10 ZBrush Tips and Tricks

Character artist Danny Mac presents 10 ZBrush tips and tricks in video format sure to take your sculpting skills to the next level…

Danny's Youtube


ZBrush is full of awesome tools to help create your 3D models quicker and easier. Some of these are obvious and sit at the front of the default UI, others are buried deep inside the menus or hotkeys. The best tools are those that are intended to do one thing but happen to be really good at something else. This article will look at some tricks that aren’t immediately obvious when you first open up ZBrush.

Polygroupit trick

This little trick will get you great facial topology to work with in less than a minute in ZBrush 2018. I wouldn’t call it production topology since you ought to be very specific at that level, but it’s about as close as you can get in such a short amount of time, and makes for great sculpting topology. Clean topology is particularly useful for creating a clean stylized look.

Lighting trick

This trick allows you to completely relight your model during the compositing stage using an Object Space Normal pass. This is great because it’s much quicker to edit the lighting in a compositing app than to re-render the whole thing again. This example requires Photoshop but there’s no reason you couldn’t translate it to a different photo manipulation app such as GIMP.

LightCap trick

The scene lights aren’t the only way you can light your model in ZBrush. Lightcaps are intended to be used to create Matcaps on the fly. If you know how Matcaps work you know they’re essentially materials with lighting information baked in. However, if we make our model completely black and our lighting completely white, we can essentially create multiple lighting passes very quickly to be composited in an app such as Photoshop.

Rigging in ZBrush

Wait what? Yep, you can rig your model inside ZBrush. It’s a bit primitive and you can’t paint weights or anything but you can create a ZSphere armature inside your model for posing. This works well if you want to create multiple poses in ZBrush and when used in conjunction with Transpose Master. To get around the lack of weight painting options it’s best to add more joints to get a better control over the influence.

Custom menus

I used ZBrush for years before I knew you could create custom menus. This allows you to grab all the tools you use the most and put them into one menu for easy access. The best part about it is that you can then assign a hotkey to your custom menu and therefore access it anywhere on the canvas!

Reference image in ZBrush

Everybody knows you should always use references. This is particularly true in 3D since a design is generally worked out in 2D before it’s translated into 3D. ZBrush has a tool called Spotlight which is intended to be used as a texture projection tool, but we can hack it so that we can display our reference images on our ZBrush canvas. The nice thing about this is that we can overlay our reference over our model to check our proportions and shapes accurately. Couple this with the timeline and we can jump between multiple views instantly!

Transpose line tricks

The transpose line gets a hard time and seems to have been sidelined since the Gizmo was introduced, but it’s a lot more powerful than it gets credit for. Beyond its regular move, scale, and rotate functions did you know it can also mask, trim, squash/stretch, inflate, bend, duplicate, extrude, separate, and twist your mesh? All of this is performed on the canvas, on the fly using only the transpose line and the modifier keys. Give it a try I say!

3 parts

Wireframe rendering

Everybody loves good topology but trying to render the wireframe by default in ZBrush looks ugly. Turning on polyframe will result in all of your SubTools/Polygroups to be overlaid with a different color. Ideally, we would want to render our wireframes over our textured model or grayscale version of the model. This makes the wireframe much easier to read and more aesthetically pleasing to the eye (which is important for an artist!). We would also want to see the wireframe at its lowest subdivision level while our model is at its highest. All it takes is a few hidden preference settings and a particular order of events to achieve this.

Polygroup tricks

In a previous article, 10 ZBrush Plugins I Love, and Why, I mentioned a plugin called Nick’s Tools and explained a couple of super simple functions that save so much time. I want to bring it up again here to reinforce how much I value these tools. If you’re not using Polygroups on your models then now is the time to change that. They allow you to organize your mesh which gives birth to a lot of little workflow tricks. Very powerful function.

Skirt trick

This is a great trick I learned from Pablo Munoz Gomez of and isn’t restricted to creating skirts – it’s the technique that’s important. The Curve Bridge brush will allow you to create a mesh that bridges between two curves (I wonder how they came up with the name). What’s nice about this is that curves can easily be wrapped around meshes, meaning the shapes of the curves can be designed with geometry, rather than drawn freehand.

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