Materialism (1)

As promised, I wanted to follow up on my Eames series with a few pointers about the materials created for the chairs. This is the first in a series of mini how-to tuts about materials.

The Eames chairs are a good place to start. They all use materials that are meant to show some age, a certain vintage quality and patina, yet are as simple as materials can get. They are a good way to demonstrate how materials can be made to look realistic without necessarily using complex, multi-layered setups that would take a long time to render. I will explore more complex materials later on (indeed, I’m planning a post just about multi-layered mats), but, for the sake of economy, I only use them in my work to achieve effects that cannot be obtained with single-layer mats.

For this series, I have cobbled together a material test scene. I may upload it for free to TS if there is interest, but there really is nothing to it. For illumination, it uses an HDR map and two light planes (left and above). HDRIs in material testing scenes are anathema to purists because they give the mats a non-neutral colour cast. I don’t care. I want my materials to look the way they would in a fully constructed scene and an HDRI map is the most efficient way to recreate a plausible physical environment for the ball to to reflect and refract. In any case, I would trust such a material scene vastly more than I would the mat editor’s preview, which has a way of looking very much unlike what the mat will look like in the scene.

A few points before looking at the specific mats.

1. Material creation should always be done by using real-world reference. Try to look at the actual objects whose features you are trying to re-create, or at least look at several photos taken in different light conditions. Do not create materials just from memory or by looking at other artists’ renders. Also, do not hesitate to ask colleagues, partners or your kids about what they think of your materials – a fresh pair of eyes, possibly belonging to someone who has little to do with CG, is the best way to tell you if you are on the right track.

2. Be as subtle as you can be. When fine-tuning a specular or bump map, find a setting you like, then take the effect down one or two notches. Some things should only be suggested.

3. Do not feel like you have to use variations of the same map in all your slots. Real life does not always work like that (although it sometime does). Add extra, discrete layers to your glossiness and bump maps – they will only add to the material’s realism.

4. Even when doing single-layer materials, don’t be afraid of layering your maps by using Max’s composite map or Vray’s blended textures. These multilayered maps are a good way of masking repetitions in tiled bitmaps and can help you conserve memory by deriving many different looks from a limited number of maps.

Eames plastic red

This is one of the simplest materials in the scene, used on the plastic version of the chair shells (for reference, the ball is 40x40cm). Here is how it looks like in Slate, including a few details about the diffuse slot:

I could have used a plain colour here, or a VrayColor if I needed float values. The reason I used a bitmap instead was that I wanted to be able to easily switch the colour of the chair to one of a few pre-determined hues. So I painted a small colour swatch in Photoshop showing all the available tints for these chair models and used the CroppingPlacement took in the bitmap editor in Max to isolate only one colour – in this particular case a slightly orangey red.

The next step was to add a very subtle imperfection to the surface. I didn’t want it to be visible in the diffuse, only in the specular and glossiness slots, which is enough to give a slightly aged, real-world feel to the material. Here is a low-res version of the map I used in the specular slot (note that I only used unfiltered bitmaps, regardless of the slot, even  though that can lead to longer render times):

You see that I used a much lighter, low-contrast version of the same map in the glossiness map. That’s what you want to do, but you don’t have to do it that way. Most of the time, you can get along by using a colour-correct map to extract a lighter, lower-contrast version of the spec map, which you can then plug into the glossiness slot.

Lastly, I opted for a procedural noise map to replicate the rugged, high-frequency bump on the plastic shell. Here is the setup (note the very low scale):

Here are the details about the material proper. I’ve marked in red the important bits. These include Fresnel reflection on – as it should be for all materials except very reflective metals; Reflection subdivs of 64 – which can be lowered depending on your render settings; reflection cut-off value of 0,001 (instead of the default 0,01), which will ensure accurate reflections when working in linear space; specular, glossiness and bump map contributions of 40, 55 and 18 per cent respectively – essentially a way to fine-tune how heavily the map will affect the final result.

Here is what the material looks like on a real model:

And here is how it looks in black, which tells us one important thing – darker materials look more reflective:



This material (designed for the vintage version of the chair as environmentally-unfriendly fibreglass was originally used before it became technically possible to cast entire plasic shells in one go) was derived from the plastic material with the following tweaks:

1. A dirtier diffuse made by merging the colour bitmap with a dirt map using a composite map set to a “multiply” blending mode at 75 per cent;

2. A lower glossiness for sharper reflection and a slightly higher specularity;

3. A “fibreglass” bump map – actually a normal map derived from photos of real vintage chair shells (I only used the fibreglass map in the bump slot because it was too repetitive to be used in the diffuse slot, which I should ideally have done). There are many different Photoshop plugins and standalone applications to derive normal maps from photos. One cost-effective but bare-bone standalone solution is Shadermap. Another, costlier but integrated in Photoshop and endowed with more controls is Pixplant. Note that normal maps should be loaded as bitmaps with a gamma of 1.0 and plugged into a Normalbump or VrayNormal maps before being plugged into the bump slot of the material.

4. The dirt, specular and glossiness maps are the same that were used in the plastic material.

Here is how the material looks like in slate:

And in the editor:

Sharp and painted metals

This example shows how minimal changes can yield completely different looking materials. The main difference between these two is the absence of fresnel reflection (for the chrome mat) and a dedicated bump map (for the black paint mat). Otherwise, they share most of their characteristics, as you can see here:

This is the kind of material that succeeds or fails based on the quality of the textures. I used three here:

1. A specular map designed to give a very, very subtle variation in reflectivity across the surface;

2. a glossiness map, basically scratches, finger- and handprints painted with custom brushes in Photoshop;

3. a bump map to “break” the surface of the painted material (note how the bright spots on the map read like the grains of sand or dust you often see on shoddy paint jobs).

Here are the two materials in the editor. Note that I’m using a Ward this time, which works better for metals. Also, you will notice that the contribution of the glossiness map is extremely low – you really want this to be very subtle. If you cannot make it subtle enough, try loading the bitmap with a gamma of one, which will make it even fainter.

Old, tired metal

I needed an older metal for my vintage chairs. This one was totally over-the-top, but I quite liked the effect in the end so I decided to include it here, just as an example of the interesting effects you can obtain with single-layered materials and the right bitmaps.

Here are the details:

A few things to note:

1. Fresnel reflection is not active, yet the reflectivity of the metal is low, giving it a dustier look. The map only contributes 15 per cent of specularity, with the specularity colour contributing the rest. Mixing bitmaps and colours to generate the overall reflectivity will make the effect more subtle.

2. The diffuse map was desaturated via a colour-correction map before use.

3. The specular/glossiness maps are the same and, like the normal map, were derived from an inverted greyscale version of the diffuse (the white scratches had to be indented and unreflective, not prominent and reflective).

Here is the maps I used:

That’s it for today. I hope this was of some interest. I’ll be back shortly with a look at more complex materials. Of course, feel free to ask if you would like to know about a specific material or effect.


  1. Dear Bertrand, a little question if you don’t mind: with this amount of commercial and personal work, how are your hands holding up? Do you model with a tablet by any chance, I mean besides the ZB sculpting and the PS texture painting? If so, is it comfortable in Max?

  2. Manu, I don’t model with a tablet. Just with an old-school mouse. I paint and sculpt with a Wacom though…

    • TW
    • May 15, 2012

    Hi Bertrand,

    great work thanks for the insight, any plans on making the files available for download to experiment with your settings in max?

  3. great information, the plastic material ist simple but very effective.
    i like the number in the post title 🙂

  4. The detail in your texture maps are superb. You’re work alone has made us work harder on textures and mapping. Thanks for this article. Great tips. MORE!

  5. I noticed that you said “Here is a low-res version of the map I used in the specular slot (note that I only used unfiltered bitmaps, regardless of the slot, even though that can lead to longer render times):” .
    Does that mean you chose “none” in the filtering option?
    I bought your “Loft” scene and I was checking your settings and the maps have small blur options, but none of them have the “none” ption int the filtering.

  6. Dear Sir, when can we expect Materialism part 2? I eagerly await it like i’m sure many others do too. Thanks.

  7. Jasper: Hopefully it won’t have to wait much longer. I’d like to post a few things first, though, before I return to Materialism. BTW, feel free to ask if there is any material in particular you would want to see covered.

    Studio2a: Glad it could be of some help. The next installment should be more interesting, I hope.

    Sidney: You are right, the Chicago Loft started life a long time ago and that is how I used to do things. Now I would remove the filtering altogether as it gives much nicer bump and more details, especially on diffuse textures at grazing angles. Only in rare circumstances – such as when I need the map to be slightly blurry or on extreme close-ups or when unfiltered maps get too long to render – would I retain the filtering.

    • mez
    • June 8, 2012

    very nice material / shader, thanks a lot for sharing, your work is really an inspiration.

  8. Pingback: Vray materials tutorial by Bertrand Benoit

    • Dhawal
    • June 21, 2012

    Simply great work sir……
    Want to ask you a question…..How we can put dirt between two completely different objects and two completely different materials?….like between a concrete road divider and asphalt road surface?

  9. You could use the VrayDistanceTexture to tell Vray to create dirt on an object depending on its proximity to another object. There are some good examples of this on the Vray help page. 3ds Max prohibits circular (or mutual) references, however, so you may have to create an invisible proxy object for one of your two objects if you want, say, curb and road to influence each other in the same way.

  10. hello bertrand,
    first of all, thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. it is always exciting when such a great professional shares his passion with the rest of the world. this tutorial made not only my day, i think it made my month – or something along these lines. i improved the look of my materials a lot after reading and i would like to thank you for that. because you posted several times that we could ask for which materials we would like to be covered i have a request. i know you focus a lot on interior for architecture, but i was wondering if you could possibly cover some exterior materials like asphalt, concrete, industrial-looking walls, a dirty road and so on. i would love to know how you would approach an asphalt street or a similar topic like the ones i listed. i realize it may be quite “off topic” from what you normally do for interiors but i thought i’d ask anyway !
    i will be soon purchasing a bunch of your product to use in my scene, both because i love them and as a way of saying thank you for putting such good content online for free.

    best regards,

  11. Hi bertrand, thanks for this tutorial and for the free mat scene!, I have 2 questions for you 1º what kind of hardware setup do you have? your scene takes some time to render, and second, I don´t know if your gonna make a second series on materialism, but if you do can you make one on bricks or floor tiles, repetition is always so hard to avoid….

  12. Hello. I noticed that you are using fresnel reflections for these different materials but you don’t mention what IOR you end up using in the reflection properties. Am I missing something or are you always using the same value? thanks, great work!

  13. Hi MattZap. Very often I just use the default 1.6, which I find to work well for most non metallic materials. I would only use a different IOR when doing very specific materials, certain types of rough stone, velvet, water or glass…

  14. Nicolas: yes, i haven’t given up on materialism II. I just need to find some time to put it together. My system is a twin Xeon workstation that is really beginning to show its age. But I’m sure the scene could be optimised to render faster. Right now the settings are quite high.

  15. Qwerty: thanks for the input. Let me think about it. I haven’t settled on a final list of materials yet.

  16. I thought the IOR is a very crucial property for different kinds of materials. for example shouldn’t different kinds of plastics have different IOR?

  17. Ultimately, what is right is what looks right to you. Since Vray doesn’t use perfectly physically correct mats, there’s a bit of eyeballing involved. It’s the way I work, anyway, and like I said, I may use different IOR values, and indeed custom fresnel curves via falloff maps, if I want to achieve a specific look.

  18. Fantastic tutorial love the fingerprints on the chrome! I do have a general materials question: I’m trying to save some multi/sub object materials in a .mat library for some vray proxies I’ve created such as grass and vegetation. The problem is when I start a new scene and open the .mat library I saved, the materials and their settings are all their but all the texture maps are missing and I have to manually relocate them. It gets to be very time consuming as some multi/subs will have up to 8 ID’s with color corrections so I’ll spend a lot of time just clicking around. Is there a way to circumnavigate this issue? Thank you for your time.

  19. Jontmorris: I gave up a long time ago about trying to build material libraries for Max. Max is just not very good at this. Instead, I build object materials. So for each of my proxies I’ve built a small, standardised Max scene with all proxies already assigned with a material – best way to merge them fast into a new scene.

  20. Had a feeling that was the case. Thanks again though looking forward to your next “Materialism” installment.

  21. Bertrand, your work is absolutely stunning. I am relatively new to Archvis, and I have been spending many sleepless nights trying to wrap my head around various workflows from “the masters”. I was wondering if you could clear a couple things up for me as a relative noob. 🙂

    1. In your above comment regarding the construction of “object materials”, can you break down this process in a little bit more detail? As an organization/cataloging nutcase, I am in the middle of building my own library of custom models and materials, but I have no clue as to the best way to store, import, and export everything. I’ve currently just been keeping a bunch of 3ds/max files in organized folders and applying materials to them when I create my scene. If you follow a streamlined workflow to save .max files such that when importing/merging a model, all of the original materials and textures come with it – it would be amazing and a huge help for you to break this down.

    2. With regard to proxies as per above, do you always import objects as vray proxies? I’ve never really used them – all I really know is that it’s good for reducing the immediate polycount so you can navigate the viewport more quickly. How do you customize materials for each item/proxy with this setup?

    Again, I’m absolutely floored by your work. Thanks for sharing so much about your process as well, I’ve already spent close to five hours straight toonight just reading comments and posts. 🙂

  22. @ Joseph. I believe what Bertrand is describing is simply saving a vray proxy as a single mesh i.e. exporting as vray mesh object as well as saving the original model file with materials applied. I am also an organizational nutcase but good organization is a defining characteristic of one who strives for professionalism.
    With that said this is how I personally organize my proxy library: I have one folder called VRay Proxy Archive. This folder contains all my vraymesh/proxies/whatever you want to call them. Then I have another folder called Object Material Archive. This folder contains the original models prior to exporting them as vray mesh objects. Each of these files contains the materials and shaders (usually multi/subobjects) and is completely editable as they are essentially just scenes with the one object.
    Now you can open a new scene and create a vray proxy from the create panel in max by switching from “standard primitives” in the rollout to “vray” where you will find vray proxy. However once you add a proxy to the scene this way it will not have materials applied. This is where you have to import that original object material which is through file>merge or file>import>merge depending on your version of max. You can copy the material from that original object using the little eyedropper in the material editor. Once you’ve got the material you can delete the original “object material” and just apply it to the proxy you created. It’s tedious and if there’s a more efficient way I’d like to know as well. But once you’ve done that you can copy that proxy to your hearts content and maintain a ton of performance. Remember: a proxy is basically just a place-holder for a complex set of geometry and will save you a ton of ram.

  23. Sorry guys for being elusive in the past couple of weeks. I haven’t forgotten the blog but been tied up by a few things.

    To follow up on the topic of organisation and proxies, I do store very complex models that need to be repeated many times in a scene (trees, high-poly cars, 3D characters…) as proxies in order to lighten the scene file, make it easier to navigate and to conserve RAM at render time.

    For trees, for instance, I would store each individual tree in a separate Max scene within a “trees” folder. Each scene contains both an editable version of the tree (usually a GrowFX model) or at least a poly version, so as to be modifiable, and a proxy version, each assigned with the same material.

    That way, all you need to do in a new scene is to merge the proxy tree into that scene and hit render, since this proxy already has a material.

  24. Bertrand, I do have a question about double glazed glass effect for offset reflections. Do you use a simple box and activate the “Reflect on Back Side” in the glass shader? Or do you actually model two separate plains or boxes close to one another to get this effect? A combination of the two? Thank you for your excellent wisdom and willingness to share.

  25. Hi. I always model two panes, with different bump maps so that the reflection do not perfectly align.

  26. All the things you share is superb and gives us new insights. I have a question though.
    What is your gamma setup? Because when i saved the picture of the material setup for your metal the photoshop gave me 21/21/21 for the diffuse and that did not look like grey at all so I drew the conclusion you either do not use gamma 2.2 or did not tick “affect color selectors”.
    I am scrutinizing this because I am having a hard time rendering black shiny metals. When I use 5/5/5 for the diffuse they turn out grey I mean 50% grey even if I turn fresnel on. Could it be my lighting or is there something I am missing?

  27. I would love to see you do a write up on vray 2 sided material. Specifically I want a noticeable amount of light cast on to the ground through curtains that partially cover a window but to get the desired amount my curtains become blown out… I’m assuming there is a way to control these two attributes independently via 2 sided materials? Hope I’m not the only one that has this problem and looking stupid =P Thanks.

    • Rich
    • September 6, 2012

    Love the first instalment, bring on the more complex materials plzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Thanks mate

    • BogP
    • September 8, 2012

    Thanks a bunch for the tutorials! Very helpful!
    I was wondering where did you get the bump for the black painted metal? Or did you make it yourself?
    Good day to you!

  28. Hey Betrand love the blog man kinda addicted to it, was hoping you could humor me by making a wood and poly oxygenated concrete! Your texturing and shading is prob the best I’ve seen and really appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us instead of keeping it a secret! Respect man cheers!

    • Wade
    • September 25, 2012

    I would love to see a material tutorial on wood. It seems to plague me all the time.

  29. Hi
    Materials are fantastic. is it possible to buy them to use ?

  30. Hi Ewelina. Thanks. I have some textures with the corresponding materials for sale on TS, but not these ones. I will think about it.

  31. how often do you use real world scale verses other option is and is like actual size in units say CM or inches?

  32. Many thanks for your hard work and insights. My vote for “Materials Part II”… Glass (maybe a few variations!) and Water. Part III… Flowers & Leather.

    You are a Brunelleschi in the 21st century~

  33. Thanks Paulpriv. That was one hell of a compliment!
    Your suggestions have been duly noted and archived in the Materialism ledger.
    I’m currently going through a major hardware upgrade and it’s taking time to migrate to the new Monster. That means I may post less in the next few weeks, though when I’m up and running, I’ll be able to work a lot faster and, hopefully, produce more stuff.

  34. Hello

    Can you answer a detail, despite already having spent 6 months when it was posted the last question? Even though we have to observe everything around us, how do you find values ​​so subtle reflection, refraction, fresnel? You do the test render at high resolution to find these values​​? Because when we do the test renders at low resolution, these properties are not very visible.

    Thank you.
    I am an admirer of your work.
    Anisio Goulart

  35. Hi Bertrand!
    Thanks a lot for your great work and for sharing it with us. I follow your blog with great passion.I’m an architect but I love photography and archiviz too. I need to ask you a little question. I didn’t understand how you usually archive your materials. You said that you give up trying to sort them out in max, but instead you build object materials….what does actually mean? If I got it you have all your materials archived in standardised Max scenes?! is it right? For istance should I keep all my plastic/metal/wood materials in separate max scenes, so that i could merge each of them into any new project? If yes, where would you store your textures? I’m a bit confused…
    Thanks a lot! All the best
    Alessio. IT

  36. Sorry guys for being so slow to answer. Really struggling to keep the blog fresh these days.

    Alessio: Tricky question. The answer is, I generally do not archive my materials at all. Indeed, I’m not very good at archiving anything and neither is Max. One reason is the absence of an easily usable format so store materials independently of libraries or scenes. Another is that most of my materials tend to be topology-dependent, due to unwrapped UVs, dirt-maps etc. So most of the time, they are actually faster to create from scratch than to adapt from older materials – as are most simple materials, like glass, rubber…

    Anisio: As far as materials are concerned, I eyeball everything and never use physical measurements. I tend to refer to photographs or actual object. And I do a lot of high-res test renders. They do not have to take very long to render if you develop materials in separate scenes using just one or two objects and HDR illumination.

    • Lyle
    • October 30, 2013

    Hi Bertrand,
    A bit of a late comment in this thread. Just a couple of questions:
    1. What size in px. are your materials usually? 2K, 4K, 6K?
    2. Do you make multiple sets of materials, such as a high res for close-ups and low res?
    3. Do you usually use square materials, or are they irregularly shaped (rectangles) based on what they are going to be placed on?
    I use VrayforC4D, but heard that generally using square materials helps speed up rendering…

    All the best,

  37. Pingback: Architexture Studio » Materialism by Bertrand Benoit – Eames Chairs

    • manuqc
    • May 21, 2014

    Hi Bertrand,

    Great work on your site, you have a good eye for lighting! I personally work in film doing lookdev & textures. So my workflow is to usually do the lookdev (shading) of an asset before I start texturing it, also to see if I can get some procedural choices before spending time doing all in maps, I think that is a good approach. I do have mostly experience in Arnold though and I was wondering if you color picked your greyscale values for glossiness and reflection level maps from actual shading values on your shader or do you go by eye when you create this maps, meaning if you prefer to grade your greyscale maps to a specific value or just get something by eye that looks close…



  38. Manuqc: I eyeball everything. Very unscientific. But I generally don’t spend too much time on grading my greyscale maps in Photoshop. I prefer to tweak the output values directly in Max for a faster workflow. Very much into combining procedurals and bitmaps too for variation and extra geometry-dependent details. But I rarely use purely procedural maps, generally a mixture of both.

    • rawrtoo
    • August 27, 2014

    HI Bertrand, Thank you very much for such wonderful sharing. Much appreciated and looking forward to more of your work! 🙂

    • DamianT
    • May 31, 2015

    Hi. Could you share the Painted Metal material?

    • Kenza
    • September 18, 2018

    You are the materials magician, thank you for sharing 🙂

    • Kenza
    • September 20, 2018

    You’re the virtuoso of materials, thank you for sharing.

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