Material Setup

There are two main approaches to go about setting up a material in 3DS Max.

The classic method involved the basic menu-based material editor while the modern version involves using a node based structure within the "Slate Material Editor".

Luckily both of these interfaces are just two different ways of modifying the same objects and so can even be used at the same time.

The Basic Material Editor

TBH I'd just use the Slate version. Like, for real.

The Slate Material Editor

In this mode we'll be using a node based interface to attach different textures, shaders, and materials to a final output material through literal visual connections.

You can open the Slate Material Editor either by selecting "Rendering > Material Editor > Slate Material Editor" from the main menu bar or by clicking on its icon in the top toolbar. If the Basic Material Editor opens instead you can switch between the two at any time by choosing "Modes > Compact/Slate Material Editor" from the new editor window at any time.

The below window should appear, though the middle section will be empty, let's look at how to add the shown nodes.

Let's practice using the editor by making a simple material that uses two channels. One color / diffuse map and one bump map.

  1. The pane on the left displays default material setups. Click and drag a "standard" material template into the center viewing area and release it. A new node should be made.
  2. From the same column on the left find and drag over a "smoke" shader.
  3. A lot of the default shaders might be scaled too large to be noticeable on the surface of our object so we need to scale it up. We can do this within the Shader settings.
    • Double click on the title of the new shader node within the center view (where is says "Map # / Smoke". Notice the right column of the slate material editor has changed.
    • With the shader settings being shown in the right column we can find the "size" entry there and lower it to a single digit number (Keep in mind these settings are specific to this shader).

Now we can connect the nodes.

  1. Click and hold the mouse down on the grey dot on the right side of each shader that we made. The right hand dots are the OUTPUTs of the node. As you hold down the mouse and move it around you'll notice a line extending to the mouse.
  2. Move the mouse over a dot on the left side of the standard material we made (these are the INPUTs) and you'll see the color of it change. Release it while over the "Diffuse Color" channel and the two nodes will now be connected.
  3. Do the same with the Smoke shader, but connect it to the "Bump" channel node.

With this setup we now have a basic material to test out. Go to the main view and make a basic primitive and a light object. While the object is selected go back to the Slate Material Editor and right click on the standard material we made. Select "Assign Material to Selection" and the material and object will now be connected.

At this point, if you encounter a common bug where the material does not immediately show up, its easy to fix. Click within the main 3D view on the *2nd* word in the upper left (it probably says either "Realistic" or "Shaded". And within the "Material" section choose "Shaded Materials with Maps".

Once done you should be able to render the following image (I added the floor as well).

There are a few basics to remember about setting up materials within the editor...

  • Double-clicking a node title will bring up the settings for that texture/shader/material in the right column.
  • Double-clicking the preview window within each node will enlarge the preview (notice how there are two different sizes of previews in the first image on this page).
  • You can delete a node within the slate editor by simply clicking on it and hitting the delete key.
  • It is possible to, in some cases, connect the channel of one node to two or more channels of another. For instance one texture output can go to both the "Diffuse Color" and "Bump" channels at the same time.

If the texture fails to appear on your model after choosing "assign material to selection" then you may need to mess with your viewport setting. In the 3d viewport itself the viewport options are shown in the upper left (typically a "+" and two words describing the current settings). Left Click the second word to get the shading menu and choose a different option under the "materials" category. If the texture still does not update then I can only recommend restarting the program.