Free Substance Painter Alternatives – Armor Paint vs Quixel Mixer

In this video, Martin Klekner explores what are the pros and cons of the two free texturing solutions, Armor Paint and Quixel Mixer, compared to Substance Painter.

Are they as good as, or in some cases even better than Substance Painter? Let’s find out!

Below you find a list with all tips and timestamps.

Substance Painter Launch Pad

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1. Substance Painter (01:45)

Substance Painter is a texturing tool that has become industry standard quite some time ago.

It’s very versatile and you can do many parts of the workflow without leaving it. 

For example, you can add some details to your mesh by painting normals and height maps, this sometimes could even replace the need of sculpting anything.
This is just one of the many things you can do with Substance. There are many great tools like smart masks, particle brushes, material presets. Also, everything is procedurally generated, so you can do things like upscaling and down scaling your textures whenever you like!

Anyway Substance Painter has also some cons.
It’s not the easiest to use. With all the features it provides it has become not super user-friendly and it may be not as intuitive at first.

One more problematic aspect is that now it’s owned by Adobe. We all know how Adobe treats its software. So let’s hope that Substance will become the bright exception here.

Obviously the most evident negative side is the fact that it’s subscription based.

2. Substance Painter Pros & Cons (03:57)

Pros:
  • Industry standard, fast, reliable
  • Unlimited options
  • Procedural textures, upscale to up 8k
  • Can paint normals, sculpt height
  • UDIMs

Cons:

  • Adobe owned
  • Mainly subscription based
  • Can be harder to learn

2. Armor Paint (04:06)

Armor paint is pretty close to Blender.
There is a specific reason for this: it actually comes out of the Blender code and integrates many features you may already know from there. The shader nodes for example.

One great thing we have with Armor Paint is the possibility to import directly Blender files. You can do this just by taking your file and drag it into the viewport!

As opposite to Substance, you don’t have to deal with too many things before you export. Just sort out your meshes, name them, do the UVs and throw them to the Armor painter. 

The layer system is pretty similar to any layer-based software, even with different blending modes. You also have some baking options you can use to bake Ambient Occlusion, Curvature, Normals and others. You can use then this maps as masks.

Unfortunately painting Normals and height details it’s not really possible here, at least not in a fast and reliable way.

To paint your masks you have a variety of classic painting tools like brush, blur, eraser, clone and even some particle brushes, based on Blender particles. You can also add PBR texture materials from websites like CCO Textures.

A negative point is that the program could slow down a lot if you layer together too many big textures. Also, Armor could crash time to time so don’t forget  to save your work regularly.

Like already mentioned, if you know the Blender node system, this will be an advantage because you’ll find many nodes you already know from shader editor. The decals in Armor are pretty easy to use and definitely more intuitive than in Substance. You can also use the text as decal and change it anytime.

The UI of this program is really intuitive and easy to understand. Also, there is quite a bit free tutorials about it on YouTube, plus a good manual you can follow on the home page of their website.

3. Armor Paint Pros & Cons (08:44)

Pros:

  • Free and open source
  • Enthusiastic author
  • Familiar to Blender users
  • Imports blend. files
  • Layers can be assigned to meshes
  • Super easy decals
  • User-friendly, nice UI

Cons

  • Unstable, slows down
  • Some functionalities quirky
  • Limited masking capabilities
  • Limited baking

3. Quixel Mixer  (09:14)

The second alternative is another pretty promising tool.

Quixel originally started as a clunky add-on for Photoshop, but nowadays is known for its amazing Megascans library and more and for Mixer as well.

The developers are doing a great work with this tool: something that originally was supposed to just mix out Megascans textures, gradually got possibility to add displacement, intelligent masking and the ability to add your own models.

Mixer is free, but it’s closely connected to Megascans libraries. This is pretty similar to Painter, which has its own Substance Source collection. From Megascans libraries, you can draw a lot of materials, decals, imperfections and so on, but if you want to use them, you have to buy the subscription.

If you don’t want to pay any subscription, you can download Quixel bridge and this will allow you to import your own textures and assets.

Anyway, if you take a look to the actual process, the first problem you’ll find is that you cannot use multiple UVs and UDIMs. So to use it you should prepare a unique UV map for the whole model. To load in your model, you can use FBX or OBJ format.

One more problem you will find is that there’s not an option to bake your mesh maps and not even paint normals.

The texture process itself is quick and fluid. The UI is well done and easy to orient in and if you have Megascans, using materials is easy as searching for them.

The best way to mask and assign different materials to different parts of your object prove to be the ID method. It works by assigning different Vertex paint colors to your model in Blender and then just quickly choosing between them in Quixel.

There is also quite a lot of options for more advanced masking, like direct possibility to use generated cavity and ambient occlusion masks, and much more!
You can easily work with your layers, blend them together and even group materials and mask layers and create smart materials from them.

Mixer doesn’t really offer too many advanced brushes, but you can make your own. Also, it doesn’t provide particle brushes and the way it handles decals is not so intuitive. It does not have mirroring tool yet and you are not able to add various channels, most notably opacity.

All of this could change soon anyway, considering how fast this tool is developing.

3. Quixel Mixer Pros & Cons (13:40)

Pros:

  • Free
  • Quickly growing
  • User-friendly, nice UI
  • Fast, reliable
  • Works nicely with Megascans textures
  • Masking capabilities

Cons

  • No baking, UDIM’s or mirroring
  • Can’t add some channels
  • One UV map only
  • Can slow down with more textures
  • No particle brushes

3. Conclusions (13:51)

In the end all three texturing do the job, and each works great in some aspects and lacks in others. 

The way Armor Paint handles the files is definitely great, it imports Blender files very fast and you can draw from your knowledge in Blender when it comes to shaders.

Quixel is surprisingly fast, super easy to understand and allows you to seamlessly use Megascans assets and most of all it is developing so quickly!

Substance is still the fastest and most advanced tool of them all, especially with the new UDIM painting capabilities. Anyway Armor and Mixer could be able to rival Substance in a big way and such a competition is always best for us, the users.

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