Stepping back into CG after 10 plus years


G’day guys,

I’ve recently got the itch to get back into 3D as a hobby. I haven’t touched the application in over 10 plus years.

I’m a 36 years old, married and have one very demanding 3 year old child. I tried to get in the industry back in the day, however my work wasn’t up to scratch, as well as other commitments at the time I eventually had to stop my passion for 3d as it was taking too much of my time.

I’m curious in brushing up my skills in my down time. I would love to get a few pointers and guidance from members here on where to begin as I’ve always been blown away by the sheer talent people have on this site.

My strength was Modelling and rendering, I was using Maya 07 and Zbrush

  1. Do you still need a spec’d out Mac or PC to begin? ( I have a 4 year old mac pro laptop)
  2. What website would u recommend for tutorials?
  3. Are UV layouts for texturing still a thing because that was painful
  4. Do people still use WACOM tablets or are they using Microsoft Surfaces or other tablets as an all in one?

I welcome any feedback and input and look forward to your response



Hey there, Tesh. I know that it can this can be pretty intimidating for you after a 10 year haitus. I’ll do my best to help you and offer some related advice. With that in mind, let’s start at the beginning.


Let me warn you of something in advance. By and large, perpetual licenses are a thing of the past as developers have opted to milk the cash cow ad infinitum. There are alternatives, but I’ll get to those in a moment.

You said that you were a Maya & ZBrush user back in the day. Those apps are both still relevant and industry standard. For the most part, they still dominate the job scene. Before I digress and with that in mind, if you still have a legal license & valid Pixologic login, upgrading to the current version of ZBrush (v2021) should still probably be free. (I’ve been getting free upgrades for 12 or 13 years now. It’s just Pixologic’s way.) Otherwise, it’ll cost you about $900 for a perpetual license or $40/month for a subscription.

Maya is still plenty expensive. Now a subscription only application, it’ll set you back $205/month, $1,215/yr, or $3,282/3yr. HOWEVER, in order to keep up with recent trends, they also now offer a Maya Indie license for about $265/yr. The only difference is, being an Indie license, you cannot earn more than $100k/yr using it. Other than that, the program is exactly the same as the regular studio Maya. No watermarks or anything.

You’ll very likely also need a copy of Photoshop. Again, no perpetual licenses. Subscriptions only. Mercifully, if all you need is Photoshop and no other Adobe app, you can snag it for as low as $10/month.

Here’s my advice. You’ve got a 3 year old kid. You’ll probably want to keep as much of you hard earned cash as possible. Instead of the above apps, I’d recommend the following.

INSTEAD OF MAYA… Why not pick Blender v2.9x. Blender has come a VERY long way since you last saw it 10 years ago. It is still 100% free as in beer and a force to behold. The UI has been significantly overhauled as to make it more intuitive and in line with other apps like Maya or Cinema4D. It has also grown to include a very robust feature set that is not only competitive, but even superior in certain areas. While it is not (yet) the industry standard, Blender has begun to gain some real traction among industry pros and smaller studios in recent years. The bundled rendering engines are top notch too. Blender is a highly competitive piece of software.

INSTEAD OF ZBRUSH… Again, go with Blender. Yes. ZBrush IS the de facto standard when it comes to sculpting. It is still crazy fast and able to handle an obscene number of polys. HOWEVER, Blender’s native sculpting tools are so powerful that it has become a legitimate alternative for sculpts of 25mil polys or less. Recent tweets by the developer working on the sculpting tools indicate that there’s also a massive speed increase for HD meshes on the horizon too. Based on the posted video, sculpt speed looks to be in for a good 5x-10x bump. It’s safe to say that, even now, you can create some amazing looking and highly detailed sculpts using Blender alone.

INSTEAD OF PHOTOSHOP… I’d probably go with Affinity Photo. Yes. Photoshop is only $10/month, which even a guy with a 3yo can afford. Still, $10 is $10. If you can save $120/yr, why not? Affinity Photo is offered for a one time $50 price, is a true perpetual license, & doesn’t require any sort of online activation. Feature for feature, Photoshop still holds the advantage. However, out of all of the PS alternatives, Affinity Photo offers the most Photoshop-like experience and feature set. It’d rate it somewhere below PS proper, but miles ahead of the opensource Gimp - which many indies and hobbyists swear by. Serif, makers of Affinity Photo, also offer an Adobe Illustrator Alternative for vector graphics called Affinity Designer. Also a $50 one time cost. Also perpetual. Also very good.

There’s something else you need to be aware of. While it’s still totally possible to make textures in a 2D app like Photoshop or Affinity Photo, most texture artists these days tend to paint theirs in a real-time app such as Substance Painter. Substance Painter allows you to paint directly onto the mesh and across multiple texture layers. Substance Painter (and Designer) came onto the scene just about as you were taking a break from things 10 years ago.

Substance used to be independently owned by Allegorithmic, but has been recently been bought by Adobe about a year or two ago. As such, predictably, they’ve gone from a perpetual license to a subscription model. Subscribing to Adobe’s Substance suite will set you back about $20/month. HOWEVER, what they don’t tell you is that you can actually still get a perpetual indie license from Steam for about $150. For that price, you get about 12 months of updates. The Steam version of Substance Painter will still work well after your 12 months of support ends though. Still, $150 is still a bit of cash for a father of a 3yo. I get it.

INSTEAD OF SUBSTANCE… Use Blender in combination with ArmorPaint. Yes. You can actually paint in 3D with Blender. I told you. Blender is a powerhouse. For 3D painting, Substance is still superior. However, it’s 100% possible to paint high quality textures in Blender. There are even a number of very cheap plugins to add extra 3D paint features and make your life easier. If Blender isn’t enough or you demand a dedicated 3D paint app, I’d direct you to ArmorPaint. It’s an open source alternative to Substance Painter that’s fairly new to the scene. It’s still evolving and very much a WIP. However, it’s free… as long as you can compile the source code yourself. If you can’t… Dont worry. You can get a pre-compiled version for just under $20 through Gumroad. ( The updates are free and the app is perpetual.

To answer your questions…

Your PC needs all depend on how complex you want your scenes to be. It’s that simple.

I’m a PC user and can’t speak directly on your Mac Pro. However, Blender’s minimum spec is very forgiving. A pimped out screamer of a PC will always get the best possible performance and handle huge scenes. However, according to the Blender Foundation, any computer made within the past 10 years should suffice. Just make sure that you’ve got at least 4GB RAM and are using an OS that is no older than macOS 10.13 or Windows 7.

I currently use Blender on a 14-core i9 with 64GB RAM, 18.5TB HDD, 4K monitor, & 1080ti 11GB GeForce. … HOWEVER … My 8yo neice started to learn Blender over the summer while in quarantine on a 3 year old 4-core Intel i5 with just 4GB RAM. I can handle much bigger and busier scenes, but her PC spec is still powerful enough to do some really good stuff with. Just beware. Older systems will, unsuprisingly, render slower than more modern systems.

That said, you don’t need a super PC to do 3D. You don’t. To put it another way, if you can still play games at low or medium settings, you should be fine. If your 4yo laptop can play the equally old “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided” (2016) or even older GTA V (2013) at any level of quality (even low), your 4yo laptop should be more than powerful enough to get you back into the CG art game.

At some point, you’ll probably want to upgrade your PC. After all, a 4yo laptop isn’t getting any newer. For now, however, you’re good to go. 100%.

Guru, thy name is YouTube.

It used to be that sites like Digital Tutors (now known as Pluralsight) or Gnomon were #1 source for online training. You could buy some high quality training DVDs and learn just about everything. However, DVDs were never able to keep up with the tech or the demand. As such, most of you tutorials will be streaming.

As a born again newbie, your first stop should be YouTube. The quality of tutorials on there will range from bad to great. You’ll have to do a bit of sifting through the crap to find the gold. However, there IS a lot of gold there if you’re patient. As you might expect, YouTube streamers cover just about every topic you can imagine. ZBrush. Maya. Blender. Photoshop. Concept art. Sculpting. Sketching. ETC ETC ETC

As a Blender artist, I would probably also direct you to Blender Market & Gumroad. The training material there is all $$$, but it’s usually quality stuff. Nothing more expensive than $75. Tutorial range from 36hr+ all encompaing courses to shorter, cheaper 8hr tutorials that will show you how do do stuff like model cars, make real-time hair, sculpt monsters, and so on.

For a good all-in-one tutorial site, you could opt for Udemy. They cover countless topics that include, but extend well beyond 3D. Some people love Udemy. Others hate it. I, personally, have never needed it so I can’t vouche for it though. I do know, however, that you might want to read the individual course reviews before opting in. Some “instructors” are just hacks.

Yeah. Sorry. You’re not getting around it. You could opt for auto UV algorithms if you just want to jump to the painting. However, there’s no substitute for manual UV unwrapping. You’ll get the best results and make the most of your UV space if you do it yourself. For my money, I find Blender’s UV tools to be a tad easier to work with than Maya’s. The results will be comparable though.

Either way, UV unwrapping is a necessary evil. It’s mildly time consuming, but you get used to it after a while. TBH, you’ll find mesh retopology - constructing a well ordered and lower poly mesh from a denser one - to be more tedious. I find it to be a good way to zone out, but some people would rather eat glass. To each his own. :stuck_out_tongue:

Yes. Wacom tablets are very much still a thing an aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. People DO create art on MS Surface tablets. However, from my experience, there’s no substitute for a real PC. Having access to a big screen and full sized keyboard is always to your advantage. Surface tablets (and iPads) are still mighty capable for 2D concept art and painting, but I’d stick to a desktop or laptop for “real” CG work.

You don’t have to invest $2K+ on a pricey Wacon Cintiq pen display to get back into the game. I’ve got one and it’s amazing, but you can go MUCH cheaper if you’re just starting out. You can snag a brand new Intuos Pro (small) for about $250 or an equivalent Huion tablet (eg. H610 Pro) for about $50. Both will do the job just about the same.

I would, however, direct you to stay away from the cheaper $50-$90 non-Pro Wacom Intuos tablets. They’re good and do the job, but the button placement is just terrible. Placing those express keys at the top instead of the side is just a pain in the ass. Total recipe for wrist strain. I bought one once, to replace my dead Intous3, and regretted the experience. Penny wise. Dollar foolish.


Affinity Photo:
Blender Market:
Maya Indie:
Substance Painter (Steam Perpetual):

NB: You make no mention of wanting to go pro and make a career change. Maya & ZBrush, as I said, are still the industry standards, but Blender is still very much a viable option for freelance, indie projects, small studios, startups, or hobby work. You can achieve the same exact results in Blender as in Maya for $0. (Re)learning Maya is really only a must if you’re hellbent on working at a studio that requires it. Not hard to (re)learn once you’ve mastered Blender though.

For now, imo, go free. Blender is AMAZING. Seriously. Model. Texture Paint. Animate. Sculpt. Video Edit. Composite. 2D cel-style animation. Fluids. Hair. Smoke/Fire. Cloth. A lot has changed in 10 years. Blender has become a beast. Seriously. A lot of longtime Maya and 3dsmax users have jumped ship and converted to Blender in recent years. If you use it, you’ll understand why. I kid you not.

(Autodesk has become greedy, imo. They ask for a lot, but only put in bare minimum effort. In fact, while Maya has seen a number of strong features in the past 10 years, you might not immediately notice them if you jump back in. With 3dsmax, the changes in that period of time are harder to notice. 3dsmax development slowed to a crawl for good 5 years. It was nearly as inactive as LightWave for a while.)

Take a look at a few indie shorts and highlights of Blender.


There’s Ptex. Admittedly, it was also around 10 years ago but it still remains an alternative to UV mapping.

The only issue is not every software renderer supports it and when it comes to game engines, just forget it.

That said, I really do wish it was more mainstream. Especially since the technology was made by DISNEY, you’d think every studio would be chasing after it.

Some people can stomach UV unwrapping but I’ve learned to hate every second of it. I can’t wait for the day I switch to Vray (which has official support for it) and never have to look at UV mapping ever again.


Thank you so much for taking the time to give me this amazing feedback. I really appreciate it. I think you’ve sold me on Blender. Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me

Thank you again!!!


Dam, looks like I still have to still UV map hahaha. I’ll have to brush up on my skills and dive back in, thank you mate for your feedback!


Just a quick head’s up. You might stumble onto LightWave at some point and notice the relatively affordable price. Avoid it like the plague. I’ve been reading a handful of posts online that suggest that the recent acquisition of NewTek by Vizrt has led to much of the LW dev team being taken off of the project and reassigned elsewhere. Some have even been let go. LW’s page is dodging the issue a bit, but it might well seem like LightWave is unofficially dead for good this time. It’s been on life support for the past 3 or 4 versions, but it’s pretty much doomed to the same graveyard as XSI now. So, if you get some bizarre itch to test drive LightWave, don’t. Again, this is yet another reason to stick with Blender. Open Source is nearly impossible to (practically) kill.


I can’t thank you enough, for your help. You’ve really helped me out. I was looking at Blender tutorials on youtube, I can’t believe how much it’s changed. It’s such a powerful program, I laughed when I saw Maya experts using the application and seeing there reactions on how good of a program it is.

Thank you so much mate!



Uvw mapping is not a huge problem, if you use a dedicated software, like Uvlayout. It takes time to master, but then it’s incomparable to its built-in counterparts.
It’s burdensome. but try rigging, and it will look like a child’s toy.


Not a problem. This place isn’t exactly the high traffic haven for CG that you might remember from 2010, but a few of us from that period still pop in every now and then. I’m more than happy to help.

You should see the chatter going on in the LightWave forums these days. Though unconfirmed, it seems that LightWave has finally been discontinued or will very soon be. A lot of the members in that forum are immediately jumping ship to Blender, refusing to buy into Autodesk’s “pay forever” subscription scheme. (Incidentally, that’s one of the reasons why you see so many Maya users jumping ship. They’re paying an arm and a leg in nigh perpetuity, but the feature upgrades and fixes no longer seem to be justifying the long term cost… Lots of upset ADSK artists.)

Onto something else… Here are some YT channels and links that might be able to help you or pique your creative curiosity.

He mostly covers speed sculpts and related tutorials. If you’re seriously interested in using Blender for sculpting then his channel should be one of your first stops.

On a related note, Pablo Dobarro - the artist/developer responsible for the updated sculpt tools - recently demoed the upcoming speed bump. ( IIRC, he said that we should expect it within the next month or two. That should more or less put it in line for the upcoming v2.91, which is tentatively scheduled for the very end of November.

CG Boost:
Zach Reinhardt offers a bunch of good tutorials an tips for users of all skill levels. He’s generally pretty easy to follow.

Andrew Price:
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Andrew’s channel. His donut tutorial is practically a rite of passage. Lots of other good topics there too.

Blender 2.8 Full Training From Beginner To Pro:
This is a $70 downloadable course, but it covers all of the major topics in a 34 hour package. There are a few minor UI differences between v2.8x and v2.9, but it’s mostly the same. It’s pretty comprehensive and more than worth the price.

Shane Olson - Stylized Character Sculpting:
Being that it’s on the Pixologic channel, it’s not really Blender related. However, all of the concepts from building a base mesh using CSG to detailing and posing are all transferable. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned vet, there are a bunch of good tips that you can pick up just by watching him work/play.

Here are also a few non-Blender related books if you’re looking to bone up on your anatomy, no pun intended.

Anatomy for 3D Artists: The Essential Guide for CG Professionals -
Anatomy for Sculptors Understanding the Human Figure -
The Artist’s Guide to the Anatomy of the Human Head: Defining Structure and Capturing Emotions -

As a rule of thumb, I tend not to indulge in the plugin/add-on culture. I’ve found that some developers seem more committed to supporting their products than others. As such, it can sometimes be risky to depend on an add-on for a crucial project. That said, there are still some quality commercial add-ons for Blender worth your time.

Hardops ($20):
This is the gold standard for hard surface modeling tools. If you like to build robots, weapons, or other mechanical type objects then this is a must have. It’s constantly updated and has been around for 4 or 5 years now.

Mirage ($25):
A bit like a poor man’s World Creator, Mirage is an excellent terrain generation and population system. Tacked on with Blender already built-in tools for creating trees and ivy, Mirage will really help you scratch that wilderness itch. Alternatively, you could also look into the even more advanced Grove add-on (, but it is equally more expensive at almost $140.

Quad Remesher ($60-$110):
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen ZBrush’s ZRemesher tool in action. If you haven’t here’s the gist. With the click of a button, you can create a lower poly mesh with well organized topology from that messy, poly dense sculpt that you’ve been working on. Quad Remesher was created by one of the ZBrush programmers responsible for ZRemesher. It does the same thing, but from within Blender. Blender has its own built-in remeshing tools, recently updated, but none of them produce results as amazing as Quad Remesher. Given how long manual retopology can take, this add-on is a godsend.

Cloth Weaver ($45-60):
Another “poor man’s version” of a familiar tool, Cloth Weaver allows you to create clothing for your characters using a pattern-based system. It is somewhere in-between Cinema4D’s old Clothilde system and the more advanced Marvelous Designer. Coupled with the built-in cloth sim tools, the results are rather impressive at that price range. EDIT>>> In this same class of add-ons, you might also want to look at the equally good Garment Tool ($52) ->

BPainter ($40) and Layer Painter ($20): &
I’m kinda lumping these two together because they relate to the same thing. Blender’s built-in texture painting tools are solid and, tbh, far and away better than the old 2010 era BodyPaint3D that many CG artists swore by. However, as good as they are, Blender’s texture painting tools still seem to be missing a few features here and there when it comes to PBR and layers. If you don’t like the free/$20 ArmorPaint and don’t wish to spend $150+ on Substance Painter then here’s a way to beef up the tools already included with your Blender package.

FLIP Fluids ($76):
Your mileage may vary here. Not everybody needs to do fluid sim often enough to justify this addon. However, if you find yourself constantly craving the rush of flowing rivers, splashing waterfalls, or epic waves then FLIP Fluids might be up your alley. Blender already has built-in sim and you can readily do complex projects relating to fluids. FLIP Fluids is its own engine and, as such, offers its own set of perks and advanced options, such as object destruction/fracturing. FLIP Fluids is about as almost expensive as Blender add-ons get, but it should probably be on your list if you’re looking to create film quality fluids. (You can do such things in Blender, but FLIP Fluids lets you skip some steps towards that goal.)

All of that aside, you might want to dig into Blender’s add-on panel in you preference menu. There are a LOT of fantastic add-ons that are bundled with Blender, but aren’t turned on by default. They cover everything from image planes to extra object to auto rigging and so on. Seriously. You have no idea how many Blender users don’t know about the extra power that’s at their disposal. Definitely worth checking out and it won’t cost you a dime.

NB>>> If you’re looking for further help and a way to interact more with the Blender and art community at large, I would strongly suggest that you join some dedicated groups on Facebook or Discord. Within the past 10 years, the art community has shifted away from forums such as this and onto social media instead. There are a few good forums that still thrive such as Blender Artists ( and Polycount (, but most forums have been pretty dead since the Global Recession of 2008/2010. We’ve discussed this topic at length here time and again, but the bottom line is that forums are the past and social is the future. Just be aware that, as you might expect, groups on FB and such don’t often offer the same level of maturity or professionalism as a dedicated forum. Lots of poseurs and newbies who can’t take or offer useful critiques. It pays to “window shop” until you find the group that suits you the most. LOTS to choose from

FYI, you can find me on FB at



Just chiming in to say thanks for the heads up on the Affinity Photo PS alternative because was originally going with "ye olde indie standby’ Gimp to texture paint with :stuck_out_tongue: which at the same time kinda evoked a Homer ‘doh!’ face palm moment when I eyeballed your reply since it’s sister vector app - Designer, I’ve utilized over the previous eleven months too draw graphic art biased illustrations.


Happy to help. :slight_smile:

There’s nothing inherently wrong with Gimp. When configured properly and with the right plugins, you can get a solid PS experience that’s somewhere between v7 and CS2. Gimp’s real problem is that it’s painfully slow. When executing scripts or working with layer operations, it can just grind to a near halt. Gimp doesn’t make the most of multi-threading and just straight up ignores the advantages of GPU acceleration. Affinity Photo is significantly faster in nearly every way. That alone makes it worth the $50 over Gimp.

I’ll be honest with you. On a personal level, I’d much rather use Photoshop. I’ve been using it since around 1992. It feels like second nature. And with my sister in-law being an Adobe employee, I can and actually have capitalized on her employee discount and get the full CC suite for about $60/yr - a full 90% off. Still, I’d much rather not. I’m am SO sick of the whole “software as a service” trend that I can’t, in good conscience, give them another damn dime.

Even at a discounted price, I’m tired of throwing good money after bad for a program that now sees only marginal improvements year after year. It’s frustrating. Adobe hasn’t done anything earth shattering to Photoshop in since the introduction of Content-Aware Fill and that was nearly 10 years ago. They’ve been dragging ass and treading water with what have been mostly quality of life updates ever since. In practice, there is literally nothing I can do with today’s v21 that I couldn’t also do with v12. In many cases, with a few workflow adjustments, I could probably even achieve the same sort quality to edits and textures in 2002’s v7.01. Photoshop has been a “mature” app for many years whereas Gimp is still maturing; Gimp is somehow better than PS7 and also worse.

I’m done with subscriptions. I really am. I’d like to own something at the end of the day. I’d like to be able to stay with a specific favorite version instead of being forced to “upgrade” to something potentially worse. For me, opting to move to Affinity & Blender from Photoshop & Maya is not just a protest. It’s a sort of common sense measure. If both apps do what I need and nearly as well (or better), why give money to companies that want me to pay in perpetuity with little promise of them giving back in equal measure.

The truth is that neither Adobe, nor Autodesk have to do anything other than provide an app that works in order to justify the subscription price. That they still update it with new features is, by their standards, a sort of “gift” for staying on board. It’s insulting. I can only imagine the years of frustration experienced by 3dsmax users who saw glacier paced improvements for a period of time.

Nah. I’m done with subscriptions and cash cow software. After 30 years doing CG, I’ve spent more than enough money.


I’m curious if you’ve any thoughts on Allegorithmic’s substance suite, specifically Painter?

Over recent years as a hobbyist, I’ve delved a bit into hard surface game asset creation techniques but at the moment without sufficient funds to upgrade my current system, I’m pretty much constrained too utilizing solutions that are not GPU/CPU intensive, hence image editing substitutes for the time being. I’m also aware of the company’s acquisition by Adobe 12 months ago however their licensing policies still seem reasonable especially for those on a budget, particularly the perpetual version available via Steam although not sure at this point will continue beyond 2021.


Substance is pretty much a prerequisite now on applying into a gaming company, provided you are to texture any thing.
I am myself also not proficient with it, but it seems like an unavoidable means.
I know it sounds harsh, but in this industry, those who don’t use the latest tools for the job, simply won’t get the gig.
This happened to a modeler, who became cosy with his 3ds max modeling characters, but coudn’t compete with those, proficient with Zbrush.
It’s a very powerful tool, and not knowing Substance equals to not knowing Zbrush for organic modeling. You can, but you will lag behind.
Of course, I would invest into artistic any time, as tools change constantly. In 5 years it will be another software, even easier, faster, and more artists will be able creating amazing stuff, limited ony by their artistic skill.
Sacboi, at least now is a great time to upgrade. You can wait maybe until RTX 3000 cards will arrive with 16 and 20 GB of RAM within quarter, but there’s a plethora of CPUs on the market for reasonable prices (not like it was 5 years ago with Intel raising CPU speed 5% a year), and videocards are not as overpriced as several years ago due to mining rush.


Thanks, will look into various pricing options.



  • It’s every bit the 3D equivalent to Photoshop and is, in many ways, what MAXON’s BodyPaint3D tried to be.
  • It’s fast and highly responsive even with lots of large 4K layers
  • Baking is fast and produces quality results, although you might find yourself going back to the slower xNormal on occasion.
  • The paint tools are extremely strong, especially with particles on your side.
  • MUCH cheaper than Foundry’s Mari alternative


  • Welcome to Camp Adobe. There was never any doubt how Allegorithmic would treat their customers. Support was great and the upgrade pricing was downright reasonable. Adobe LOVES their subscription (ie. cash cow) model of doing business and support has, historically, been hit or miss at times. No telling how they’ll treat Substance down the line, especially since it isn’t officially part of the CC ecosystem. Maybe they’re in it for the long haul. Maybe they’re not.
  • Like many established apps, Substance Painter has gotten a bit bloated over the years. I’ve been using it since v1. The UI/UX at v2020 is more “weighty” than it’s ever been. This can be addressed and fixed in future versions, but - let’s face it - this is Adobe we’re talking about. They ignored the bloat issue with Photoshop’s UI for many years. There’s no telling when or if they’ll address the issue for an app that wasn’t born in-house. To be clear, the Painter UI/UX isn’t bad. It just long overdue for some clean up.

I stand by my recommendation of ArmorPaint for indie artists who are strapped for cash. Especially for the tiny/free price, it’s extremely capable. It’s not as fast, stable, or as feature rich as Substance, but that’s to be expected given that it hasn’t even reached v1.0 status yet. On the flipside, there’s something to be said for a no-frills experience. Some of the creature comforts might not be there, but running lean means that you have very little to distract you from the task at had; That makes for an equally newbie friendly experience.

3D-Coat is decently solid for 3D paint and is about as fast as you’d expect from the app, whose voxel toolset is smooth as silk. Of course, you can make an argument that it’ll never be as good as Substance Painter and, well, you’d probably be right. 3D-Coat’s main attraction isn’t the paint functionality. It’s (primarily) a sculpt tool. You can certainly UV and paint in it, but the meat of the app is the sculpting. In that spirit, an app like Substance Painter only has to be good at one specific thing - 3D paint. It doesn’t have to concern itself with also being good at sculpting, modeling, animating, & so on - unlike general purpose suites. Additionally, 3D-Coat’s perpetual license is still 2x+ more than Substance Painter’s (Steam purchase only) perpetual.

Mari is… okay. Admittedly, my exposure to Mari has been limited to the Indie version. Even considering the Indie limited feature set, I’d still rather use Substance Painter or the more limited ArmorPaint. Like MODO, Mari feels thrown together and messy. The paint tools, at least on my end, don’t feel as responsive once your projects get more complex. I would like to think that the so-called “pro” version is faster, but I’ll never know. You’re just not going to convince me to pay almost $2,200 for a product whose alternative is superior AND cheaper. I can’t even direct y’all to any version Mari Indie since Foundry no longer offers it on Steam. I’m sorta shocked that they still offer MODO Indie via that channel too; It should be noted that MODO Indie support is super weak and the app itself is typically a release or two behind the pro version.

BodyPaint3D… Don’t even bother. I first stated using MAXON’s Cinema4D, of which BodyPaint3D is a part, some 18 years ago with R6 and still maintain a current license. To put it bluntly, Cinema 4D’s BodyPaint3D functionality is an utter joke. Much like C4D’s cloth/dynamics, pyroclastics, and material system, its BP3D functionality is ancient, neglected, slow, under powered, and too crude to be practical. Even when 3D paint was being emphasized in C4D’s promo literature, I can’t point out many pros that were actually using it to the same degree as they might use Substance Painter today. At best, most pros (myself included) only ever used BodyPaint3D to touch up 3D textures or fix seams. Feature for feature, comparing BodyPaint3D to Substance Painter might be like comparing MS Paint to Photoshop.

Quixel Mixer… shows promise. It’s free, which is nice. It’s supported and developed by by Epic, which is also nice. I will say, however, that it has a long way to go to be a legitimate competitor for Painter. It’ll get there. It’s just not there yet and the reason why is pretty simple: They basically started over. Mixer’s predecessor, Quixel Suite, aimed to be a 3D paint solution that integrated itself with Photoshop, allowing you to work in 3D, but also use Photoshop’s extensive tool set. Conceptually, the app was brilliant. In practice, however, it was buggy af and hard to keep updated and compatible with each new PS version. Instead of trying to swim upstream, they just abandoned Quixel Suite after a few major releases. Mixer is basically the do over for them; a reboot of sorts that aims to get the job done without being PS dependent. In starting over, they have some old ground to go back over and tools to (re)create. Mixer isn’t as good as Painter, but it might be… in time. Also, how much you enjoy the Mixer experience also depends on how much you appreciate its deep ties to MegaScans.

Opt for the perpetual license Steam version. There’s no telling if Adobe will keep on offering it alongside the subscription version, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice to NOT pick it up. At $149, you can’t lose. You get 12 months of feature updates and bug fixes for a program that is in every way the same as the non-Steam version. Plus, even if Adobe abandons their Steam plans, it’ll never expire.

You could argue that the non-Steam version is worth the $219 because it also includes Designer & Alchemist. However, not everybody uses or needs Designer. You might well be paying an extra $70/yr to just use one app, Painter. On top of that, unlike with the Steam license, you’ll be paying $219/yr in perpetuity thanks to the subscription model. Stop paying and you no longer have the app at your disposal. The Steam purchased edition is yours forever, or for as long as it’s compatible with your OS/hardware. You only have to pay once. Of course, you could opt to pay $149 every year for the latest Steam version.

(Naturally, there are some that might suggest it’s still more costly to pay Steam $298 every year for Designer & Painter especially since you’re not getting Alchemist or Source in the deal. Again, however… perpetual licenses. That’s a fair trade, imo. )

NB: If your Substance account is linked to your Steam account, you’ll also have access to a license key and EXE installer via your Substance account. Why is this cool? It means that you don’t need Steam. You can install AND activate that perpetual indie license offline. No Steam! Great for environments where you’ve got restricted internet access or where the Steam client isn’t an option.

It depends.

If you’re cash strapped to the point where you can’t afford the $149 for a Steam perpetual license or $219/yr for a subscription, ArmorPaint is viable. Again, there are limitations and the product is still WIP, but $0 ($19 via Gumroad) is hard to beat. If you’re patient and have no problem working with a program that’s still growing and coming into it’s own then ArmorPaint is definitely an option. With Epic having recently tossed a (small) MegaGrant their way, ArmorPaint remains one to keep an eye on. It’s not a 1:1 replacement for Painter, but it’s about as close as you’re going to get in an open source app.

If, however, you don’t mind (blech) subscriptions or can afford to pay up $149 to Steam at least once, pull the trigger and go with Substance Painter. You might never want to go pro, but that doesn’t matter. Painter’s rich feature set is so seductive that you’ll want to use it anyway. It does everything SO well that it’s hard to pass by. Save the cash if you have to.

Substance Painter is in a very unique position.

With Photoshop, even though it’s the de facto standards, many users can do just as well by opting for the alternatives instead. Even if Affinity Photo didn’t come so close to PS-level power, which it does, it wouldn’t need to anyway. In practice, most artists only ever need a small subset of what PS has to offer. Digital artists, for example, might never touch any of the many features related to print work. Similarly, artists working in CMYK might as well ignore the features most appealing to RGB or 8-bit artists.

Substance Painter, otoh, is so laser focused on what it does that there’s no segmentation in features required by the different types of users. Texture artists working on games and film will end up touching the same corners of the app. Any Painter alternative you choose (or build) will involve some personal or functional compromises. That’s fine if you can live with them, which is why I still recommend ArmorPaint to hobbyists or poor indies. If, however, you want a TRUE 1:1 Substance Painter experience then only Substance Painter will do.

If you DO want to go pro, learning Substance Painter is probably a must. You could learn the 3D painting techniques elsewhere, but Painter compliance entails having hands on experience with the program first before applying for a studio job. Learning the app isn’t super hard, but doing so on the job is probably not recommended. :wink:

Should you go for Substance Painter? Assess your needs. If you can get away with ArmorPaint or Blender with some 3D paint related add-ons, go for it. If you find an itch to go pro or that Painter calls to you like a buxom siren, just bite the bullet and pay up. It’s not a PS vs Affinity sort of comparison where good enough is perfectly fine. At the sub-$500 price point, no other 3D paint app is exactly as powerful as Substance. Choosing a Painter alternative also means choosing to live without a feature you might later want or need.


Just to add another opinion here, and since you already have a valid ZBrush license it seems, ZBrush is a good compagnion with Blender.

I personally would never think to sculpt in Blender since it starts to fail where sculpting starts. In the megapoly range.


Can Blender handle a 5 billion poly mesh in real-time? No. Of course not. Then again, neither can ZBrush. Not exactly. Apps like Blender & Maya have to manage an obscene amount of data in any one scene or for any one model. It’ll never reach a hardware blt limit like that. ZBrush, otoh, forgoes the internal complexities in its implementation of the pixol. Its canvas representation is 2.5D. That’s why ZBrush’s internals don’t and won’t get a boost from GPUs. It’s also why an artist with a 14-core CPU will be able to push around denser meshes more easily than one with a 4-core CPU.

I would liken it to a battle of 90s era FPS games and comparing the full throttle Serious Sam experience to, say, Quake I, which couldn’t push as many enemies on screen. That’s the beauty of 2.5D. It’s a clever fake that gets you to exactly where you need to be, but it’s a fake nevertheless. Technical details aside, results are what matter most and, yes, ZBrush can get you to that HD megapoly range that no other app can. You’re 100% right.

However, in the end, it all depends on your particular needs and your workflow. I would say, depending on your system, you can smoothly sculpt models of up to 25mil quads (50mil) triangles in Blender. At least that’s where I top out before subdividing again will bring my brush strokes to a crawl and quadruple RAM usage. By anybody’s standard, 25mil quads is still a lot.

I would like to offer some very basic tips if you want to get the most from a Blender sculpt:

  1. Start out with a well organized base mesh or carefully plan your block out. The more detail you can get out of the lowest resolution the better.
  2. Use Dyntopo where you need that localized fine detail. It makes no sense to SubD to areas that won’t receive any apparent detail at all.
  3. Retopo to scale back physical poly quality, but maintain visual quality. Manual retopo is slow, but effective while automated solutions do a quicker, albeit less precise, job. Exoside’s Quad Remesher add-on is the same godsend as ZBrush’s internal ZRemesher and you’ll use it for that same exact reason.
  4. Once you have a mesh that’s been built, sculpted, and retopoed, you can still squeeze out more detail on a global level with old school SubDs. As powerful as Dyntopo and Multires are, they’re much slower than pure subdivision. If you’re working with basic rock or human that you’ve already sculpted, going back in with regular SubDs will still allow you to add in that fine porous details and physical erosion.

Using these basic techniques, a number of artists are able to achieve HD-like detail without actually going to that megapoly billion+ extreme. As with ZBrush and the pixol, it’s not what you actually do, but how it appears.

All of that aside, I will once again point you to the upcoming sculpting mode rewrite. Pablo Dobarro has sped up the experience. On his very modest i7-9750H laptop, it seems that he’s gotten a boost in speed to the tune of 5x-10x. That’s very impressive and should bode extremely well for those looking to sculpt lots of fine details. No firm plans as to when it’ll make its debut, but he projects that it should be included within a month or two - which places it around v2.91’s late November release date.

There are a bunch of Blender artists who only use Blender for sculpting. Artists such as Yuditya Afandi have produced some fairly impressive work that’ll make you say, “Wait. He did that in Blender?!?” I would think, using the upcoming sculpt enhancements, his work might achieve the same levels of photorealism as Hossein Diba’s ZBrush work.

As it stands, Zach Reinhardt’s advanced sculpting course, the one with the high poly dragon, can give you a good idea of exactly how far you can push things with some careful planning. Yeah. ZBrush is STILL the undisputed king for HD mesh sculpting. You’re 100% right. No arguments there. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get equally impressive results though. ZBrush will get you there the brute force way. With Blender, you’ll just have to play it smarter.


Thanks for the insight, very informative.

There’s certainly a number of packages I’ve neither thought to explore further or had lost track of as in ArmorPaint for one, when last I checked was v 7 so looks as though development has shifted along at pace since then, also great too see Epic’s continued support as well. In addition recall a thread comment discussing a similar topic elsewhere on another forum about converting substance materials for use inside either APaint or 3DCoat, simply by downloading the free substance player - load substance materials - export them as PBR textures which in my opinion would extend both native material libraries.

Now Quixel is indeed interesting, funnily enough I’d always thought to be specifically geared toward Photogrammetry/Megacan content creation so erstwhile wasn’t aware of Mixer’s out of the box painting attributes otherwise at a glance, minimum system requirements seem compatible with my current 2012 desktop setup assembled around an Intel core i5 Ivory Bridge - AMD Radeon 7800 (2GB GDDR5) VRAM + 16GB RAM.

Anyway at least worthwhile testing alongside apps I’ve listed earlier. At this point going Pro isn’t on the horizon although having previously worked traditionally on commission (Portraiture) during the 1990s but only transitioning across to digital in the mid 2000s whilst over the intervening period freelanced sporadically mostly automotive visualization, however who knows in these uncertain times a fulltime studio role is still attainable, whether remote or not well into the foreseeable future.

Apologies @dynobot didn’t mean to hog your thread, best of luck for your renewed CG journey.


I love exxagerations. But you have a odd comparison here ^^

Mine is this: Can ZBrush handle 20 million polgyons at my pc? With ease. Can Blender handle with the same ease at least handle 1 million polygons in sculpt mode? Not at all.

Sometimes it’s easier to use another tool instead of the next workaround. And he has already ZBrush :slight_smile:


I guess that it’s down to hardware then. Admittedly, I’m not running a slowpoke PC. I can handle 25mil quads in sculpt mode with Blender. Easily. Modifiers like multires & then dyntopo can slow things to a crawl, but raw sculpting into a 25mil quad mesh is really not a big deal on my end. On my laptop, however, that number probably drops down to 7mil quads - more or less. This shouldn’t be all THAT surprising though. More memory on the deskop. Faster CPU on the deskop.

Back in ye oldie days of Nevercenter Silo, circa 2010, the app would top out for me at around 2.5mil quads. That was only because the app itself was 32-bit and I had 4GB RAM. A modern 64-bit app with a fairly recent CPU and a decent amount of RAM is almost guaranteed to perform better on the most basic of levels. Blender performs much better than that 10 year old app on a 10 year old system, unsurprisingly. That you can only sculpt up to 1mil polygons is, from my experience, not all that normal. Only you know the bottleneck.

Maybe, but here are the counterpoints:

  1. App switching isn’t terribly inconvenient, but staying within a single, unified experience offers basic workflow benefits. He who travels lightest travels quickest.
  2. ZBrush has its benefits when you want to go crazy with the detail. Practically, however, most artists probably don’t neeed to sculpt right up to that perceptual limit where each poly is pixel sized. If, like me, you get speedy Blender sculpt performance and don’t feel that you work is being compromised then maybe you can consider Blender to be an alternative instead of a workaround.
  3. On a purely technical level, we have to consider the consequences of interoperability. UHD poly counts are awesome provided that you stay within the ZBrush sandbox. However, they become insanely impractical once you have to leave ZBrush. ZBrush has the pixol advantage, but other apps don’t. Being able to create and optimize the model within the very the environment for which it’s intended has some advantages. UHD ZBrush models have their place, but ultimately have to be compromised to some degree when using them elsewhere. In a sense, it’s the difference between porting a PS4 game to the 3DS versus building the game specifically around that portable’s strengths & weaknesses. Retargetted VS built to spec. I guess it’s just a different perspective on the issue. If you can get the quality that you need within Blender, why not? Blender’s sculpt tools are not only competent, they are more than capable.
  4. We know that he was a ZBrush user 10 years ago. I had/have no idea whether he still has access to that old license or his Pixologic account. Anything can happen in 10 years. Suggesting Blender as an alternative to spending an extra $900 seemed like a reasonable recommendation.

Hey. If Blender sculpting performs like crap on your system, stick with ZBrush. It’s an amazing app and has more than earned its status as an industry standard. For me, Blender performs very well in sculpt mode, meets my technical needs as well as ZBrush, and helps to streamline my workflow by being a one-stop solution. You don’t have to agree with me. Neither does the OP. Everybody’s needs are different. I’ve had a ZBrush license for nearly 2 decades and find myself needing to return to it less and less these days.

It’s nice that ZBrush will allow you to go crazy with detail, but that sort of detail takes time. That (time) is a precious commodity when you’re facing deadlines and the model is maybe just one part of the larger whole. Over the course of 18 years with ZBrush, my most detailed single subtool has only had ~90mil triangles. (It was a super detailed chainmail armor, iirc.) So, for me in 2020, 25mil quads (50mil tri) per sub object has been my sweet spot limit.

Per subtool, I don’t find myself exceeding that limit much anymore; Trying to do the most with the least. In that capacity, my practical per mesh sculpt limit in Blender is almost directly in line with my self-imposed per subtool limit in ZBrush. So, for my needs, I’d no sooner consider it a “workaround” than I would, say, 3D-Coat. Is it a 1:1 replacement? Not for UHD. No. Is it an alternative when we consider the needs of most digital sculptors? Yeah. Sure. It’s getting better with each revision too.


Pipelines have gotten crazy long over the years. Think about how many apps you might end up using on a given project. Beyond the price for maintaining such a large stable of apps, the personal cost in terms of time and energy can be exhausting. My personal affinity for Blender stems from the fact that it is so versatile. Blender might not be a 1:1 replacement for every app that you have, but it can provide you with a single viable alternative that doesn’t simply feel like a workaround.

How many apps do y’all own? I’ve got TONS. All 100% legal licenses, but too many. Of those,. I’ve used (easily) up to 15 different apps on certain projects. All “best in class” types. All serving unique purposes. Still, it’s totally possible to crush yourself under the weight of an overly long pipeline. At this point, I’ve got myself down to a max of 6 apps. Honestly? I like it better this way. It’s definitely a long way from the days where I only needed 2 apps, one 3D and one 2D, but it’s a massive weight off of my shoulders. Less to maintain. Less to spend. Tighter focus.

(FWIW, I still reluctantly maintain licenses to Adobe CC & Maya, but that’s mostly for practical reasons.)