What is a 3D material?

Every new innovation begins its life facing a period of ambiguity. 

It’s true in every industry and sector - and design is no exception. 

People are understandably sceptical about whether something new will work in practice or make a positive difference to their lives.

3D modeling in design is still, in relative terms, in its early days - adoption has yet to become widespread. 

In fact, for many people, it still isn’t clear exactly what 3D materials are in this context.

3D Material Design

Digital versions of real world materials 

Foundry Trends spoke to Ellery Connell, Creative Specialist at Foundry, who put it in simple terms:

“A 3D material is basically what you layer on top of a 3D object, to control the way the object is perceived when rendered. 

It behaves much the way a material does in the real world - whether that’s the way light interacts with its surface, or the nuances of colour, texture, transparency and reflectivity.

“A whole set of properties interact to give a material a specific set of visual attributes, so that you can see that than an object is soft like leather, or that it is clear and transparent and bouncing light around - like glass or crystal.”

This is a radically different proposition to the typical techniques in digital design that most people are familiar with. 

3D design is visualized in a different way, with artists working in a digital space or environment, rather than on what’s essentially just a digital piece of paper.

As a result, artists initially approached 3D design with some trepidation. 

But this is to be expected: when digital 2D design software was first introduced, artists did not immediately make the transition. 

However, as the software became more intuitive and user-friendly, it became the norm.

Growing adoption of 3D design 

The same is beginning to happen with 3D design, and the signs clearly point towards growing adoption. 

Connell says this is partly because different aspects of technology have matured and arrived at a convergence point. 

Hardware is no longer playing catch-up, and good laptops that can handle 3D are now widely available and in use. 

But software has simultaneously become far more accessible and understandable without needing in-depth, specialist skills. 

The combination means any artist can now sit down, grab the tools and get to work and produce extraordinary results.

Ellery Connell

More intuitive tools and workflows

“As recently as a few years ago, the tools were simply not intuitive enough, so that designers with little experience were effectively excluded from 3D design,” says Ellery. 

“But now the tools have a level of polish, enabling artists to focus on specific parts of the workflow without having to learn everything.”

“That’s led to many people who would have typically used Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, as well as more traditional forms of design, picking up the tools and achieving their desired results more quickly.”

As is often the case, it will be a matter of getting the right people to take the initial leap that will make 3D design the new norm. 

And, with great strides continuing to be made on both the hardware and software fronts, it’s only a matter of time before 3D design gets its time in the limelight.