Taking Luxion’s KeyShot for a Spin

Luxion’s KeyShot 6 is making waves in the rendering software market. Is it right for your applications? Here’s our review.

Drab and gray—the CAD Default.

Drab and gray—the CAD Default.

A few months back, Luxion introduced KeyShot 6making a big play to move into the pole position in the rendering software market. In the latest release, Luxion has made a number of improvements to its 3D rendering and animation software, introducing subtle updates and advanced features that make the difference between a render being good enough and completely photorealistic.

Now that KeyShot has reached this milestone, it’s time to take the software for a spin and see exactly what it can do.

Importing Your Model, an Immediate Improvement

As a CAD user, you’re likely familiar with the drab, gray-shaded model that’s standard fare for the majority of MCAD UIs. Although this color scheme serves its purpose for quick preview when modeling parts, it’s not a compelling look if you’re trying to impress a customer. That’s what dedicated rendering software is for. Fortunately, as soon as you import a project into KeyShot, the drab gray falls away, and you’re left with a satisfying and realistically lit white facsimile of your model—an immediate improvement.

Model appearance upon import into KeyShot.

Model appearance upon import into KeyShot.

In typical rendering workflows, once a model has been imported, material assignments are the first technique used to improve its appearance. That’s true for KeyShot as well. On the left-hand panel of the software are material presets—ranging from cloth and stone to rubber and metal—to drag and drop onto a model.

After just a minute of work, things are already looking much better.

After just a minute of work, things are already looking much better.

Like most people undertaking a rendering exercise, I had a good idea of what I wanted my model to look like before I jumped into the software. I knew that my model would be partially glass, partially marble, have a few rubber elements and be finished off with a hint of metal.

Because of KeyShot’s simple drag-and-drop material operation, I had my model configured within a few moments, and because KeyShot supports real-time rendering, it only took a few seconds more to get a crystal-clear representation of my assembly.

I can customize these materials too. Double-clicking on any part brings up the material properties. All materials are based on a material type, with all the physical properties dialed in, and a range of options that provide a wide range of possibilities. But for materials, that’s just the beginning.

Enter the Material Graph – Advanced Material Editing

The KeyShot 6 Material Graph displays material options as a relational map for advanced material editing.

The KeyShot 6 Material Graph displays material options as a relational map for advanced material editing.

It can’t be denied that materials and color do the yeoman’s work when it comes to rendering, but the subtlety that really sells an image is pushing those materials for ultimate realism. With KeyShot 6 Pro, a new tool called the Material Graph allows for more texture variation, material layering and even material animation through the use of a node-based GUI.

When a texture is applied to a material in KeyShot, whether its an image map or a procedural texture, there are a range of setting to adjust the appearance. The Material Graph extends this by allowing you to modify one texture with another texture, or one setting with another setting. When a material is applied to an object, it’s applied using diffuse mapping—simply wrapping the pixels of the material texture around the 3D model. What separates simple diffuse mapping from more advanced image rendering is the use of texture mapping. A texture map can define the roughness, opacity, bump, color, reflectance, luminosity, reflectance and other characteristics that lend a material more realism in the rendered image.

Render artists tweak these settings, add custom bump maps and do a number of other tricks to enhance the material rendering. Usually this process is accomplished by uploading files or fine-tuning a large number of esoteric settings, for which KeyShot is no exception. 

Through each ‘node’, you can map simple or advanced layers of textures, animations effect and utilities. For example, you can apply a gradient across a textured metal, animate the opacity of a part in a simulation or add a weathered appearance around the edges of a part. What’s more, the Material Editor also gives users the ability to control the function of material nodes using utilities. With “color adjust, “curve color randomize” and others functions, there is a greater degree of control over the appearance of their designs. Because each node added to a material contains a number of variables, material artists can tweak the appearance of an object to an almost endless degree, iterating an appearance until it’s as true to reality as possible.

Once a material has been fully tailored, you can save it to a material library or share them on KeyShot Cloud, which has thousands of other materials and resources that can be downloaded and used to make further materials or improved renders.

Lighting a Scene to Complete a Composition
Some of KeyShot 6’s built-in lighting options.

Some of KeyShot 6’s built-in lighting options.

The final step in creating a top-shelf rendering is applying lighting and a background to the scene. In the film and animation world, lighting can make the difference between a shot that’s perfect and one that hits the cutting room floor. With KeyShot, adding lighting and scenes is just as easy as adding materials. To add lighting, users only need to click on the lighting tab and select a lighting and scene that best suits their needs. Once selected, the lighting and scene will be added to the project, dramatically transforming the appearance of their render.

What’s made KeyShot 6 stand out from its previous release is the addition of 6 new lighting modes and a new lighting algorithm.

The most important aspect of these new lighting modes is the improvement in interior lighting. In the new interior lighting mode features like self shadows, global illumination and a mysterious “Interior Mode” are immediately selected as the scene’s default presets.  With these defaults in place users can scrub through a several settings including ray bounces, indirect bounces and shadow quality, each of which will improve the quality of the image by simulating the movement of natural light more accurately. If additional settings are required to add more realism to a scene options like “caustics” and “ground illumination” can be toggled on or off.

Why Does an Engineer Need a Rendering Engine?

Although the bulk of an engineer’s work is done in CAD software, it’s critical for designers to be able to show potential customers and decision makers that their ideas are worth adopting. With a rendering software like KeyShot, impressive images can be created quickly and easily, making it possible for non-engineers to engage with a product before it’s produced. Not only can renders save a company money by improving the fidelity of design reviews, they can also be a critical aspect of communication between different departments who view products in different ways. The fact that this can be done so quickly only adds to the value, and need for, a powerful rendering package at every engineering firm.

A Few Final Notes

KeyShot is a stand-alone application, but has a number of plugins for other 3D software, including Autodesk Inventor and Fusion 360, SOLIDWORKS, PTC Creo, Siemens NX, Solid Edge, Onshape and others, along with direct import support for well over 30+ 3D file formats. With each plugin, you can export your model directly to KeyShot and with most comes Luxion’s LiveLinking capability to keep your 3D geometry updated in KeyShot without needing to redo any material or lighting setup. It all works together to have you producing high-quality visuals from your CAD data faster than any other option available.  

There are four KeyShot Editions. Here’s the run down:

KeyShot HD = $995 (unlimited rendering resolution)

KeyShot Pro = $1,995 (includes KeyShot Animation)

KeyShot Pro Floating = $2,995 (allows floating license usage)

KeyShot Enterprise = $3,995 (includes Network Rendering and Siemens NX plugin)

In the end, KeyShot allows users with very little rendering experience to easily produce powerful visuals. With a bit of practice, KeyShot can help any engineer create top-end marketing materials quickly and easily. Plus, using KeyShot is actually really fun.

Keyshot has sponsored this post. Most opinions are my own – Kyle Maxey