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Managing Materials

Materials define how an object looks, such as what its color is, whether the object is dull or shiny, and whether it is reflective or transparent. With materials, you can make an object look like glass, metal, plastic, or wood. In the end, both materials and lighting define how your objects look. In this section, you see how to add materials to your objects by using both Blender Render and Cycles.

On the Materials tab (the shiny red-sphere icon) of the Properties Editor, you can add new materials or select existing ones from the drop-down list shown in Figure 3.8. A single object can have multiple materials, and these materials appear in the list at the top of the material properties. You can add and remove new slots for materials by clicking the + and – buttons on the right side of the list, and you can assign each of those materials to a selection of faces when you’re in Edit Mode.

Figure 3.8

Figure 3.8 Use this menu on the Material Properties tab to add materials.

Using Blender Render Materials

In Blender Render, all materials are built in the same way: You have a set of parameters, and you can use them to build any kind of material. You can activate transparency and reflections (Mirror) to simulate materials such as glass or metal, for example. Each one of these attributes has different parameters, such as color, intensity, hardness, and glossiness. Here are brief descriptions of some of the main options:

  • Diffuse: The main color of the material.

  • Specular: The color, intensity, and hardness of a material’s shine.

  • Shading: The shadowing over a material. The Shadeless option makes the material completely unaffected by lights and shadows in the scene.

  • Transparency: The transparency of the material. The basic attribute is Z Transparency, which is very fast to render because it just reduces the material’s opacity. Raytrace is more accurate and offers some parameters for controlling the refraction to make it look more realistic, but it renders more slowly.

  • Mirror: The reflectivity of the material. This option allows you to define the glossiness (roughness) of the reflections.

Using Cycles Materials

In Cycles, building materials is quite different from building them in Blender Render. You can use the Node Editor with Blender Render to achieve complex materials, but Cycles allows for the use of only basic materials if you’re not willing to use nodes. Don’t worry; for now, I’ll keep things simple. Inside a Cycles material, you’ll find the Surface panel, which includes various types of surface shaders:

  • Diffuse: Creates a basic material with only color—no shine, reflection, or other special properties

  • Glossy: Makes the material reflective and shiny

  • Emission: Makes the material emit light into the scene

  • Transparent: Lets light pass through the material

  • Glass: Simulates a glass surface

  • Mix: Mixes two shaders to achieve a more elaborate effect

Many surface shaders are available; these are just some of the main ones. Each of the shaders has different parameters to control how light affects that shader, such as color and roughness. Accessing nodes makes it easier to create complex and custom materials by combining the effects of some of the shaders and using textures. (See Chapter 10, “Materials and Shaders.”)

Adding Materials to Your Scene

To add some color to your scene, add two new materials. This procedure is a very basic setup that you should be able to accomplish easily in both Cycles and Blender Render. Follow these steps:

  1. Select the monkey head.

  2. Click the Materials tab in the Properties Editor.

  3. Add a new basic material, and set the diffuse color to red.

  4. Repeat the process with the floor, but set the material to white.

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