Take Clothing to a New Level with Panel Loops

Jun 12, 2021 at 07:00 am by Warlord720

Marvelous Designer is not new to a lot of people reading this and neither is ZBrush. While both can make fantastic clothing in the hands of skilled artists, the task gets a bit more difficult for us mere mortals.

That is… until you run across a simple technique that adds an entirely new dimension in terms of the garment’s appearance. A few simple changes and clicks will forever alter the way you develop clothing by becoming a part of your pipeline if the style suits you.

If you use these tools then you know about pattern creation and sewing and you’ve probably tried many tutorials, listened to many people, and asked anyone that would listen what you could do to improve your clothing… the answer is simple.

ZBrush Panel Loops.

Like all tools, it doesn’t cover all situations but the return you get for the time invested is simply mind-boggling. In just a few seconds you can watch your simple item of clothing grown exponentially in complexity. It will thicken, piping will appear and many other wonderous little things that make your clothing look better and more realistic just appear… by the magic of Panel Loops.

It's not even difficult or time-consuming… unless you want to go through all the possibilities of the settings in the ZBrush Panel Loop palette.

Let’s look at just what I’m talking about here in the image following with a simple windbreaker type of jacket made in Marvelous Designer. As with most garments, it’s a simple task of selecting pieces of the jacket to weft and warp till you get the snug or loose fit you want.

This particular jacket was thrown together rather quickly for this article (don’t judge) so I didn’t spend a lot of time on nuances like the fit but it made a great base to show this simple technique. There is simple UV mapping from Marvelous Designer but that gets lost I the process of Panel Looping. More on that in a bit. Yeah… I know… bummer.

Plain Garment from MD - No Panel Loops
The upper inset shows the simple Marvelous Designer pattern for the jacket. Body of image shows the original jacket in Character Creator 3

At this point, after exporting from Marvelous Designer as a Thick-Single mesh (I’d advise experimenting with the export settings), once imported into ZBrush we open up the Panel Loops sub-palette of the geometry palette and use the following settings:

Jacket after Panel LoopsThe upper, left inset shows the setting used to get these results. The Jacket is much more robust than before Panel Loops are applied.

For this situation, I imported the garment into Character Creator 3, tweaked its positioning, and skinned it as regular cloth. Then from CC3 I send over the garment in question to ZBrush, you can send the character too, and apply the settings as shown in the above image.

Now back to the bad news. This method is destructive to the original UVs and you will have to remap the character in ZBrush or another application for proper texturing. I usually unwrap in 3DS Max but Maya and others will work. While I did not try it… you should be able to copy the UVs before you do the Panel Loop thing and copy it back. In theory… we all know how the theory works… UV copy and paste have saved my butt before.

For myself, it’s more than worth unwrapping remapping with the exponential increase in detail you get from the simple and fast Panel Loop run. With the right texturing it completely changes the look of the original garment.

All of this doesn’t even take into account that kick-butt texturing you are going to give your clothing versus this single-color demo jacket. If Marvelous Designer and ZBrush are already in your toolbox then you have the means to bring even more realism to your clothing design without being a prodigy. In other words… it’s a technique for all of us to improve with if we aren’t already using a version of it.

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

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