Amplify Shader Editor for Unity

Nov 08, 2019 at 10:00 am by nemirc

Amplify Shader Editor is a node-based shader creation tool for Unity.

Some time ago, I discussed Shaderforge, a tool that became my de-facto shader creation tool, but, after Unity announced they would be making their own node-based authoring tool, Shader Graph, the developer of Shaderforge decided to pull the plug, making it impossible to run the tool on Unity 2018 and up.

Luckily, Amplify SE works just fine and is still being actively developed, which is a good thing.

Amplify Shader Editor works just like any other node-based authoring tool. You create and connect nodes to make the shader that you need. The app includes a wide variety of nodes, from light and variable nodes, to math and conditional operation nodes.

One thing I really love about Amplify SE is that all node outputs are color coded, making it easy to know what outputs can be connected to what inputs.

To create a new shader, you simply right-click on the project hierarchy window and create a new amplify shader. When you double-click the newly created shader, you are sent to the empty canvas, where all the work takes place. The only available node is the one containing all the outputs (albedo, normal, emissive, etc.).

On the left side of the canvas you have your shader settings. There, you can choose the type of shader, shader model, platforms the shader will run on, and others. At the bottom of that pane you can also re-organize your material properties, to define how they will show up on the Inspector pane.

If you are using the latest rendering features in Unity 2019, you are familiar with the High Definition Rendering Pipeline and the Lightweight RP, the two new rendering engines in Unity. Amplify SE fully supports these two new rendering engines. However, since the HD RP is still in preview mode, Unity changes a lot of things and that may break the Amplify support in some cases.

Another issue I had was that the HD RP would make Amplify SE run very slow sometimes. On the other hand, based on my experience, the LW RP is a different story, since this rendering pipeline is no longer in preview mode.

Another small but nice feature is the ability to draw comment boxes around a group of nodes. Also, you can declare variables that you can call in other parts of your graph. The way this works is this: you create a node that declares a variable, and somewhere else you create a node that calls that variable, and connect this second node to whatever other node you are using. These two features make it very easy to keep your graph organized.

Shaders created with Amplify SE are compatible with different versions of Unity (I’ve tested shaders in Unity 5, 2017, and 2019), which to me is a really nice feature, since, for various reasons, not all users are on the latest version of Unity.

For example, if you are in the middle of a project, and you began to develop it on Unity 2018, you know upgrading to 2019 might not be the smartest thing to do. I, for example, am still using Unity 2017 because later versions don’t support certain platforms I still develop for.

Amplify Shader Editor is a powerful and easy to use (but hard to master) shader authoring tool. If you find yourself in situations where the built-in Unity shaders don’t fit your needs, this tool can easily become your best friend.

Amplify SE is $60 on the Unity Asset Store.

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