5 Tips for Skin Texturing Real-time Characters

skin texturing real-time characters

When it comes to creating a realistic 3D character for real-time use, don’t overlook the importance of skin texturing. Especially if hyper-realism is your goal. A 3D character with low-resolution skin can look flat, lifeless, and sometimes downright fake. At Daz 3D we trust professional resources such as 3D.sk to help us create lifelike, polished characters.

Here are our top 5 tips for skin texturing real-time characters, intended to help beginner and intermediate artists explore new technology, software, and ultimately, creative possibilities.

Tip #1: Use Professional Resources and Photo References

This may seem obvious to veteran artists, but as a beginner, it can be easy to overlook the importance of good human references in 3D art. Not only that, some beginning and intermediate artists may not know what resources are available and how they can help them. If you are texturing a stylized model, then it is easy for many artists to create the textures by hand using digital art software or programs like photoshop. This would be very difficult to do convincingly well for realistic models, however.

The best way to skin texture real-time characters with hyper-realism is to take advantage of high-quality reference images. There are a lot of great options out there for this, though we highly recommend 3D.sk, a trusted resource by many award-winning studios.

Tip #2: Modeling and Sculpting Affects Skin Texturing

At a professional level, it is not uncommon for an artist who specializes in skin texturing to not be the person who actually creates the model. In many situations, however, you are likely performing all stages in the creation pipeline. Being mindful of topology is extremely important in skin texturing, especially the polygons directly around the mouth and eyes. Imagine the colorization of the character’s lips bleeding into the skin immediately around them. Suddenly your character may look like they had a little too much juice to drink.

These are areas where the topology is often most pronounced on the face. The areas around the eyes feature pronounced recesses and indentations within the face that will certainly affect how the face is lit and appears to the viewer. The same is true for the lips, particularly the lower lip, which often protrude prominently from the skin of the chin. To apply the skin textures properly and avoid strange colorization effects where the topology and texturing don’t align flawlessly, maintaining clean topology is crucial.

3D face topology for skin texturing

Tip #3: Project Skin Details in Substance Painter

Using a program like Substance Painter can greatly improve your quality of life while skin-texturing characters. Substance Painter allows you to “paint” textures directly onto a mesh. It also features a Projection tool, which can be invaluable as well. This process allows you to project the skin details from your reference image directly onto the model. You can adjust the projection to best match the topology of your face.

While it is common with stylized characters to UV unwrap a model, you may find a projection-based method to be much easier for skin texturing hyper-realistic characters. You can then bake the high-resolution details into the low-resolution mesh, preserving the realism while also taking advantage of low-res geometry, which is more suitable for real-time use.

Tip #4: Create a Bump Map

skin texture close upTake a moment to study your own skin closely. You will see that skin is not perfectly smooth, even if we like to think it is. In most cases, the microbumps that cover our skin are so small, we simply can’t feel them with our fingers!

It would be impractical in any situation to try and replicate these tiny bumps in your mesh, so make sure you create a bump map. These bumps and pores are very subtle, so you won’t want to overdo it, but including a detailed bump map will help your characters jump to life for viewers.

If your model is going to be viewed close up, then including a bump map that replicates the quality of skin your character has will help improve the fidelity of your design.

Tip #5: Add Veins, Imperfections, and Other Base Elements

Another great way to add subtle detail and realism is to create a subdermal base beneath the skin. This includes blue veins, and redness to mimic muscle and tissue. If you are using a program like Substance Painter, this can be painted on first, with your diffuse color or skin texture going on above it. Subtly revealing the subdermal layer will immediately transform the appearance of the skin.

It’s important to remember at this level of detail, nobody is perfect, and this should also be the case with how you approach skin texturing. Avoid perfect symmetry, and don’t be afraid to add freckles, splotches, and other imperfections.

3d skin texturing real-time characters face
“Portrait of a Man” by ArtXtreme101 in the Daz Gallery.

Get Started with a Great Deal

We’ve partnered with 3D.sk to say thanks to all of our Daz users and present an amazing deal. Right now, anyone can use our special code valid at 3D.sk to receive 15% off anything, sitewide:


They have a wide selection of human reference photos you can use to help project stunningly realistic details onto your own models. This deal is a great way to dive into the process of skin texturing 3D models.

If you have never heard of 3D.sk or are curious how the professional tools for 3D artists they offer can help you, stick around and keep an eye out for future editions on our blog as we explore the amazing resources 3D.sk offers!

Featured image “Purrfect Moment” by clcny20 in the Daz Gallery

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