Substance Designer 5.5 (SD 5.5) is the first tool available with an interface for generating MDL materials.
There's a reason this is big news: initially introduced in Substance Designer 5.3's Iray implementation, MDL – Nvidia's Material Definition Language – allows you to share Materials across MDL-supported applications. This means that by defining a shader in, for example, Nvidia's Iray for 3ds Max, you can then share and use that shader in software such as Maya and Cinema 4D's Iray. And despite MDL having a native interface in the applications which support it, SD 5.5's dedicated interface for creating such shaders outside of these is a first.
Sharing Substance Painter's push towards more, and better cross-application functionality, SD 5.5 is pretty easy to get the hang of, as the workflow is the same as the generic substance graph generation, whether you generate one from scratch or mix and tweak existing content.
After selecting Create New MDL Material, you will get SD's node graph view for MDL, in which you can then add the nodes and define the parameters you need. The implementation of Iray facilitates how the material will look in-renderer, and means you can generate a whole slew of new materials that were previously stuck at the ‘one layer only' level, such as flaked car paint or refractive materials.
The future with MDL
It's clear to see that the implementation of MDL opens up a whole new set of versatile doors but, as always, there are few flaws with Allegorithmic's release – although it should be noted that implementing new renderer functionality is never a smooth ride. At the time of writing, there were some Maya import issues Allegorithimic was working hard on fixing, as well as some stability issues – SD 5.5 was less stable than previous versions when baking or using the MDL nodes.
The other new functionalities make this a release well worth grabbing. The FBX camera support, where you can grab your listed, imported camera from any application, is a godsend for those who need to texture their assets for specific views, and being able to use Substance Designer on Linux is guaranteed to make many pipeliners pretty damn happy.