Tutorial Tuesday! A better way to conceptualize masks in substance painter.

By | April 5, 2016

As promised, here it is, a better way to conceptualize masks in Substance Painter. This video is a response to Allegorithmic’s youtube tutor’s perplexing insistence that a black mask is transparent.

If you want the abridged version of the video response, here it is: A black mask isn’t transparent. Black is the color of night and blindness and not seeing and so nobody would ever equate black with transparent. And it’s not. It’s opaque. A black mask covers and obscures everything in its layer. Now, if everything in its fill layer is obscured, the upshot is that the layer beneath it is revealed. Revealing one thing by obscuring another is not the same as the obfuscation being transparent. To sum up, black blocks its layer revealing the layer beneath. White does the opposite.

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4 thoughts on “Tutorial Tuesday! A better way to conceptualize masks in substance painter.

  1. Drew

    I’m not sure if I watched the same video tutorial that you did, but maybe what he was getting at was like comparing the mask to the opacity settings in a program like Photoshop.

    In Photoshop, if you set the opacity of a brush to zero and paint, nothing shows up. This would be the same as choosing “black” in a Substance Painter mask.

    Setting the paint brush in Photoshop to 50% opacity makes it show about half transparent. This would be like putting a mid-tone gray mask in Substance Painter.

    Setting the brush in Photoshop to 100% opacity in Photoshop is fully opaque like a fully loaded brush, just like a pure white mask in Substance Painter.

    Now, in the video where you said you can only get transparency in Substance Painter Masks by using layer effects like multiply, I think you can also achieve transparency by choosing a mid-tone gray while painting the mask in Substance Painter. I’ve tested this with a fill layer, and shifting the value from black to gray to white (and reapplying the mask each time) will affect how strong the fill layer comes through.

    Although, since Substance Painter uses white and black values for height, roughness or whatever, it might be easier to think of the white and black color scale as “strength” or “intensity” of the brush or fill. So, white would be full on max strength.

    Where it can really get confusing is that each layer in Substance Painter has a setting for base color, height, etc. By choosing base color, and dragging the opacity number under “norm” to zero, it makes the layer transparent as well.

    To make it more confusing, the material’s properties can be adjusted outside of this. You can turn off color and leave only height or roughness for example.

    So yeah, I think that all this stuff can be tricky and anyone can benefit from some tutorials. Luckily, after this, there isn’t that much that is needed to create basic texture work.

    Anyway, I hope we are both on the same page. Some of this stuff can be confusing. What I described above was my way of learning it based on off programs I have used. In the end, it all accomplishes the same thing.

    1. admin Post author

      Great avatar (for some reason it only shows up on my tablet)! I’m a huge MST3K/Rifftrax fan! The avatar is also apropos for the conversation.

      Black has never in human history symbolized transparency. Case in point, Mike and the bots, being opaque, are shown in black. Black is the color of silhouette, of shadow, of night, and of blindness. It represents the absence of light or the result of light being blocked. Black blocks.

      And in fact, this is how a black mask functions in Substance Painter. Black blocks everything in its layer.

      Now, Allegorithmic’s youtube tutor gets confused when a fill layer and sublayer are added to the mix. The fill layer also blocks; it blocks the layer beneath it. Then the black mask blocks it; it blocks the blocker with the net effect being that the sublayer is revealed. It’s a double-negative. Now, does this mean that black is a revealer (ie is transparent)? No, it’s a blocker (ie is opaque).

      As you’ve alluded to, this may be contrived as semantics. If you get good results it doesn’t really matter how you choose to visualize the process. I do think that exacting conceptualization is important however.

      BTW, you’re right, using a grey mask achieves the same effect as setting layer opacity to 50% to achieve transparency. Layer modes such as Multiply and Overlay, however, perform additional processes and achieve different results (though they’re not always discernible). In a video insisting on specificity I probably should have used a more accurate word than “transparency” at that particular point.

      The upshot: Black blocks. When black blocks another blocker in its layer the net effect is that the sublayer is revealed. Does this mean that black is a revealer (ie is transparent)? No, black is a blocker (ie is opaque). 🙂

  2. Drew

    That makes sense.

    I think some of the way that Substance Painter is laid out is a bit confusing for someone used to programs like Photoshop, but watching a few videos and trying things out usually clears that up. It’s familiar, yet different in its functionality in some regards.

    What’s funny is that I still consider Substance Painter as the easiest pick-up-and-go software of their lineup. I tried Substance Designer and couldn’t do much with it, but Substance Painter came to me a bit more naturally.

    And yeah, MST3K is awesome. So is Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic.

    1. admin Post author

      Yeah, just looking at Designer I know I don’t have the time to try to learn it. Hopefully there’s enough shared materials on the site to cover what I need to accomplish.

      Favorite MST3K episodes: Agent For H.A.R.M and The Pumaman! 😆


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