Anchor points in Substance 3D Painter for beginners

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Oct 11, 2023

Let's learn how to use Substance 3D Painter's anchor points to improve our texturing

Substance 3D Painter is a PBR (Physically based rendering) texturing software that has a multitude of tools that allow us to work in different ways. In this tutorial we are going to focus on the anchor points.

Using anchor points effectively can significantly improve your texturing workflow and allow for more complex and interconnected textures in Substance 3D Painter. Practice and experimentation will be key to mastering this feature and enhancing your texturing skills.

Let’s see!


What Anchor Points are

Before we start, let’s explain what anchor points are and how they work!

An anchor point is a Substance 3D Painter tool that enables us to reference layers or masks and use them on another layer positioned above the layer stack. This feature opens up a host of new possibilities, enabling you to efficiently link layers or masks and have a single anchor point influence multiple aspects of your project.

How to use Anchor points

In this example, we imagine a scenario where we want to create a pattern within an area that already features a completed material, with the objective of making it seem as though the pattern lies beneath this material.

The first step involves creating a fill layer with a negative height in the desired location for the pattern. In this instance, we incorporate a dark color and lower the roughness on this layer to mitigate excessive shine, ultimately achieving an effect akin to occlusion.

Fill layer with roughness, color and height

To the mask of this layer we add the anchor point.

At this point, we can proceed to create the layer containing the pattern and generate a mask using a Fill layer. Inside this Fill layer, we will insert our anchor point, referencing the mask of the previously created layer.

It's important to note that for an anchor point to be referenced within a layer, the layer with the anchor point must be positioned above the layer where you intend to use it.

Fill layer with a pattern using an anchor point as mask

The main advantage of this approach is that any changes or additions made to the original layer will automatically propagate and update on all the layers that are using the same anchor point as a reference.

Subtract information from a layer with anchor points

In this specific example, our goal is to create a leather material.

While the leather material already exhibits a substantial amount of detail, we aim to enhance the appearance by darkening the creases or wrinkles in the leather and reducing their shine. This will serve to accentuate the leather's texture.

Leather straps

The first step is to identify the layer containing the wrinkles and create an anchor point within that layer. In this case, we will create the anchor point within the layer itself rather than in the mask, as the layer holds the information that is of particular interest to us.

Adding an anchor point in the leather layer

Next, we proceed to create the layer where we intend to apply the paint between the wrinkles. For this layer, set the base color to black and the roughness to a low value.

Then, add a mask to this layer, and within the mask, use the anchor point. This allows us to precisely control the application of the paint between the wrinkles.

Picking anchor point as a mask

Once you apply the anchor point, you may notice that it's not functioning correctly. This is because the anchor point, by default, extracts an alpha, but in this case, as it references a layer and not a mask, it doesn't have any information to display.

To make it work as intended, you need to adjust the reference channel from which you want to extract information. In this scenario, where you want to paint the inside of the wrinkles, the relevant detail is contained in the height channel of the leather layer, so you should select that channel.

After selecting the height channel, you might not immediately see any changes, even though the mask is visible. However, if you inspect the default levels in the fill layer with the anchor point, you'll notice that there is information present. It's worth noting that the height of the leather's texture is subtle, which is why it might not appear significant in the mask, but it can still be used effectively.

Showing mask

Now we can use those levels to modify the mask!

Showing a fixed mask

Let's see the difference between the previous version and the one we have now with the anchor point included:

Old version

New version using anchor points

As we can see now we are painting darker and with less roughness between each wrinkle of the leather, this technique can be transferred to many other examples.

Using anchor points with smart masks

Another valuable use of anchor points is to make a smart mask recognize them as if they were a part of the baked maps in your project.

We have a layer with some cracks in the metal of the shoulder pad and the anchor point in the mask of that layer.

Shoulder pad with damage

We are going to create a layer with a smart mask that reinforces the shine on the edges of the metal.

Shoulder pad with highlight in edges

We already have the smart mask and the layer, but it hasn't accurately detected the edges within the cracks, causing them not to blend seamlessly with the rest of the material.

To make it detect the anchor point, navigate to the smart mask options. Here, you'll find a section called Micro Details. Activate the Micro Height option, and if you scroll a bit further down, you'll discover a section where you can load your anchor point. This step will help integrate the anchor point and enhance the detection of micro details in your smart mask.

Generator properties micro height

Micro height selector

If we have followed all the steps the smart mask should work correctly and detect the anchor point!


After, anchor point as a layer


We have explored the use of anchor points in Substance 3D Painter to advance texturing skills.

Anchor points link layers and masks, improving the efficiency and control of texturing. We also looked at reference channel adjustments for optimal results, particularly in smart masks.

Overall, anchor points are a valuable tool for enhancing 3D texturing capabilities.

Substance Painter
Nestor Llop

I am a 3D artist passionate about sculpting creatures and characters

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