Substance Designer Workflows and Tips

This is a living document detailing all the cool workflow shortcuts and node observations I’ve found while working in Substance Designer. This post is sticky on my front page, so check back if there are more. Shoot me an email if you have a tip too.



  • The Distance Node will only expand pixels whose values are 128 or above. Anything below will just be discarded.
  • Gradient map too flat? Blend a White Noise Fast to the pattern, set to Add/Sub, and a litttle bit of strength.
  • Disconnect the outputs for a speed boost if you just need to work in 2D. Calculation time seems to increase if the node you’re editing is within a tree that’s connected to an output (base color, normal, etc).
  • Get some nice fine detail in your heightmap. Plug the heightmap into an Ambient Occlusion slot, turn up the higher frequencies, then multiply the result back onto your heightmap and render a normal.
  • Linear Gradient is super useful for putting an angle to your heightmap. Add/sub, Multiply, or Min/Max it into your heightmap to slope the heightfield. Adjust the levels of the gradient to adjust the way it slopes.


Graph View Shortcuts

  • Make a copy of a wire by CTRL+Clicking on the input or output plug. Super handy.
  • Set the “visible if” parameter in an exposed parameter. This flag is a conditional statement that makes a particular parameter you exposed visible to the user if another condition is met. For example, if you have a button that says, “Enable Mask,” then there might be another set of two parameters that become visible to the user.


Miscellaneous Tips

  • Change FOV to 50 degrees to see the surface better in the 3d view.
  • Get better rendering quality by setting up a profile in your video card manufacturer’s dashboard like NVidia Geforce Experience of ATI Catalyst Center.. Turn on anisotropic filtering and antialiasing for better viewport rendering in SD.
  • Dropping the resolution of a node is a common practice for me. It speeds up the entire node tree calculation time, but also provides creative flexibility.  You can get simple holes by dropping the resolution of a noise generator, then adding a histogram scan after it with that resolution relative to parent.
  • Adjust each normal map contributor seperately with different strengths. Blend them together with Normal Blend or Normal Combine nodes.
  • Create a node with a library of gradients, then an HSL node at the end of each. Handy to get a quick high frequency albedo.
  • Learn to seperate surfaces by material, then reconstruct the final one with masks. Brick walls are composed of clay, concrete, and dirt. Make the clay without a brick pattern. Make the concrete without the grout pattern.