How to use PBR Materials

A CGI render of a loose knit created using Houdini and Redshift

If you’re new to 3D graphics or looking to level up your skills, you’ve come to the right place. PBR materials allow you to create realistic surfaces in your 3D scenes. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the basics, but first,

What are PBR Materials?

PBR stands for Physically Based Rendering. Unlike traditional rendering techniques, PBR materials simulate how light interacts with real-world surfaces. This means your materials will look more accurate and lifelike.

“Hang on, materials and textures are different?!”

PBR materials are basically a collection of textures that are designed to be connected as maps into a Arnold/Redshift/<insert your renderer>StandardMaterial. “Hang on, materials and textures are different?!” Yup, read “Difference between Textures, Shaders, and Materials” for disambiguation.

How to Use PBR Materials:

  • Texture Basics:
    • PBR textures include maps for Base Color, Roughness, Height, Normal, Metallic, and Ambient Occlusion, each defining different material properties.
  • Material Setup:
    • Import and map the texture files onto your model in Blender or Maya, ensuring proper UV unwrapping. Be sure to interpret Base Color as sRGB, and the other maps as RAW data.
  • Connect Maps:
    • Link the maps to corresponding inputs of the Principled BSDF shader: Base Color to Base Color, Roughness to Reflection Roughness, etc.
    • If you need a video guide on connect maps, you can find it here.
  • Specialized Properties / Limitations:
    • Certain real-world material properties cannot be properly mimicked by game engines, hence they are not commonly supported as PBR materials. And we’d need to rely on offline renderers like Arnold or Redshift. Like believable murky liquids, colored glass, sheen etc.
    • Examples of specialized material properties
      • Implement opacity, translucency, and double-sided rendering for realistic leaf materials.
      • Implement thin film for oily, iridescent, or pearlescent materials.
  • Surface Imperfections:
    • Enhance material realism with surface imperfections like smudges, fingerprints, and water droplets, adjusting their blending and strength accordingly.
    • These maps can be layered on to supplement the base PBR material that has been pre-designed.

Conclusion

Using PBR materials is a reliable and predictable way enhance the realism of your 3D projects, and you can find them for free at PolyHaven. With a bit of practice, you’ll be creating realistic materials in no time. For a more detailed guide on doing this Blender, please visit “How to use PBR Textures in Blender”. Also, I’ll write about the common misconceptions of PBR Materials, just to help student-types out a little bit with all the confusing terminology and less intuitive features. Happy rendering, and stay tuned!

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