ZBrush 2020 brings us a lot of fantastic functional tools least of which is the vast improvement to that little Morph UV button hiding under the UV Map menu. What was once a handy visual reference tool to many just grew up.
Morph UV is now a much more powerful tool that lets ZBrush users paint directly on UV Maps. Not only that but it also lets us sculpt! Smooth brushes won't work in this mode.
Just like Substance Painter we can now paint directly on flattened UV Maps which is preferred by some and when combined with directly painting on the mesh both applications can hold their own but, as referenced by their interfaces, one app is devoted to UV painting while the other is a Swiss army knife sculpting, painting and drawing tool.
Left - ZBrush with new flatten mesh based on UVs. Right - Substance Painter 2D View.
Some of us use both ZBrush and Substance Painter in our pipeline and most likely will continue that trend but the recent bolstering of the Morph UV tool in ZBrush 2020 may one day eliminate the now Adobe owned Substance Painter from that pipeline. A great tool in itself but doubt remains as to what Adobe will do with it down the road even though all seems well now.
Substance Painter does have a strong height channel that allows users to paint many features that look like they were sculpted but it is not in the same league as ZBrush. There is no way to sugarcoat that. Unless you have a certain need for Substance Painter it might disappear from your toolbox.
Down the road, it might be included in the monthly Creative Cloud fee making it available at no extra cost if you are a subscriber. That would be reason enough to keep Substance Painter but that is not the way it is now.
So that brings us back to the premise that the updated Morph UV with painting and sculpting could improve to a degree it eliminates the need for anything else. ZBrush would need some form of drag and drop Smart Materials for some of us to really embrace it but it already is a great painting tool.
The premise of the tool is simple. Any sub-tool that is UV mapped can be flattened, mesh wise, into a 2D view that is still 3D. You can rotate and so forth to get to any angle for painting AND sculpting. In Substance Painter, we can rotate the 3D model but not the 2D direct painting surface if that is your workflow. With Morph UV we can now do both in ZBrush.
Now I will tell you straight up that I was not a big user of Morph UV. In fact, when I first searched out the feature, I couldn't figure out where it was! Then I dug into the UV Map menu and there was the Morph UV button which I gleefully clicked.
Nothing happened… seems my computer was a bit tied up in one too many tasks which didn't stop me from beating the hell out the Morph UV button with the mouse (thank God I don't work with a touchscreen) till my machine submitted and flattened out the mesh.
This was not the fault of ZBrush. In subsequent use, the meshes flattened almost immediately.
The first thing I did was grab Clay Buildup and swipe across the entire flattened surface and the results were just that. My swipe of clay was as easy to see as it was to undo. I jumped over to painting and grabbed a texture on the standard brush. The splash of texture was just as easy to see.
Both claims passed the initial smell test. They worked as advertised to this point and this is just one of many in this feature-packed release which was still a free upgrade to all users no matter what rumors you hear to the contrary.
It is easy to see that with a few tweaks; Morph UV might mature into a feature that fits into most workflows and eliminate some application hopping while reducing or shifting the budget for painting to other areas.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.