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Tutorial: Z-Brush – Brushes, custom alphas and Sculpting tips.

Updated: Jul 15, 2023

Useful Brushes:

This is a quick overview of the most common brushes you will use when sculpting

Clay Buildup – use for building up forms on your sculpt. change alpha to a round one for better organic sculpting

Standard – useful for adding or subtracting lines and details to your model. Also useful for sharpening edges

Dam Standard – Also useful for lines and fine details, but is sharper than the standard.

H Polish – Flattening areas out – good for Hard Surface Modelling by flattening planes. Use in conjunction with the standard brush for making hard forms.

Smooth – Useful for smoothing out small imperfections on surfaces, or for flattening large forms.

Pinch – also good for making hard edges, but needs careful use or it can distort models.

Move – Used to push and pull sections of your model into better position – useful for initial dynameshing and blocking in shapes from primitives.

Move Topological – A similar brush, but this will only affect the mesh at the point of contact, rather than any mesh it touchs.

Trim Dynamic - Similar to the H Polish, this is good for flattening out corners and making planes. Very useful for rocks


Use alphas along with the drag rect stroke setting to quickly add textures to models, such as scales, tree bark, pores etc.

Display Properties In tools palette – Double Will enable back faces of polys.

If your detail sculpt isn’t working for you, go to a lower sub div level, delete higher levels and start again.

Sculpting a custom alpha.

You will use alphas a lot when sculpting -alphas are useful if you will be repeating detail on an element such as an environment or a creature’s skin. Sometimes the basic alphas wont cut though and you will need to make your own. With clever use of your own alphas you can cut sculpting time down considerably.

Whilst you can create alphas in photoshop, you can also sculpt them as meshes in ZBrush then convert them to alphas.

1: Create a new sphere tool, append a 3D plane as a subtool, then delete the original sphere to be left only with the flat plane.

2: Start sculpting your design on the plane, keeping it within -the boundaries.

3: Once completed, Simply click on the alpha box of the brush Palette and select the GrabDoc button at the bottom. This will convert your 3d mesh to a black and white alpha file save it to the alpha palette. From here you can also export it to save it separately.

4: You may find that when you use your alpha, it has a hard edge from the boundary of the plane it was created from. There are a couple of ways to get rid of this:

5: In the alphas Palette of the toolbar, you can make all kinds of adjustments to the alpha from the Modify Section. In this case, one solution is to increase the Rf slider, which signifies the Radial falloff. This softens the edges, but can sometimes mean losing detail from the alpha itself.

6: Another solution is to increase the Contrast slider – This will eliminate the border however it will also enhance some details at the expense of others.

7: Clicking the Alpha adjust button will open a graph showing the colour distribution of the alpha. To eliminate the border we need to tone down the greys, but enhance the blacks and the whites in the alpha

When you find settings that you like, you can save these out separately too – In the Alpha palette, open the Transfer section and Click Make Modified Alpha. It will be added to the alpha panel, where it can then be exported with the Export Processed Alpha (‘Ep’) button.

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