Creating Custom Materials in AutoCAD Renderings
Jaiprakash Pandey posted on October 18, 2016 |
An introduction to methods of making custom materials for different project requirements.

AutoCAD has an extensive materials library for 3D photorealistic renderings. This library sorts materials into many subcategories such as wood, metal and plastic, which makes it easy for users to find a required material.

AutoCAD also offers the option to create custom materials for a project. These custom materials can be saved in the drawing and can also be transferred to other drawings.

In this article, I will show you how to make different types of materials in AutoCAD. Let’s start with creating a basic material.

Creating a Simple Custom Material

All materials in AutoCAD are arranged on the Materials Browser palette. To open the Materials Browser, use the “MAT” command or click on the Materials Browser icon on the Materials panel of the Visualize tab. This will open a palette with a list of all materials. By default, your drawing will have only a Global material, which is applied to all 3D objects.

Right-click on “Global material” and select Duplicate from the contextual menu (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Materials Browser palette.
Figure 1. Materials Browser palette.

You must then give this material a new name. For this example, I will name it “New Material.” Double-click on this material to open the Materials Editor. You will see many tabs in this Materials Editor palette that control different aspects of material properties.

Let’s assume that we want to make this material red in color with an unreflective glossy surface. To do this, start with the Generic tab of the Materials Browser and click on the Color field. Select “Red” from the Color box and click on OK. Change the glossiness value to 70 in the Glossiness field of the Generic tab. Click on the Reflectivity checkbox and change the direct reflectivity value to 60. After changing all of these values, close the Materials Editor.

Now, you can simply drag and drop this material to the object in your drawing and it will inherit the properties that you have applied. After applying the new material, your object will look like the image shown in Figure 2.

Figurer 2. Before and after: Simple custom material applied on a spherical solid.
Figurer 2. Before and after: Simple custom material applied on a spherical solid.

Creating an Illuminated Material

You can also make an illuminated material that can emit its own light, such as a lightbulb. To create an illuminated material, start by duplicating the global material and then giving it a name. In this example, I will name it “Illuminated Material.”

Now, double-click on this material to open the Materials Browser and click on the Self Illumination checkbox. From the Luminance drop-down menu, select a preset option. In this example, I will select “Frosted Bulb.” This will apply the required amount of luminance to the material. Do not make any changes in the Color Temperature field and then close the Materials Editor palette. The final illuminated material created will give a rendered effect as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Illuminated material applied on a spherical solid.
Figure 3. Illuminated material applied on a spherical solid.

Transparent or Glass Materials

For this material, create a duplicate of the global material and give it a name. In this example, I will name it “Transparent Material.” Now, double-click on the material and click on the Transparency checkbox. In the Amount field of the Transparency tab, change the value to the amount of transparency that you want to apply to the material. A higher transparency value will make the material more transparent and vice versa. I will select a transparency value of 70 for this example. Don’t change any other parameter and close the Materials Editor palette. The final material with transparency will look like what is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Transparent material applied on a spherical solid.
Figure 4. Transparent material applied on a spherical solid.

Creating a Material with an Opacity Map

Using an opacity map, you can add realistic-looking characters such as a tree, vehicle or person to an AutoCAD rendering. To use this feature, you will need a simple image of an object with a clear background, as well as its opacity map, which is a black-and-white replica of the original image where white represents opaque portions and black represents transparent portions. For this example, I will use a simple tree.

Create a duplicate copy of the global material and give it a name. In this example, I will name it “Tree material.” Now, double-click on the material to open the Materials Browser. Expand the Generic tab and click on the Image box, then select the image that you want to use for creating this material. For this example, I will select an image of a simple tree with a white background.

Now, double-click on the Image box to open the Texture Editor and scroll down to the Scale tab. Enter the sample size in both the horizontal and vertical directions. For this example, I will enter the sample size as 12 ft. Make sure that “None” is selected in the Horizontal and Vertical drop-down menu in the Repeat tab. Close the Texture Editor and click on the Cutouts checkbox in the Materials Editor window. 

Select the opacity map image, which is black and white, and click on Open. From here, double-click on the opacity map image to open the Texture Editor palette and change the scale to 12 ft in both the horizontal and vertical directions. Change the value in the drop-down menu of the Repeat tab to “None.” 

Now, apply this material on a surface that is sized 12 ft x12 ft. This will create a tree that hides features behind it, with black indicating the opacity map while white parts remain visible. The final material in this example looks like Figure 5.

Figure 5. Tree created with a material containing an opacity map.
Figure 5. Tree created with a material containing an opacity map.

Creating a Material with a Texture Map

This type of material can be used to add an image onto a 3D solid or surface. For this example, I will create a texture map representing the Autodesk logo on a 3D spherical solid object with a radius of 5 units. Once again, create a duplicate of the global material and give it a name. In this example, I will name it “Logo material.”

Expand the Generic tab and select an image from the Image box. For this example, I will select an Autodesk logo in PNG format with a transparent background. Double-click on the image to open the Texture Editor and change the sample size to an appropriate value from the Scale tab. I will change the sample size to 5. From the Horizontal and Vertical drop-down menu of the Repeat tab, change the value to “None.” Close the Materials Editor and the Texture Editor and apply this material to the sphere.

The image may appear distorted on the material, but this is easily fixed using the Material Mapping option. Select the Box Material Mapping option from the Materials panel of the Visualize tab and click on the sphere in the drawing area. You will see many temporary grips pointing in different directions along the virtual box created around the sphere; use these grips to place the logo correctly on the sphere. Once the logo is properly placed, press Enter again to exit the Material Mapping command. The final sphere, after the logo is applied, will look like Figure 6.

Figure 6. Texture map used to imprint a spherical logo on the solid.
Figure 6. Texture map used to imprint a spherical logo on the solid.

Transferring Material from One Drawing to Other Drawings

In AutoCAD, it is also possible to transfer the materials created using the steps above to other drawings. To transfer a material, copy an object from the first drawing onto which that particular material is applied and paste it into the new drawing. The object, along with its material, will be copied into the new drawing. You can delete the object from the new drawing, but the material will still remain in the drawing. When transferring materials containing images such as Texture map and Opacity map materials, make sure you also copy images to the folder containing the drawing. To transfer these drawings, it is a good idea to use the eTransmit option, which creates a ZIP file of all drawing support files such as images of materials.

In addition to those shown in this article, there are many other types of custom materials that can be made in AutoCAD. Do you have questions related to this article? If so, let me know in the comments below.

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