mudbox tips for beginners

Mudbox tips for beginners

New to Mudbox? Knowing Maya or Max gives you a head start, but like all software, Mudbox has its own quirks.

I’ve assembled this list of Mudbox tips for beginners, based on my experience using the program since version 1. It should help you use the program more effectively!

MUDBOX tips for beginners:

In general:

  • Mudbox is a RAM hog. Get as much RAM as you can, and a fast SSD hard drive for your swap disk.
  • Having a powerful video card helps, as well. Try searching to find the best balance between performance and price.
  • Speaking of, when sculpting or painting at high levels of detail, don’t try to run other programs (especially Maya/Max, but ESPECIALLY PHOTOSHOP) at the same time!
  • And use a stylus and tablet. Sculpting with the mouse is painfully slow, and you have no pressure control to fade your strokes.

Always use HOT KEYS!

It is imperative you use these hot keys. Seriously, just do it.

  • Adjust brush SIZE by holding down ‘b’and left-click-dragging.
  • Adjust brush STRENGTH by holding down ‘m’ and left-click-dragging (why ‘m’? I think of it as magnitude of effect)
  • Use the Smooth brush by holding down Shift, no matter what brush you have selected.
  • Invert your brush by holding down Control (i.e. push inwards instead of pull outwards)
  • Change subdivision levels by hitting Page Up or Page Down.
  • Subdivide your mesh by hitting Shift+D.
  • Control+Z is undo. Take note that the Undo queue is erased anytime you switch between subdivision levels!


  • Play around with the Sculpt Brush to get a feel for the program. Almost all the other brushes are just variations on this brush!
  • Use the Wax Brush more often in the beginning phases, to block out big shapes.
  • Use the Smooth Brush after (almost) every sculpting stroke to blend the new sculpting into your surface.
  • Use the Grab Brush to make big structural changes – like re-proportioning a body – instead of trying to do it with sculpting brushes.
  • Speaking of Grab: use a really big brush – otherwise you’ll get spikes!
  • I use a custom Foamy Brush for sharp brush for detailing. I click the check box for ‘Invert Function’ to keep it permanently set as negative; and I set the brush falloff to the ‘0’ on the falloff menu; I use this brush to carve in sharp details! (I don’t like the Knife brush, because the stamp sometimes prevents me from getting smooth curves.)
  • Use the Repeat, Stamp, and Imprint Brushes at the end of the sculpting process, to quickly add textured surface detail to your high-res sculpt.
  • It’s time to Subdivide when you start seeing jagged, zig-zag shading when you are sculpting. This indicates that your surface isn’t high-res enough to accommodate the level of detail you’re trying to add!
  • Use Sculpt Layers! This will allow you to go back and undo mistakes, since the undo queue disappears every time you switch subdivision levels.


  • Things looking pixelated when texture painting? Try using a higher resolution texture layer;
  • If that doesn’t work, step up to a higher level of subdivision!
  • Getting gaps or dotted lines when painting? Turn on ‘Stamp Spacing’ on your brush, and reduce it to 0 or -1.
  • Stencils are one of Mudbox’s most powerful painting features. Learn to use them! Projection painting on to your model makes adding detail easy.
  • Right click in the Paint Layers menu and choose ‘Import Layer…’ to bring in a new texture.
  • Similarly, you can right-click on a layer and use ‘Export Layer…’ to save it as a texture file.
  • Use ‘Move Selected to…’ to change a paint layer to a different type. For example, you can move your diffuse texture to the bump channel, to copy color detail to your bump map.
  • Speaking of bump maps… to convert a black and white bump map to a normal map, right-click a bump paint layer and use the option ‘Normal from Bump’.

Extracting maps:

  • Getting weird artifacts on your normal map? Try switching to Subdivision mode in your extraction options.
  • Remember to extract to the sculpt level you are actually using – i.e., extract to level 2 if that’s what you’re using in Maya. The level 0 map might work, but it will have errors, like UV seams.
  • Does your displacement map look weird when you render? Make sure you save to a 32 bit format, like TIFF or EXR, otherwise displacement (and vector displacement) will look aliased and stepped.
  • If your file is already running slowly, turn off the ‘Preview as…’ at the bottom of the map extraction dialog. Manually import the texture later.

Run into problems? Have tips of your own? Comment below!

13 thoughts on “Mudbox tips for beginners”

  1. I would suggest remapping popular keys to the left side of your keyboard, making sure to use the modifier keys (ctrl shift alt) to get quick access to your tools and camera movement.

  2. I’ve got the details down and then I tried to use the retopology tool so I can keep my poly count to 1600 (a requested limit), but when I export to Maya it still showed a gazillion polys. I also want the details to be in the bump mapping but I’m so lost now.

    1. Make sure to select your new retopo model, and step down to your lowest subdivision level. Make sure Mudbox exports that to Maya. Right now it sounds like a higher subd level is being sent over.

  3. I’m having issues with mudbox. The issue is that when I’m pressing and holding ctrl to invert the sculpting tool, it doesn’t invert the sculpt (Using Wax tool). Instead it goes straight to the knife tool. what do I do to get the ctrl (Invert sculpt) back? I tried going to hot keys and reseting default for 3ds max and still nothing.

    1. Find Mudbox’s pref files (in the Documents folder) and delete it. When you restart, it should be back to stock default values, which should fix the hotkey issue. Or you could try the hotkey editor under the windows (I think) menu.

  4. Quite nice tutorial. Liked the example you used. Gives me some kinda motivation to work out to.

    1. Do the sculpting tools work on any of the default mudbox meshes? If they do, that suggests that the model you are using is scaled too large for the world. In that case you would scale the model down and freeze transformations on it.

      If the default objects have the same problem, mudbox probably needs to be reset. See my post about how to reset Maya, it works the same way.

  5. This is wonderful! However! I still do not understand this stuff and I will admit I’m vaguely frustrated. Neither the sculpt or wax tool add ANY THING to what I’m working on and I just. Want. To. Sculpt. I used to use sculpted but that no longer works on my junky little machine and I really need some pointers on how to make mudbox work similarly to that. If anyone can help, TIA.

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