What Is Polypainting? (Texture Painting) (ZBrush Character Creation)

Polypainting is an approach to texturing that lets you color a model by applying a single RGB value to each polygon vertex. This allows you to texture without the need for UV coordinates. By applying color directly to vertices, you also avoid the need to drop the model to the canvas while painting. All texturing can be done in Edit mode, and you can freely rotate around the model.

Because the color is applied to each vertex, this means the resolution of the resulting texture is directly linked to the number of subdivision levels in the mesh. This means that a model of several million polygons can have a sharp, clear texture whereas a lower resolution level will have a softer texture with less detail.

Featured Artist: The Art of Magdalena Dadela

Canadian artist Magdalena Dadela is a character artist at Ubisoft Cinematics in Montreal.

She is known for her engaging and realistic character models and traditionally styled digital sculpture and anatomy studies.


Polypainting cannot by itself be exported. To create a map for use in a third-party renderer like mental ray, you need to bake the polypainting into a UV texture map. Luckily, this is a simple process covered later in this topic in the section called “Baking Polypaint to UV Texture Space.” The resolution of the color map is again linked to the resolution levels of the model. If you want the equivalent of a 4096×4096 map, you will need 16 million polygons of subdivision.

As of ZBrush 3.5, you can apply polypaint inside HD geometry and export it as an extremely high-resolution map. We will look at polypainting in HD later in this topic.

If you plan on rendering your character in another application, you must eventually use a UV texture map. This can be created from your polypainted texture or you could start with a UV map. Figure 5.11 shows a character painted with PolyPaint but rendered in Maya.

These alien heads were designed and rendered by Alex Alvarez in mental ray.

Figure 5.11 These alien heads were designed and rendered by Alex Alvarez in mental ray.

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