Blender Basics: materials, textures & images

Make a simple chain in Blender

In the first part of this extended tutorial Blenders general appearance and interface was discussed. Next we looked at the basic keyboard and mouse combinations used to navigate and move around the application. After getting to grips with those core skills we began modeling a basic chair using common techniques as we progressed. We now need to texture the chair and give it a 'surface', for this we now need to turn to materials and textures.

Before proceeding, you need to make sure you have some images available for use, have unpacked the sample file to a location on your computer for use and/or know the location of either/or before doing the following.

Using materials and textures ^

Generally speaking, if you're making a model for use in a game or other 3D media it's going to need to be covered in some form of image to give the illusion of 'surface type', i.e. is it an object made from wood? Is it painted, decorated or made from something else? and so on, all of which is useful to 'visually describe' the object as the viewer observes it.

To do this the mesh will need three things;

  • A "material"

  • A "texture"

  • A "image"

You can actually have more than one of these per object, but for now we'll be using just one of each to keep things simple. So, looking at the image below this is what we have so far for our chair; a completed mesh.

Finished mesh in object mode

The chair as it look in 'solid' view OBJECT mode ready for the next stage.

The final chair as it looks in edit mode ready for UVWmapping

The chair as it looks in EDIT mode ("TAB"), ready for the next stage and UVW mapping

Applying materials to meshes/objects ^

The first thing to do at this point is to apply a material to the object; materials can be thought of in the same way a base coat of paint is applied to a real life object if you were wanting to paint or decorate it, its the underlying 'layer' on to which other layers of paint are added.

Make sure you're in OBJECT mode (the chair should look similar to the first image above - if it doesn't, press "TAB", then change the tool bar to 'materials' mode by pressing "F5" to open the "Shading" tool panels.

Switching to 'materials' mode - press "F5" for Shading options

"F5" Shading mode where materials are made

First select the chair mesh (RMB), then in the "Links and Pipeline" panel (see below) that should be visible as a result of switching the tool bar as described above, click on the double headed arrow to the left of "MA: Material", the following or similar should appear;

Adding a new material to a mesh in Blender

Clicking on the double-headed arrows shows available materials as well as the 'Add New' option to make a brand new material

There may or may not be a material already listed called "Material" alongside the "Add New" option; we're going to use the one that's already present ("Material") and just re-name that something more appropriate.

Design note: If no material is present, select "Add New" to make a new one and then continue as below.

Select "Material" from the pop-up list to make sure its associated with the mesh - you should see a slight colour change happen when it is, and then LMB click on the word "Material" as it appears in the text box (that has "MA: Material" in it), it should change and appear highlighted as selected text; go ahead and rename it to "wood" or something similarly appropriate (or you can leave it as is). Then, in the "Material" panel change the "R", "G" and "B" values using the sliders to a colour that approximates a 'wood' brown, like so;

Changing material colours

Changing material colours using the RGB colour sliders in the "Material" panel

Adding a texture to the material slot ^

Now that the chair model has a material, it now needs a texture associated with it; the image is what actually appears on the model when it's used in a game. To do this we need to use the "Texture Buttons" into which the texture will be loaded. With the chair still selected and the material applied, press "F6", or click the 'tiger' button (see image below) to switch to "Texture Buttons", the panels will change to reflect this new editing mode, as shown below.

Switching to Texture buttons

"F6" to switch to "Texture" mode so an image can be added to a material slot

In the "Texture" panel click the word "Tex" ("TE: Tex") so it highlights and rename it something appropriate; as with the Material set up, if one needs to be created simply click the double-headed arrow and select "Add New" then carry on as above and rename. Once done, click the "Texture Type" button and select "Image" from the drop-down list, the panels should then change to reflect this new option, as shown below.

Texture panel in Texture Buttons

The "Texture" slot panel

Secting "image" as the texture type

Select "Image" from the pop-up after clicking "Texture Type"

The "Image" panels that open after selecting "Image" as the texture type

On selecting "Image" as the "Texture Type" a new set of panels open

Loading an Image into a Materials Texture slot ^

In the "Image" panel, click the "Load" button to open the file browser and select a texture to apply to the model (LMB to select, RMB selects and highlights the entry); if you don't see anything when doing this then you'll need to browse the system. Blender has a particular way of doing this;

With the File Browser open as per above click the double-headed arrow on the left under the small pink button marked "P", this opens a submenu with letters corresponding to the number of available hard-drives - "c:\", "d:\" etc; clicking one of these will select that drive and 'expose' the folders, files and directories it contains. When exploring the now exposed contents folders and directories are represented by white text, all other files by black text; additionally any listing shown with a small blue icon is an image or file that Blender understands (shown below). To go back up the directory structure click the ".." entry at the top of the listings.

Design note: textures should be within what's called "power of two" dimensions, generally speaking sizes of 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048 (or multiples there-of) pixels in height or width. These are correct "256x512" or "64x512", these are not "200x341", "400x922". For more information on this, click here.

Load an image into the materials 'texture' slot

1) Press the "Load" button in the "Image" panel opening up the file browser so you can select an image for the texture to apply to the model (what you actually see may vary depending on what files you have available or where you extracted to and loading the sample file from)

Image loaded into the texture slot of the material

Image loaded into the texture slot so it displays in the "Image" panel. Note also the image has appeared in the sample window on the left replacing the previous black box (shown above)

Image applied to the texture slot, applied to the material

Final point in this section is to have an "Image" applied to the "Texture" slot, applied to the "Material", applied to the mesh, minus a UVW map (coming next)

Once this is done the chairs material will be set up - a texture slot and image are now available for the next stage; UVW unwrapping the mesh so we can see it applied to the object.

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