When a designer has completed the form features of a product design using 3D model software, the dimensions and color of the object may be complete, but the whole job has one more task to finish the design for a realistic appearance. Right now, the model looks like (and can actually be printed using a 3D printer) molded plastic. It is smooth and may appear either dull or glossy. In fact, the finished surface may actually be intended to appear this way, in which case the design is complete.
But if the product, say a wood and leather chair, is supposed to have the texture of these two materials — the weathered grain of old wood, and the pebbled and folded appearance of loose leather upholstery, then the flat, dull appearance of molded plastic looks amateurish by comparison to its intended material appearance.
If the designer wants the model to present a realistic appearance, some modifications to the 3D model will need to be made. Here is how to accomplish it:
The 3D model software includes the artificial application of a feature the actual product will always have: lighting from a designated source (above, below, to one side or another, etc.), type (natural sunlight, incandescent, fluorescent, etc.) and intensity (harsh or soft). By manipulation of the software lighting features, the model’s surface will acquire a more natural appearance.
Then, the surface map default can be adjusted. After selecting the color(s) for the surface, there is a default setting for light absorption and reflectance, shadow and highlight, and glossy to matte texture. These surface map details can be adjusted accordingly from the default settings and will further assist the designer to determine how the manipulation of surface mapping adjusts how light reacts to the surface.
Surface map adjustments can even assist the designer in the relative material choices available for the product. For example, the designer may find that with manipulation of the surface map variables, the original wood features would work better with the leather if they were changed to stainless steel. This kind of manipulation of the surface map, or color for that matter, can help determine the best material choices for a new chair design without having to reconstruct the entire model. Various revisions of design and material choices, and other parameters, can be saved as separate files until the designer is satisfied with the best combination of materials and features.
Finally, the designer can use bump, or texture mapping. This 3D model software feature allows modification of the surface vector points to change the features of the surface. Every material has texture, even a flat sheet of steel or a mirror, just as much as a deep cracks in wood and the grainy surface of sandpaper. The designer can apply folds, as loose leather will have in upholstery, and light to deep grain texture in wood for the chair design.
By manipulation of color, lighting, surface and texture mapping, the the 3D model software can duplicate the design as envisioned in the designer’s head and present an accurate visual model.