(For more resources on Blender, see here.)
Before we start to dig into textures, let me say that the biggest problem of working with them is actually finding or creating a good texture. That’s why it’s highly recommended that you start to create your own textures library as soon as possible. Textures are mostly image files, which represent some kind of surface, such as wood or stone, based on the photography. They work like wallpaper, which we can place on a surface or object. For instance, if we place an image of wood on a plane, it will give the impression that the plane is made of wood. That’s the main principle of using textures; to make an object look like something in the real world. For some projects, we may need a special kind of texture, which won’t be found in a common library, so we will have to take a picture ourselves or buy an image from someone.
But don’t worry, because often we deal with common surfaces that have common textures as well.
Procedural textures vs. Non-procedural textures
Blender basically has two types of textures, which are procedural textures and bitmap textures. Each one has positive and negative points; which one is the best? It will depend on your project needs:
- Procedural: This kind of texture is generated by the software at rendering time, just like vector lines in software, such as Inkscape or Illustrator. This means that it won’t depend of any type of image file. The best thing about this type of texture is that being resolution-independent, we can set the texture to be rendered at high resolutions with minimum loss of quality. The negative point of this kind of texture is that it’s harder to get realistic textures with it. The advantage of using procedural textures is that because they are all based on algorithms, they don’t depend on a fixed number of pixels.
- Non-Procedural: To use this kind of texture, we will need an image file, such as a JPEG, PNG, or TGA file. The good thing about these textures is that we can quickly achieve a very realistic look and feel with it. On the other hand, we must find the texture file before using it. And what’s more, if you are creating a high-resolution render, the texture file size must be as well.
Do you remember the way we organized materials? We can do the exact same thing with textures. Besides setting names and storing the Blender files to import and use again later, collecting bitmap textures is another important point. Even if you don’t start right away, it’s important to know where to look for textures. So, here is a small list of websites, which provide free texture downloads:
To use a texture, we must apply a material to an object, and then use the texture with this material. We always use the texture inside a material. For instance, to make a plane that simulates a marble floor, we have to use a texture, and set up how the surface will react to light to give the surface a proper look of marble. To do that, we use the Texture panel, which is located right next to the Materials button. We can use a keyboard shortcut to open this panel; just hit F6 to open it:
There is a way to add a texture in the Material panel also, with a menu named Texture:
To get all the options, the best way to add a texture is with the Texture panel. In this panel, we will be able to see buttons, which represent the texture channels. Each one of these channels can hold a texture. The final texture will be a mix of all the channels. If we have a texture in channel 1 and another texture in channel 2, these textures will be blended and represented on the material.
Before adding a new texture, we must select a channel by clicking on one of them. Usually the first channel will be selected, but if you want to use another one, just click on the channel. When the channel is selected, just click on the Add New button to add a new texture:
The texture controls are very similar to the materials controls. We can give a name to the texture at the top and erase the texture if we don’t want it anymore. With the selector, we can choose a previously created texture also. Just click and select it:
Now, here comes the fun part. With a texture added, we have to choose a texture type. To do that, we click on the Texture Type combo box:
There are a lot of textures, but most of them are procedural textures, and we won’t use them frequently. The only texture that isn’t procedural is the Image type. We see an example of a procedural Wood texture in the following screenshot:
We can use textures such as Clouds and Wood to create effects and give surfaces a more complex look, or even create a grass texture with dirt on it. But most of the time, the texture type which we will be using will be the Image type:
Each texture has it’s own set of parameters to determine how it will look on the object. If we add a Wood texture, it will show the configuration parameters to the right:
(Move the mouse over the image to enlarge.)
If we choose texture type as Clouds, the parameters shown on the right will be completely different.
With the Image texture type, it’s not different. This kind of texture has its own type of setup. Following is the control panel:
To show how to set up a texture, let’s use an image file that represents a wood floor and a plane. We can apply the texture to this plane and set up how it’s going to look, testing all parameters:
The first thing to do is to assign a material to the plane, and then add a texture to this material. We choose the Image option as texture type. Blender will show the configuration options for this kind of texture.
To apply the image as a texture to the plane, just click on the Load button, located in the Image menu. When we hit this button, we will be able to select the image file:
Locate the image file, and the texture will be applied. If we want to have more control on how this texture is organized and placed on the plane, we need to learn how the controls work. Every time you make any changes to the setup of a texture, these changes will be shown in the preview window. Use it to make the required changes.
Here is a list of what some of the buttons can do for the texture:
- UseAlpha: If the texture has an alpha channel, we have to press this button for Blender to calculate the channel. An image has an alpha channel when some kind of transparency is stored in the image. For instance, a PNG file with a transparent background has an alpha channel. We can use this to create a texture with a logo, for a bottle, or to add an image of a tree or person, to a plane.
- Rot90: With this option, we can rotate the texture by 90 degrees.
- Repeat: Every texture must be distributed on the object surface; repeating the texture in lines and columns is the default way to do that.
- Extend: If this button is pressed, the texture will be adjusted to fit the entire object surface area.
- Clip: With this option, the texture will be cropped, and we will be able to show only a part of it. To adjust which parts of the texture will be displayed, use the Min/Max X/Y options.
- Xrepeat / Yrepeat: This option determines how many times a texture is repeated with the repeat option turned on.
- Normal Map: If the texture will be used to create Normal Maps, press this button. These are textures used to change the face normals of an object.
- Still: With this button selected, we will specify that the image used as texture is a still image. This option is marked by default.
- Movie: If you want to use a movie file as texture, press this button. This is very useful if we need to make something similar to a theater projection screen or a tv screen.
- Sequence: We can use a sequence of images as a texture too. Just press this button. It works the same way as with a movie file.
There are a few more parameters, such as the Reload button. If your texture file is updated outside of Blender, you must press this button to make Blender update the texture in your project. The X button can erase this texture; use it if you need to select another image file.
When we add a texture to any material, an external link is created to this file. This link can be absolute or relative. Suppose we add a texture named wood.png, which is located in the root of your primary hard disk, such as C:. A link to this texture will be created like this — c:wood.png. So every time you open this file, the software will look for that file at that exact place. This is an absolute link, but we can use a relative link as well. For instance, when we add a texture located in the same folder as our scene, a relative link will be created.
Every time we use an absolute link and we have to move the .blend file to another computer, the texture file must go with it. To imbue the image file with .blend, just press the icon for gift package:
To save all the textures used in a scene, just access the File menu and use the Pack Data option. It will cause all the texture files to get embedded with the source .blend file.