Texturing 3D Models in Game Art: Core Principles

December 15, 2023

The visual impact of 3D textures on game art can't be overstated. They are the silent yet critical ingredient that gives a game its visual authenticity and appeal. At RocketBrush Studio, we specialize in game art, including 3D texturing. This meticulous process enhances the player's immersive experience by adding realistic details to characters and environments.

In this article, we’ll walk through the fundamentals of 3D texturing and discuss why it's a pivotal part of game art. Expect a straightforward rundown with practical examples showing how we apply textures to bring game assets to life. Let's look at 3D textures and explore how they shape the player's gaming experience.

The role of 3D textures in game art

Textures in game art serve a fundamental role beyond mere decoration; they are pivotal in creating an immersive world that players can engage with on a deep, intuitive level. By texturing 3D models, artists ensure that every part of the game looks real and fits perfectly with the overall style and theme. The influence of a well-crafted 3D model texture is substantial, transforming cold, rigid vertices and polygons into warm, inviting and relatable characters or environments.

For example, the biker character in the first image below is a basic shape without textures. But with the right textures, the character gains a distinct personality — the leather appears soft yet tough and the metal reflects light, giving each component its own story. This is how texturing empowers us not just to see but also to feel the game world.

Texturing Character 3D models

Types of materials

To achieve such effects, artists use two primary types of materials:

  • Basic materials are simpler and often used for objects that don't need to interact dynamically with the game's lighting system, providing a solid foundation for creating a stylized aesthetic or when performance is a priority.
  • PBR (Physically-Based Rendering) materials, on the other hand, mark a significant step towards realism, essential for modern gaming experiences. These materials realistically mimic how light interacts with different surfaces, thanks to a blend of albedo, roughness, metallic and normal maps. This approach ensures that each material, whether it's shiny metal or rough stone, interacts with light in a believable way, significantly enhancing the game's visual appeal.

The difference is clear and impressive when we switch from basic materials to PBR in texturing 3D models. PBR lets us add so much more detail and color to each model.

Understanding textures and materials

The choice of texture and material significantly influences a game's visual storytelling and environmental texturing, shaping how players perceive and interact with the game world.

  • Texture diversity: 3D texture art is not just about applying a visual layer; it's about choosing the right texture for the right context. For instance, a game's environment texturing requires diverse textures to create a believable and engaging world. From the roughness of an ancient stone wall to the sleekness of a futuristic interface, each texture plays a role in setting the scene.
  • Material properties: The properties of materials in a game are closely tied to the textures used. For example, a shiny metal surface needs a texture that reflects light realistically, while a moss-covered rock requires a texture that gives it a damp, organic feel. The material's response to light and shadow is largely defined by its texture. You can learn about it more in our guide “How to Draw Materials: Textures, Reflections and Transparency”
  • Interplay of textures and materials: The interaction between different textures and materials can create a dynamic and layered environment. This interplay is essential in environment texturing, where various elements form a cohesive scene. For instance, combining rough, matte textures with shiny, reflective ones can add depth and contrast to an environment, enhancing the player’s immersion.

The images below showcase different textures of surfaces, illustrating how different textures can drastically change the appearance of a surface. Notice how the texture alters the color and affects the surface's perceived material properties, such as roughness and reflectivity.

Surface texturing
Environment texturing
3D surface texturing
Surface texture image

The art of texturing in game development is a complex and thoughtful process. It involves understanding the physical properties of materials, how they interact with light and how they contribute to the game’s overall atmosphere. This understanding is pivotal in creating 3D environments that are visually compelling and emotionally resonant with players.

Texturing 3D models in 7 steps

The art of 3D texturing involves meticulous techniques and a creative approach to bringing models to life. In this guide below, we briefly explore how to make textures for 3D models and how to create visually compelling textures for a realistic gaming experience in just 7 steps:

1. Selecting the right software: The initial step in 3D texturing is choosing software that suits your project's complexity and proficiency. Whether it's Blender, Maya, or 3DS Max, each tool offers unique features that cater to different texturing needs.

2. Model preparation: A crucial step before texturing is preparing the model. This includes refining its geometry and optimizing its design, which is fundamental in determining how long it takes to make a 3D model ready for texturing.

3. UV mapping: The process begins with UV mapping, where the 3D model is laid out on a 2D plane. Getting this step right is key in learning how to make textures that seamlessly match the model's contours.

3D model UV mapping

4. Texture painting: At this stage, digital tools are used to paint textures directly onto the UV map. This part of the 3D models texturing process is where the model gains its unique characteristics, adding details such as color variations, scars and other features that contribute to the model’s realism.

5. Shading: Shading adds depth and dimension to the textures. It involves creating shadows and highlights to give an illusion of a three-dimensional surface, which is a crucial aspect of how to make textures for 3D models more lifelike.

6. Lighting & rendering: This step involves adjusting the texture's interaction with light. Proper lighting highlights the texture’s details, while rendering ensures that the texture looks consistent in various lighting conditions and viewing angles.

3D model texture painting

7. Fine-tuning: The final stage of 3D texturing includes making adjustments and fine-tuning the textures to ensure they interact correctly with the game’s environmental lighting and conditions.

3D animation of textured model

Understanding how to make textures and texture 3D models effectively is crucial for creating immersive and believable game environments. The right combination of these steps results in textures that enhance the game's visual appeal and contribute significantly to the overall gaming experience.

Best software tools for 3D texture art

When it comes to learning how to make textures for 3D models, picking the right software tools is a big part of the process. Each tool offers unique features and workflows, making it essential to choose one that aligns with your project's requirements and your skillset in 3D texture art. Here are some of the most common solutions:

  • Blender: A versatile and free open-source tool, Blender is widely favored for its comprehensive set of texturing tools. It's ideal for artists looking for a cost-effective solution without compromising functionality. Blender supports an entire 3D pipeline, including modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing, motion tracking, video editing and game creation.
  • Maya: Renowned for its robustness and used extensively in the professional industry, Maya is a powerful choice for high-end texturing and complex projects. It offers advanced features for creating realistic textures and is particularly effective in handling intricate details. Maya is a go-to for professionals seeking depth and precision in their texture work.
  • 3DS Max: Known for its user-friendly interface, 3DS Max is another popular choice among game artists. It excels in polygon modeling and texturing and is particularly well-suited for creating textures for architectural visualizations and game environments.

When choosing the right tool for texturing, consider the complexity of your project and your familiarity with the software. Beginners lean towards Blender for its ease of access and comprehensive learning resources. On the other hand, Maya and 3DS Max are excellent choices for more advanced projects that require intricate texturing work. Ultimately, the best tool is one that complements your workflow and enhances your ability to create stunning 3D texture art.


As we wrap up our exploration of 3D textures, remember that the art of texturing 3D models is a blend of skill and creativity. It's about choosing the right tools and techniques to make a game world come alive. Whether through the detailed textures of a character or the subtle nuances of an environment, every texture you create adds depth and realism to your game.

Learning how to create textures is a journey filled with opportunities for innovation and artistic expression. This process can transform a simple model into a vibrant and engaging game element!

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