The update to this sculpting and painting toolkit could be enough to tempt you away from the big boys, says Antony Ward.
PRICE: $349 Upgrade, $84
OTHER EDITIONS: Education, $99 (Also available to non-commercial artists)
OPERATING SYSTEM: Windows / Mac OS X / Linux
- Voxel sculpting
- Retopology and autoretopology tools
- 3D texture painting
- Full UV mapping
- Live Clay
You would be forgiven for thinking that in an industry dominated by the likes of Autodesk, there is little option or reason for looking elsewhere. Quite often, though, bigger doesn’t always mean better. Being cheaper than the mainstream is not automatically a sign of inferiority.
3D-Coat is a feature-packed application best known for its texture painting, voxel sculpting and solid retopology tools. These, however, are just a small area of what has become a huge application, fully capable of taking a model from concept right through to completion, including UV mapping, posing, sculpting and rendering.
I began using 3D-Coat a few years ago, focusing mainly on the texture painting tools, which now also allow you to paint coloured specular, emissive and normal map data onto imported models, almost as if you were sculpting them. Colouring actual pixels rather than polygons is ideal for game development, particularly on lower-resolution models. Add to this a layer system mirroring Photoshop’s own, complete with blending modes, and you’re onto a real winner.
With AppLinks you can also jump between the two applications with ease, as you can also do with Maya, Modo, LightWave and a host of others. With that in mind, if you don’t fancy painting directly onto polygons or voxels you could use the more tradition, 2D route within the Texture Editor, inside 3D-Coat.
With version four comes yet more bang for your buck as the features keep coming. This time Pilgway has added Live Clay, which allows the model to dynamically tessellate as you’re working, only adding geometry where it’s needed. Pilgway has also updated the painting tools so you can now paint onto models on a per-vertex basis, rather than being restricted to UVs. The list of improvements is long and impressive.
I am not saying it’s all roses: just like any other application, 3D-Coat does have its thorns. As an example, painting normal maps is great – but you still have to be careful around texture seams, particularly when smoothing, or you will end up with a harsh line. The user interface has seen an improvement in the new release, but it can be a little confusing and lack the polish of the more established applications.
3D-Coat is also missing basic box-modelling tools, so you will need to model elsewhere and bring it into the scene to work on. There are workarounds to this, but some can be lengthy. If you are that concerned about polygon modelling, you could always buy 3D-Coat and Silo and still be well under the cost of its closest Z-competitor.
If you’re undecided about what route to take, I would say that for the price, and with its wealth of features, 3D-Coat certainly deserves a look. At least you should download and thoroughly evaluate it during the 30-day trial period, rather than follow the rest of the herd and head straight for the big boys.
- Great texture-painting tools
- Retopology continues to dominate
- Good online product support
- User interface needs refining
- No box-modelling tools
3D-Coat remains a little rough around the edges in parts, but its features make it excellent value for money
Antony Ward has been provoking pixels since the early 1990s. In that time he has worked for some of today’s top studios and written three books
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