 3D shapes, but Modeler uses what we call Clay.

Behind the scenes Modeler uses a voxel grid known as a signed distance field (SDF) to represent where clay is in a layer or scene.

The power of Clay is that you don't need to worry about polygons or topology until late in your project. This allows the creative process to be more freeform and gestural than with traditional 3D. Additionally, Clay always creates a watertight model, it's not possible to create non-manifold geometry with Modeler.


Modeler uses Clay to define 3D models, but it still uses polygons to render them on the screen. This is why you might still be able to see individual polygons when looking closely at clay.

Modeler is able to render millions or even billions of polygons on screen with minimal impact on performance, so there's no need to be concerned about high polycounts within Modeler.

This is a basic description of Clay, but it's more than enough to help you get started with your own creations.

If you're interested in the technical aspects of how clay works, you can learn more here.

Work with Clay

The primary method of working with Clay is through Modeler's tools. These allow you to add, remove, warp, and paint your clay. Modeler includes the tools below:


Many of Modeler's tools make use of brushes. Just like a flat paint brush behaves differently from a pointed paint brush in real life, brushes in Modeler allow you to change the specifics of how a tool works so that you can have more control over the final result. Learn more about brushes here.


Modeler uses Layers to help separate and organize parts of a scene. For example, when sculpting a human, it might be useful to have the head on one layer, the neck on a second layer, and the chest on a third layer. You can move layers individually from each other and use powerful symmetry tools to mirror and duplicate layers.

Layers are an important part of Modeler and can be very powerful. Find out more about layers here.

Placement modes

Placement modes change how the brush interacts with the scene. Different placement modes can be useful in different contexts, so it's useful to know what placement modes are available. Cover the basics of placement modes here.

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