Substance Designer and Substance Painter I use for almost everything, if its got a model or a texture, its most likely one of Allegorithmic's prized software. Its not only me with this opinion, I don't think there is one AAA studio who doesn't. It really has become industry standard for texturing models, and creating the textures themselves.
Naughty Dog, creator of Crash Bandicoot, and Uncharted, heavily influenced how Designer and Painter evolved. Naught D worked directly with Allegorithmic on nodes, the batch tools, and many more features within these beasts. They just did a talk at GDC this year, talking all about that, if you wanna watch that, here you go my friends.
They also have a 30 day trial so you can try both of them out, though if you want to support us, you will have to use our Asset Store Links. I have to tell you, if you can't afford the $150 up front for a Unity License, Allegorithmic offers a rent-to-own for twenty dollars a month, we will not earn commission, but if your a dev you shouldn't really go without.
Also, if you do the rent-to-own, which I believe they call Substance Live, you get 30 free textures a month from their Substance Source website, so I cannot recommend using my link.
If you haven't heard about these programs before, your either really new to the industry, or been living in a Cave for the last 5 years. I'll tell you a little bit about them.
Substance Designer is a node based texture authoring tool, used to create procedural textures known as Substances. To use a substance, the program or game engine you use, must support Substances, or .sbar files. But don't worry, Unity, Unreal, Cry Engine, all the big engines support them, as for programs 3ds comes prepared, and there is plugins at your disposal for Maya, Cinema 4d, and many others. Though, even if it doesn't support substances, you can always export them as your regular old image file. Anyways, back to the program.
Within half an hour, you can get a basic material started, usually you start with a height map, and from there you add Color, roughness maps, specular, ambient occlusion, and everything else for a PBR material.
You can start with noise, and turn them into beautiful rocks, or generators for bricks, tiles, fabrics, and much more. A lot of the basic nodes should be familiar if you use Photo Shop at all, levels, brightness, saturation. But once you try Substance Designer, you will realize that those are the most basic of them all.
You can add effects, to change your material on the fly to have snow, water, blending with another material. Really the sky's the limit with things you can do, even in-game! Every node you use, has parameters, and you can expose those parameters to be changed right inside of Unity, or Unreal, or Max.
Say you are creating tiles, and you expose some parameter to offset them, another parameter for dirt and grunge, and another parameter for chips and cracks. Well, in your engine of choice, your tile can go from a perfect clean wall of tiles in a bathroom, to a broken dirty wall with missing tiles. I made a simple tutorial on how to do this here. Don't worry, there is tons of tutorials on YouTube, and I have plans for many more advanced ones as well.
So now that you know a little about Substances, you probably are thinking, "Hey they kind of sound like shaders." Yes exactly, there is some notable differences though, with shaders you have the option to mess the lighting in your scene, where substances do not, but with shaders, you also would not be able to do a lot of things substances cant. Substances take care of all your procedural needs, where Shaders take care of all your, well, shading. Another thing is Shaders are run on the GPU, where substances are run on the CPU, while you can almost change a substance in real-time, its more for getting the material looking the way you want, where Shaders run on thousands of CPU's in the GPU, all at the same time, to allow you to make fully real-time changes and effects. That's a very basic way to put things, but we will cover shaders another time.
Nvidia's Iray is also built right into substance painter, with GPU accelerated Rendering. I can render a photo realistic scene in less then a minute.
Now its time to tell you a little about Substance Painter.
Substance Painter, if I had one sentence to describe it, would be that its a 3d version of Photoshop. You still have a 2d view, but 90% of the time, you will be working the 3d view. Once you are done with your model, you import in into Painter, and immediately you can begin painting right to your model. Not only that, you can create masks by selecting parts of the mesh, or use generators, which are very much like a node in substance designer, to generate masks with curvature or ambient occlusion, to add those extra details that give it just that much more.
You can import your materials right from Designer, into Painter, and change your parameters to get your material looking just right.
Iray is also built in just like Substance Designer, but you can also bake your mesh maps right in the program, no more having to go back from 3ds max, or Maya, to bake your textures.
I really can't say enough these, without them everything I do would take ages longer, and probably not even look half as good. Just take a look at these Renders bellow, done from highly skilled artists, to see more you can go on Allegorithmics Gallary.
You only have to purchase Pro if you make over $100,000 a year. Substance Database is thousands of substances, not a program