Good texturing is the key to making a model look realistic, but at times it can be quite hard. Today we have put together the easiest way to achieve realistic textures with Blender.
To start off, you are going to need a 3D model to try this on. You can use one of your own, or download a free one from a site like Blend Swap. Then we will need some lighting. You can use an HDRI for good. quick results.
Next you will need to get some textures for your model. These will dictate how your model will end up looking. Go onto a site like textures.com and navigate to the PBR (physically based render) section to get some free textures. For this tutorial you will need to have a diffuse map, a normal map, a heightmap, and a roughness map. (Fg. 1)
After you have found four maps, you can open up Blender. Before we get started creating the material, we need to unwrap the model. Unwrapping the model will let us choose how the textures are mapped on the model’s faces. A quick way to get good unwrapping is using Smart UV Project. This will unwrap orderly UVs, perfect for quick texturing. Hit U when in edit mode to bring up the UV Mapping manu. Click on ‘Smart UV Project’ and hit OK. Now you have good UVs on your model and we can start texturing.
To start making materials, make sure to have your model selected. Then look in the properties panel (right) and click on the materials tab (looks like a ball). Hit ‘New Material’. Next, to edit your material, go into the node editor tab by using the shortcut CTRL + LEFT ARROW. This will bring you into the compositing interface, where these is a node editor tab open.
Click ‘Use Nodes’ at the bottom bar of the node editor to engage Cycles nodes. Here’s where the fun starts. Use the shortcut SHIFT + A to add in a new node. Select the node desired by clicking on Search, then typing in the name. In this case we want the Principled BSDF node. Click on the name when it comes up in the search menu and it will be added to your node editor. This will be the basis of our material. To enable the Principled node we can grab the little output circle on the right side of the shader and drag it into the Material Output’s Surface input. (Fg. 2)
Next we will bring our textures into the node editor. We can do this by bringing up the Add menu (SHIFT + A) then searching for ‘Image Texture’. When you bring in the image texture, you can place it off to the left of the Principled Shader, where we can connect it later. For now we can use that new node to bring in our textures. Hit ‘Open’ on the image texture node, then navigate to the folder where you stored your textures. Click on your Albedo texture and hit open at the top right. Now you have your first texture in the editor!
Next we need to connect that material to the Principled shader. We can do that by grabbing the output of the image texture and connecting it to the Base Color of the Principled node. (Fg. 3)
Now that we connected our image texture node, our model will have our image applied to it. Check it out by going to the 3D view interface (CTRL + RIGHT ARROW) and then going into render view mode (SHIFT + Z). You will hopefully be able to see your texture on your model now. Next we will be adding more textures to make the effect more realistic.
To make the material more realistic, we can add the normal map which adds shadows so it looks 3D, the roughness map, which adds gloss, and the height map which is a broader (enhances the bigger details) normal map. To add these, you can duplicate your previous image texture by selecting it and using SHIFT + D. Drag your mouse away and then left-click, and you have a new image texture. Open up our next texture by clicking the little folder icon beside the file name, then navigating to the folder where you stored your textures. This time open up the roughness map. Grab the output for the image texture and plug it into the roughness input on the Principled shader. Lastly click on the ‘Color’ dropdown under your file name and set it to Non-Color Data. (Fg. 4)
Now for the height and the normal maps, we need to do something a little different. First start off by doing the same steps we used on the last texture. Duplicate the node and then open up a new texture. Add the height map this time. Now that we have it open we need to plug it into the normal input at the bottom of the Principled shader. But before we can do that we need to run it though something called a bump node. Add in a bump node with SHIFT + A and put it between the image texture and the Principled shader. Attach the output of the Image Texture to the height input of the bump node and then attach the bump output to the Normal input. Make sure that the texture is set to Non-Color Data.
Next we need the normal map. We can duplicate another image texture and then open your normal map with it. Then add in a new node called ‘Normal Map’. Attach the output of the image texture to the color input of the normal map and the output to the normal input on the bump map. (Fg. 5)
Now, after all this, you should have a realistic texture on your model. There are still more maps you could add to make it more realistic (like a Metalness map) but this is the basis for almost all the materials you will be making.