Physically based rendering, blender nodes, with brick texture example

Showcase image for pbr nodes with brick texture example

In the last post, physically based rendering and Blender materials, we looked at how the principled shader really works. We lay the foundation for our future material creation in Cycles and for Eevee when Blender 2.8 finally arrives. Here, we will take a close look at how this is all implemented in the node editor using image textures to power the principled shader. This setup will then be supported by various other nodes to give us a system to work with when layering different materials on top of each other.
If you missed the previous post here is the summary and key take away points when using the principled shader in Blender.

  • You should use non-color data for all your textures except base color for both metals and nonmetals
  • For metals, keep your color values in the lightest 30% srgb color space in the base color map.
  • For dielectrics keep the color values above the 10% darkest and below the 5% lightest for the base color map.
  • In most cases, the metallic input is either 1 for metals or 0 for dielectrics. Seldomly much in between.
  • When the metallic input is 1, the specular has no effect. The specular is instead calculated from the base color.
  • Roughness is the most artistic map, use it to tell the story of your object
  • The normal map is angle data for outgoing light rays and not height information.

For any material that we can power with a set of image textures that are prepared for the metallic workflow, the system that we will discuss here will work very well and be very efficient.

If you want to follow along you can read the next section or skip to the “Brick texture and concrete combination” section to get right into the good stuff.

Setup the brick texture example

For demonstration and testing we will be using a set of image textures that is provided here:

bricks_texture_example_assets.zip

They are provided under the cc0 license originally from cc0textures.com. The hdri is also licensed under cc0 and collected from hdrihaven.com.

For this workflow guide, we will be adding a sphere, and UV unwrap it with the sphere projection option while viewing the sphere in orthographic view from the front by hitting number pad “5” followed by “1”. Also, add a material slot and name it.

showing the uv map preparation

Position the camera and set the resolution to a square like 1024 by 1024 or maybe 1920 by 1920. Move the resolution up from the default 50% to 100%.

Next, we will enable the node wrangler addon by going to user preferences. “ctrl+alt+u” for the keyboard-oriented Blender artist. Go to the addon section and start typing “wrangler” to filter the list in real-time. Check the box next to the node wrangler addon, hit “save user settings” and we are set so far.

Last preparation will be to add the hdri image. Go to the node editor, select environment material on the earth icon and add an environment texture node. Browse for the image and add it. If not already selected, select the environment texture node and hit “ctrl+t” This will add a texture coordinate node and the mapping node. This is a function of the node wrangler addon. Using the z rotation in the mapping node we can now rotate our hdri.

Enough with the boring setup stuff, let’s get on with the show!

Brick texture and concrete combination

Our example will be a brick texture where we want to introduce patches of concrete where the bricks have fallen off. We will also add some dirt. Each layer will be added in a slightly different way because of their role in the full material. What we need to remember here though is that this is not a guide to create a brick material. We are here to learn a highly customizable and flexible system for creating materials that we can use repeatedly for most materials.

The image below shows the basic setup for a dielectric PBR material with the standard maps.

  • Color
  • Roughness
  • Normal
brick-texture-setup

We can add this setup quickly by selecting the principled shader and hit “ctrl+shift+t” and select all the maps that we need for the material. If the maps are named properly, the node wrangler addon will set up the rest for us like this. We don’t have to worry about what image textures should be set up for color or non-color data, the normal map will get its corresponding normal map node etc. If we have other maps, like a metallic or specular map those will also be added incorrectly. A displacement map, however, will be added for the displacement input of the material output node. We can, however, skip the displacement or combine it with our normal map through a bump node like this.

Our brick material is done. The first combination will be with a concrete material. Start by duplicating the principled shader and use “ctrl+shit+t” again and this time select the color, roughness and normal maps for the concrete material. The new concrete will be added above the bricks in this example.

At this stage, we will combine the two materials with a mix shader and get a very ugly mix between the two. Instead of blending the materials we want to tell what material goes where and for this we will use a mask. A mask is just a black and white texture. We can use any image, procedural texture or combination to create the mask, but we will go with the simplest possible and use the procedural noise texture node as the mask. Add it, select it and hit “ctrl+t” to automatically add the mapping and texture coordinate nodes. Then connect the noise texture to a color ramp node before connecting the color ramp to the fac input of the mix shader. This is what it looks like.

To tune in the mask, it is easier for us if we set up Blender with a layout like the image below. We have a rendered view with the render border active to minimize the screen area we need to render. Create it with “ctrl+b” and clear it with “ctrl+alt+b”. To the right, we have the nodes we need to work with available as well.

Use “ctrl+shift+mouse click” on the color ramp to create a temporary view of what the node outputs. To reset the view back to our material “ctrl+shift+mouse click” on the mix shader which is the last shader node in our material chain before connecting to the material output node.

Bring the two flags of the color ramp close to each other to create a high contrast map. Also, change the details value of the noise texture to 16 to create a more natural border between black and white. Now “ctrl+shift+mouse click” the mix shader to preview the mix we created. From here only tweaks remain until you are happy with the result. For me, I went ahead and inverted my color ramp and set the scale of the noise texture to 3.

This combination of materials was easy enough. It is the basics for combining any PBR materials in Blender. From here we can take any principled shader and all the nodes connecting into it and group them and throw the group into any other cycles material for combination with other materials. All we need is a set of three maps for each material and a mask to tell what material goes where.

Leaking effect

Next, we will look at how we can combine this with a material that needs a very specific placement on top of our other materials. We will add some leaking effects that should start from the top and fade out as it comes further down our sphere. We will require a new specific UV map for this effect as well as a mask that masks out the exact area for the effect. In this case, we are lucky enough that a mask image is provided so we will use that. However, this is not always the case and sometimes you will have to create your own or tweak an alpha channel and use that as a mask. We will look at how to do this as well.

Let’s start with adding a new principled shader and import the leaking set of textures. Then add a mix shader between our existing mix shader and the output node. Connect the leaking principled shader at the empty slot and we should get this.

Now delete the texture coordinate and mapping node for this newly added material and add the UV map node. With this, we can specify a new UV map. Though we will need to create it first.

If you are not very familiar with UV maps, just follow along. It won’t be a very hard process. Remember, this is a system that should be easy, right? It may seem daunting right now but trust me, it is the same operations over and over with slight tweaks and adjustments. You already know the basics.

Creating the leaking UV map

Start by bringing in a uv/image editor and in the properties panel, go to the object data tab that looks like a triangle and click plus in the UV maps section. This will add a copy of our original UV map. I chose to rename mine to “leaking”. Fill in the name in the UV map node that we added previously.

If we select the new UV map we can alter it. We can scale down the parts of the mesh that should not have any leaking effect and hide it in a black area in the image and the parts that should have the leaking effect is now adjustable with pixel precision inside the uv/image editor.

My leaking UV map looks like this for now since I want the effect of most of my sphere and the top and bottom will not be visible in the image.

And now the mask

Back in the node editor, we will add some nodes for our mask image that we happened to have in this case.

You can see that we have the same concept as before, only this time we have an image mask instead of a noise texture and therefore also UV coordinates to power it. The color ramp is adjusted based on the images values. The important things to remember here is to use “ctrl+shift+mouse click” to preview the color ramps output and adjust it accordingly. In this case, I did not want the mask to go from complete black to complete white, so I darkened the white a bit so that the underlying material would come through slightly.

If we needed to use the alpha mask instead we would use that instead of the mask and the node editor would look like this.

We can also just use the image color itself and collapse the black and white range to generate a mask. It could look like this.

Note the shift from using the alpha output from the image texture to the color output since we may not have an alpha channel to work with.

At this point, we have arrived at additional tweaking. Usually, I tweak each material to look the way I want it right after adding it and before adding in the next one. However, I figured that it would be easier to follow if we left it for the end.

Individual material tweaks

We are going to look at a couple of ways to add flavor to our material before we go to the summary. The most noteworthy tweaks is introducing some color variation to the individual materials and a way to create a more distinct border between our bricks and concrete. We will also tweak the roughness.

Let’s start by adding some color variation to the bricks. Zoom in to the part of the material where the bricks live and look at the color map. To introduce some variation, we will have to first create the variation and then mask where the variation should be applied and where the original color should live. We can do this in a pretty similar way to how we have done it with the mix shader earlier but this time with a mixrgb node. The mixrgb node will serve as the mixer. Though we still need something to mix and a way to mix. Add a hue/saturation/value node to generate a slight variation to our texture. I will set mine to these values.

  • Hue 0.48
  • Saturation 1.2
  • Value 0.8

Now we have a fac input available in the mix shader where we will use the same trick as before. Combine a noise texture with the details set to 16 with its corresponding texture coordinate and mapping node using “ctrl+t” while selecting the noise texture. Then add a color ramp between the noise texture and mixrgb. Collapse the color ramp to bring it to the black and white mask that we want.
This is how I ended up setting up the color variation for a very slight difference in color across the surface.

You have quite a lot of parameters at your disposal to get the noise the way you want. You can adjust rotation, location and scale for any single axis in the mapping node to get a stretched or just different effect. You can also try using object or camera coordinates to generate different noises. You can also try to add more flags to the color ramp and play with those values to have complete control over the transition between light and dark.

Creating a more distinct transition between bricks and concrete.

For this part, we will drive our effect from the mask separating the bricks from the concrete and then feed it through a bump node that we combine with the existing normal map data in the concrete material. Look at the edge between the bricks and the concrete in this image to see what effect we are after.

If you have ever used a 2D image manipulation program like photoshop, gimp or affinity photo you know that you can select part of the image and have the marching ants show the way, right? We will kind of do the same here now, but we will mathematically tell Blender what parts we want to select, again using masks. Right after the mask dictating over brick vs concrete distribution add an invert node to invert the mask and then feed it through a new color ramp. These nodes should not have anything connected to their outputs right now. Instead, hit “ctrl+shift+mouse click” to see what the color ramp output looks like.

Move the black flag of the new color ramp towards a position of 0.6 or 0.7.

Add a new mixrgb node and set the blend mode to “linear light”. Connect the new color ramp in the top socket and the color ramp from the first color ramp in the second socket. Then add another color ramp after the linear light mix node. It will look like this.

Bring the white flag of the new color ramp to about position 0.2 to collapse the gray tone that the linear light left behind.
Now add a bump node in the concrete material between the normal map node and the principled shader. Then connect the last color ramp in the chain to the height input of the bump node and the effect is done.
We now have something like this.

A material is never finished. We could continue to add color ramps between the roughness maps and their corresponding principled shader or we could add variation to the leaking texture color for example. There are many possibilities.

Summary of the brick texture example and the system

The big takeaways from this article is not the bricks or the concrete but the flow of nodes. This way we can easily take a material or a mask and create a group out of it and have a very easy and flexible system to work with in order to layer different materials on top of each other. We can also present the material much easier. Take a look at this for example. Here I have created groups by selecting nodes and using “ctrl+g” to group them and renamed the groups in the “n” panel. Using this way of creating materials gives you a very good way to reuse groups of nodes.

This is a very solid foundation for building your materials and it is also compatible with the upcoming Blender 2.8 version and its real-time engine Eevee.

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Physically based rendering and Blender materials

Physically based rendering and blender materials

Physically based rendering in Blender has been a guesswork for some time. With 2.79 however comes the principled shader. It will help you to create accurate blender materials for cycles. However, there still seems to be some confusion on how it works. Let’s get a closer look at it and nail Physically based rendering once and for all.

Physically based rendering or PBR for short is a way for ray traced render engines such as cycles to accurately describe a material. It lets the artist focus on the artistic side to a larger extent and leaves out how to deal with more technical issues. This information is a set of guidelines and is not written in stone. It is here for you to get an idea of how PBR works with the principled shader. Once you understand it you can break and bend the rules to your will, but a good foundation to start from is better than to dive in without knowing how the shader reacts to different settings or texture map inputs.

Two different workflows

PBR can be divided into two different workflows. Within the realm of Physically based rendering you use one or the other. They both give the same result in the end. The difference is the texture maps that are used to describe the final material. These are the two workflows.

  • Metallic/Roughness
  • Specular/Glossiness

The new principled shader is geared towards the metallic/roughness workflow and that will be our focus here. It is the most common workflow but you should be aware that there exists another one as well. However specular/glossiness is not natively supported in Blender by any one single shader.

Physically based rendering texture maps

When dealing with the Metallic/Roughness workflow we have three specific texture maps to work with.

  • Base color(Diffuse, Albedo)
  • Metallic
  • Roughness(or inverted glossiness map)

We also have a few that are also shared with the specular/glossiness workflow. They are the following.

  • Normal
  • Height/Displacement
  • Ambient occlusion(AO)

For most materials, we are concerned with the first set of maps and the normal map. The height and AO maps are optional. With these four maps we will be able to create a lot of the materials that we see around us every day. Before we talk more about maps however, let us first take a brief look at fresnel followed by color spaces.

Diffuse

Metallic

 

Roughness

Normal

Fresnel and specular

What is fresnel? First of all the pronunciation is with a silent s. Second, it is determining the falloff of specular from the viewing angle of 0 degrees to the edge of an object. Fresnel at a 0 degree angle is also referred to as F0. This is a property that all materials have.

The most clear example of this is when you are standing at the edge of a calm lake and you are looking down and you can see through the water clearly, but when you look in the distance the water becomes more and more like a mirror. This is fresnel and when viewing at a 0 degree angle the specular varies heavily depending on if you are looking at a metal or a non-metal material.

If we are looking at a metal straight on the F0 is between 70-100% depending on what metal we are looking at. For non-metals, this value is between 0% and 8% in most cases. At the edge of the object the specular is almost always at or near 100%. In the case of looking at a sphere it becomes clear. The edges will become more and more specular as its surface turns away from us.

Principled shader used with a dark red #531D21 base color with a roughness of 0.2 lit by an hdr from hdrihaven.com

Linear color space vs SRGB

Let us deal with the color space stuff now. The computer stores images in linear space. This means that there is an equal amount of color change between every shade from black to white. However, this is how the computer reads data, our human eye does not see color this way. So in order to save space and not send data to the screen that humans can’t see, we encode the data to give more space for color information in the ranges that we can see. This encoding is also called gamma correction.

So how do we see color? Well, what you need to know is that the monitor outputs color in SRGB color space. SRGB color space is adjusted so that we make use of more color space in the ranges that we can actually see. This means that before the image is sent to your screen the computer encodes the linear image to SRGB so that we can see a richer image.

Top gradient shows the linear color space as humans see it. This is then encoded to srgb for a more smooth gradient.

In Blender, when we add an image texture to our cycles material we have the opportunity to decide if the image should be converted to srgb before the node sends the image away as input for the next node to interpret. This is the default behaviour. However if we change the image drop down menu from color to non-color data we tell the node to not gamma correct the image, just send it over to the next node as it is in linear space. This is useful because all the maps that are not base color should be non-color data. They are not there for our eyes to see but for the shader to know what parts of the material does what. It is there for the computer to read, and the computer reads color in linear space.

The general rule becomes: Set all your texture maps to non-color data except the base color.

If you want to create the encoding yourself in Blender you can use the gamma node and set it to a value of 2.2. It is not exactly the same as the srgb encoding but it is so close that you probably can’t see a difference.

Metals and the principled shader

Now when we know a bit about color spaces and fresnel we will continue on with the inputs of the principled shader.

If we deal with a fully metallic material we set the metallic slider to 1 and no texture map is needed. Same goes for materials that is non metals. Set the slider to 0 and you are good to go. For any material that requires a combination you will need a texture map to tell Blender what areas of the material is metal and what is not. This map should be grayscale set to non-color data.

You can also set this to any value in between 0 and 1 but that will create a material that does not exist. Sometimes this can be useful though. Imagine that you are creating a metallic surface that has a dust layer on it, then this value can be tweaked to something in between to simulate the dust. It works but it is not accurate. You can also use gray values to blend between a metallic and dielectric material where their edges meet.

The metallic input also dictates how other parameters of the principled shader behave. When the input is set to 1 the specular slider has no effect. Same goes for specular tint. Changes to these inputs makes no difference. Instead, the specular data is coming from the base color map. I will repeat that. Specular data for a metal using the metallic/roughness workflow in a physically based rendering scenario will come from the base color map.

The base color map will still be set to color data even if it is used to determine specularity of metals. It is still also determining the color or specular tint if you will. Metals has no diffuse aspect to it so it makes sense to switch the behaviour of the base color input for metals. After all, it contains three times as much data then a grayscale map.

Most real world metals has a reflectance value between 70-100% at Fresnel 0. For us that means that the value of any pixel in our base color map should have a value of around 0.7 or higher. If we have a color texture map as input it means that the pixels should be in the brightest 30% in srgb color space.

If we input a color ourselves using the color wheel widget to set a solid color we will have to look at the hex values. The rgb and hsv set of sliders are in linear space so the values won’t be correct but the output will. This is not very convenient however so i usually stick to the hsv sliders and for metals I don’t let the value slider go below 0.7. The accuracy of this, well, good enough for me.

If you want real consistency however you should look up the correct colors for any given metal that you want to recreate.

Dielectrics and the principled shader

Now let’s move the metallic slider to 0. We are now in the realm of dielectrics or non-metal materials and the specular slider is in full effect!

However, we are in the metallic/roughness workflow and the specular input here works very different from the specular/gloss workflow and how we used to work. The input slider goes from 0 to 1 but you can set it to values higher than 1 by typing in the value. This 0 to 1 range is mapped to 0% to 8% specular. In the default setting of 0.5 we therefore have 4% specular. This is the most common range of specular for dielectric materials and in most cases the default 0.5 value does not need to change. Not very exciting. The slider is more of an artistic tool that you can tweak to squeeze some extra “oh yeah!” out of your material. It is not meant to create a 100% specular metallic. That we have the metallic slider for and when working with metals the specular is in the base color as we have learned.

Over to the base color. Now this value has nothing to do with specular for non-metals and is pure reflected color. Since we don’t want this to contain light or shadow information we should not let the image contain pure black or pure white. Try to leave the darkest pixels about 10% lighter than black and the lightest pixels about 5% darker than white in srgb color space for your base color map.

So, this leaves us with the roughness and normal maps.

Normal map and roughness

Now we will leave the realm of technical terms and head into the artistic mist of “it depends”, “tastes” and other interesting stuff that can’t be defined. Don’t be fooled though, we are still talking about pyhsically based rendering.

We start with the roughness map. This is the most artistic map and can be used to tell the story of your object. You can add scratches, dust, fingerprints or water vapor just to name a few. There is no real rules here other than experimenting and making the best combination of properties that will tell the tale of what the object has been through. It is a grayscale map that will determine no roughness at black or 0 and full roughness at 1 or white.

The normal map is often mistaken as meaning height information. But the normal map actually contains angle data. It determines the direction in which an incoming light ray will bounce of in. The result is however similar to height information in that it simulates geometry changes. It is another artistic map that helps to create more detail in an object that is way more efficient than using real geometry. Pipe it through a normal map node and into the normal input of the principled shader to use it. It can also be combined with height information from a height map using the bump node.

The other inputs

That is a mouthful of physically based rendering and blender materials with the new shader. Let’s take a quick look at the rest of the inputs before we move over to the summary. These are specific for special types of material like skin, carpaint, fabric or glass.

We start with the sheen and sheen tint. Sheen tint only has an effect if sheen is not 0. It is intended to help simulate cloth. It adds a soft white reflection around the edges. The sheen tint mixes in the base color into the reflection. This is useful when trying to make a cloth material.

The Anisotropic input is used to stretch the reflection of an object. Think of a brushed metal with a circular pattern such as the underside of a frying pan. Instead of having a normal map or geometry to simulate the circular pattern that gives it the stretch you can turn this input up to simulate it. The Anisotropic Rotation dictates the reflections rotation and at the bottom of the shader you have a tangent input that also can be used to affect the rotation in a more precise manner by inputting vector data. Both the tangent and anisotropic rotation hs no effect if anisotropic is at value 0.

Next we have the clear coat, clear coat roughness and clearcoat normal inputs. These are here to add an extra layer of specular on top of the material. Think of car paint that has these deep reflections. The clearcoat roughness is there to give this layer its own roughness and same goes for the normal. In a lot of cases the clearcoat normal is there so that you can input the same normal map into that input as you ordinary normal input. But in very rare cases you may want to have different normal maps for the two layers. Same thing here, the clear coat roughness and clear coat normal has no effect if the clear coat input is set to 0.

The IOR input only has effect if used together with the transmission input. The transmission input allows you to create glass and ice materials with the principled shader. The IOR will dictate the change in angle for lightrays going through the object.

Lastly you have the subsurface scattering(SSS) inputs that helps to create, you guessed it, subsurface scattering. It uses a different method for calculating subsurface scattering than the older SSS shader so the results will differ slightly from the regular SSS. But it is here to make sure that we can use this one shader to create the largest amount of materials possible without having to use different shaders and combinations. You also guessed right when you assumed that the subsurface radius and subsurface color has no effect if the subsurface input is set to 0.

Summary

There are of course other areas to consider as well like lighting and post processing. You should also use the filmic color management in Blender to make sure that you have a wider dynamic range available for more realistic renders. If you find any errors, please contact me to let me know so that I can make a change. Physically based rendering is important not only for realism but for consistency as well.

Anyway, what are the important values to take from this? 

  • You should use non-color data for all your textures except base color for both metals and nonmetals
  • For metals, keep your color values in the lightest 30% srgb color space in the base color map.
  • For dielectrics keep the color values above the 10% darkest and below the 5% lightest for the base color map.
  • In most cases the metallic input is either 1 for metals or 0 for dielectrics. Seldomly much in between.
  • When the metallic input is 1, the specular has no effect. The specular is instead calculated from the base color.
  • Roughness is the most artistic map, use it to tell the story of your object
  • The normal map is angle data for outgoing light rays and not height information.

Below is a list of links to some of the sources for this article. If you want more, check out our other articles and tutorials. A handful is linked below.

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The ultimate reference photos workflow in a nutshell

Imagine that you have just decided what is going to be your next 3D project and you are thinking bout where to start. Well reference photos of course. You should always start with reference and you should keep them around through your whole project. Pinterest is a great tool to help you sort and organize your reference images and in this article, we will walk through how we can use it together with Kuadro and Downalbum to get good control over the reference we chose to use.

Pinterest is a kind of social media platform that is not very social at all. But it is a very good way to keep track of and sorting images that you find across the web or that images that other people have already pinned. Pinning is just a word that Pinterest use to say that an image has ben saved to a board. A board in turn is a folder that is ether public or private.

First off, creating an account. Go to pinterest.com and you will immediately be presented with a form to create an account. You can ether enter an email and password or login through an existing Facebook or google account. Personally, I always use the e-mail approach because if I ever have problems with one of my other social media accounts my account for the given web service, like Pinterest in this case will be a separate stand-alone account that I still will be able to access.

Create pinterest account

Once your info is entered you will have to confirm your email address, or not if you chose one of the other methods and then you will be ready to start. Pinterest will first ask you a little bit about what you like. Kind of like a wizard to walk through to get your account started and filled with some content to show on your front page. Once inside click on your name in the top bar.

Pinterest header bar

Here you can see that you have the option to create a board or a secret board. A secret board will only be accessible to you and no other people on Pinterest can see or use them. This is usually where I start but then I might turn a board into a regular shared board once it has begun to be populated.

Now we can start to collect our reference photos. We will start by staying within Pinterest and search for references that other people have already pinned and shared. For example, I have been interested in making a scene with a medieval or older bridge, so I start with those search terms. When you find an image that you like you just hover the mouse over it and click save. You will then be prompted to choose the board that you want to save this pin on. If you have multiple boards the board will then be bumped to the top of the list after a pin, so you don’t have to find it for every pin you make. Keep on trying search terms related to your subject and you will son have a well populated board of images related to your subject.

Pin image brdige

A few tips on searching for reference photos

With the medieval bridge as an example I might want to search for bricks to get good closeup images of bridges to add to the board. I might be inclined to use words like fence because most bridges have a fence or railing to hold on to. Keep narrowing down the search terms to individual pieces. You can also search for the materials that those pieces are made of. I might want a stone bridge with a rusty metal railing. Maybe I can find a good-looking balcony that can help me with that railing?

When your board is getting filled with enough reference photos. Maybe 50 pins or above depending on your project of course, you can click on your profile image / name in the top bar again and select your board to view it in all its glory.

Now if you want to pin images from another sources Pinterest has a great browser plugin. Go to this link(https://help.pinterest.com/en/articles/all-about-pinterest-browser-button#Web) and chose your browser to get the instructions on how to install the plugin. When it’s installed it may work a bit differently in different browser. For instance, in Chrome you get a save icon whenever you hover an image anywhere on the web. Click it and chose your board. Simple as that. You can also click the Pinterest icon in the browser header to get a listing of all the images on the current page to easier find and pin multiple images from the same site.

Now that is the basics of using Pinterest as a tool for organizing reference images onto boards. One of the downsides of Pinterest though is that you can’t rearrange the pins inside the board. They will be added in the order you pin them. To combat this, we will now investigate how we can download an entire board and then use a program like Kuadro or PureRef to view our reference in a customized organized way.

Download and view a board on your computer

The software that we will need to follow along is the following

Chrome you probably already got, Downalbum is just a button to click to add the extension next to our already added Pinterest extension. Kuadro in turn is just a download and start and it will run as a tray icon. No installation. We will assume that you have downloaded and installed all the above software.

To start off you use Chrome to browse to the board you want to download. Next you will use the DownAlbun by clicking on it’s icon. It will become colored if the site you are on is compatible. Chose “Normal” in the interface that comes up. Then click output after a few short seconds depending on how large your board is. Now you will be prompted with the pinned images in a different interface. At the top it says press ctrl+s… We better obey. You will get prompted to save an html file. Name it to something suitable or leave it. Wherever you create this file a subfolder will be created with the same name as the file with a “_files” added to it. Click the up arrow next to the newly downloaded file and chose to open in folder. The subfolder will be inside containing all the downloaded images. We will also have a file with the extension .download and one with extension .css. You can delete these files as well as the html file. The board is now downloaded.

Downalbum Icon
Downalbum output
Downalbum save image

Now open Kuadro. It will be run, and a tray icon will be added down by the clock. Click it add select “Add local image” Browse to the folder of the downloaded images and select them all. Hit open. They will be stacked on top of each other so start dragging the top ones around to view the ones below.

You are now ready to arrange the board on your desktop. Perhaps on a second monitor. I find this to be a good workflow to get your reference photos arranged well both online and locally on your hard drive as well as viewable in a nice predictable way.

Kuadro is a very nice software to display reference photos. Click the tray icon and chose about to learn more about how it can be used to resize, pan around and rotate the images as well as some other features. The shortcuts I use the most are listed here.

  • Click and drag to move
  • Hover corners of active image to resize it’s canvas
  • Mousewheel to zoom
  • Middle mouse click and hold to pan if image is zoomed
  • H or V to flip the image, sometimes this feature gets stuck, zoom and move the image a bit usually resolves this.
  • G for grayscale
  • Hold T and drag with the left mouse to decrease or increase transparency of the image
  • Right click on image for menu
Kuadro logo
Kuadro menu
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21 resources for artists you may not know about

As 3D artists, we are always on the hunt for good resources. I like to add more and more bookmarks to my browser as often as I get the chance. Here I have tried to gather some resources that I think is less known or at least less talked about in the 3D artists community. The quality may vary. Have a look for yourself and see if anything interests you. The list contains both software and websites.

Websites

Let’s start with some web resource, all the resources are on the web but duh! You know what I mean.

First off, some texture resources.

Textures.com is a very well known site for textures. In the Blender community, we also got poliigon.com that was started by Blender guru. Both well known. Textures.com have a limited number of downloads for their lower resolution textures as well as a high-resolution texture every day that you can download. Both sites have their own take on royalty free license but they are both similar with what they allow.

A couple of other resources that is cc0 and pretty impressive is first, the Chocofur material library. All their textures are free and cc0 licensed. You only need an account to download the entire library of textures. The second cc0 texture resource that I want to share is at yethiel.wordpress.com. They have a shared library of about 5GB of cc0 texture resources that can be downloaded.

Enough with the textures already let’s get on to some images.

Pixabay.com is pretty well known, they have over 1.1 million cc0 images now, not long ago I remember it to be around 600k and it has grown fast. Now there is some alternatives to this site that also follow the same or similar licensing. They are the following in no order.

Now for some places to gather reference images.

The above sites can be used for that but here is some extra. Pinterest is the most common place for finding reference today I think and it is currently not matched in my opinion. Just make sure you draw inspiration from multiple images instead of copying straight off. Anyway, for architectural rendering Houzz is an awesome website to get some nice reference as well. You can make an account and save images in idea books to organize them.  Just as a side note for any fantasy or character artists. I don’t know much of resources for that other than some brilliant games. But I am sure you already figured that out. Instead I want to point your attention to seventhsanctum.com they don’t have any images but what they do have is a whole lot of generators. Sometimes you need a story for a character and a randomly generated text for a character may sometimes be a good place to start. Or why not generate a name or a weapon.

Ok I don’t really have any good HDRI resources to share so I will move on to some software that I use together with Blender. They can also be used together with other 3d packages as well I’m sure.

Software

The obvious ones are complementary 2D applications Krita and gimp. I myself don’t use gimp but I use Krita quite a bit. No point for me to talk about those though sense most information is told and told again over thousands of times for those software. Anyway, I got some other stuff to share. First off is Kuadro. It’s a lightweight software for loading reference images. It’s great for resizing and moving images around on a second monitor to glance over at while you work. Another great place to look is at gravit.io. They have a a cool vector graphics app as well as an in-browser app for graphics design. Then again, talking about vector graphics and not mentioning Inkscape as an open source alternative would not be fair.

Before you get to work though you may need to do some prep work and sure, OneNote or Evernote can be good tools to gather information about what you will be making but I also want to give a little hint in the direction of Xmind. It’s a Mind mapping application that can be nice to use for fleshing out ideas or planning. Okok I got a few more to share. Next up is Rawtherapee. It’s kind of like a Lightroom alternative. It’s not as simple and uses a more technical terminology and the functionality probably doesn’t overlap 100% But it’s good for postprocessing of single images. Now some 3D guys out there like to photograph their own textures and for them, Digicam Control can be a cool software to check out if you have a DSLR for the task. It’s basically for controlling your camera from the computer. It allows for some pretty fine adjustments and control over settings.

Now we are coming to the end. Up last is the Sweet Home 3D software. I don’t know how well known it is but it got some nice functionality and you can export most of what you make in sweet home 3d to SVG or OBJ format that you can import into blender or other 3d package. For instance, you can make your own floorplan and ether export and import to blender or just take a screenshot and have the image as background image in blender as a guide to model your house. Ok I hope you found some new resource that you didn’t know about before that can be of help to you. If not, well at least I enjoyed writing about it.

Some other resources you may like

Blender Shear Tool Short tutorial#2

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