About 2 years ago, I was elated to have successfully created a 3D model of the Colonial Viper Mark II, and while under the influence of that high I set about trying a few additional projects like a wooden cart and the TARDIS. Modeling, however, is only part of the climb up Mt. 3D Modeling Project; there was also texturing that needed to be done. At the time I was under the impression that the only way to texture was to UV unwrap the model, throw it into Photoshop, and laboriously paint each island accordingly. Not so! I eventually discovered Substance Painter, which allowed for the layering of paints and masks directly onto the 3D model.

Problem was that Substance Painter — made by Allegorithmic, which was purchased by Adobe in 2019 — cost about $30/month to use. Oof. Since I had been elbow-deep in 3D modeling at the time, I convinced my wife that the $150/year (holiday special!) pricing was a sweet deal, and even though I might as well have been talking Latin to her for all she knew about Substance Painter, I got the green light. As is my lot in life, eventually my attention had been taken elsewhere in 2020 and my 3D modeling time dwindled to 0 hours per week, so I had to let the Substance Painter subscription lapse. I wasn’t about to throw that much new money at a hobby I was currently not engaged in.

Now, in the S.A.D. months of 2022, I find myself turning back towards modeling, and I had been wistfully eyeballing Substance Painter again. I no longer ride the Big Boy Adobe subscription train (goodbye, After Effects!), so the monthly sub for Painter could technically replace the discounted sub I had for Adobe products, but there was that voice in the back of my head saying that “you know how this is going to go; You’ll use it for three months and be done with it until the start of 2023”. Understanding this, I resigned myself to not only not subscribing to Painter but considered spending my early 2022 in some other project pursuit.

Then lo! What do I spy on the horizon? Quixel Mixer. This was brought to my attention by Aaron Rabinowitz, VFX guru, who had been posting a few Tweets about his own work with Mixer:

Mixer is another “live painting” application that thankfully works almost exactly the same as Substance Painter. After importing a 3D model, we can apply layers which apply albedo (colors), metalness, roughness, and also masks which are used to add other details that would normally need to be applied to an unwrapped UV sheet. Although the conceptualization process is a steep hill for me to climb (for both Painter and Mixer), it sure as hell beats having to paint islands by hand, and although I’ve sort of kinda not really occasionally maybe started thinking about someday potentially learning actual texturing within Blender, today is not that day. I’m learning to tackle one project at a time in the hopes that it helps ease the pain of progressing from ignorance to the lofty finished goals I have in my head.

Oh, I need to tie this to the title of the post. As Allegorithmic had been purchased by Adobe, Quixel has been purchased by Epic of Epic Games and, more importantly, Unreal Engine fame. Like UE, Mixer is free as in beer. This is not a “free trial” or anything; I can’t find any way to pay for this software on the Quixel site. What they do ask you to pay for is access to their library of “Megascans”, digital scans of real-world textures that can be used in Mixer the same way that Painter had textures created in their sibling software, Designer. According to the fine print, if you have a license to use Unreal Engine then you can access the entire Megascan library for free assuming you’re creating assets only for use in Unreal Engine. Use of the library for, say, Unity or some other software can be done for as low as $19USD/month. Considering getting a license to use UE is also free if, like me, you’re only screwing around to learn, then (does maths), everything is free! And no, I don’t expect that this is going to railroad me into learning UE, at least not for game development…compositing, however, is always going to be on the table.

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