What are PBR materials? Learn more about PBR material

PBR materials are part of a virtual pipeline that can simulate any physical material. Learn more about PBR, its purpose and how to use them for 3D models.
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What are PBR materials? What does PBR stand for?

A PBR material, which actually stands for Physics-Based Rendering material, is a virtual material pipeline that can simulate any kind of physical material to particularly improve a 3D model. It includes a  multitude of parameters such as base color, metalness and roughness. For example, they can simulate physical materials such as tiles, various types of wood, concrete, metal, facades and backdrops.

It does so by accurately simulating diffuse, specular reflections and refractions between surfaces. It is one of those technologies that aren’t necessary for creating a model, but it does make it more of quality. In fact, it is more and more widespread and standardized thanks to the worldwide increase in computing power.

Physics-based rendering materials have been used in film for decades, but it wasn’t until 2007 that they made their appearance in 3D. This approach is now so common that it is used by most 3D, art professionals and AAA games. Wreck-It Ralph and Oblivion are two films that use PBR.

Here is an example of a PBR material of grass.

PBR material of grass

This article will give you everything you need to know about PBR materials, how they work, how to apply them and its different elements.


What are the advantages of using PBR material?

There are many advantages of using PBR materials. Here are a few key elements.

  • A PBR file is very user-friendly and powerful because it can describe different types of materials (gloss, metallization, roughness, etc.) in a single document. This makes it easy to share materials with others and simplifies the process of creating textures.


  • It is easy to vary the intensity of a physically based rendering material on a texture object, making it scalable.This is because the pixel shader only needs to be run once for each pixel on the object.


  • The Physically-Based Render pipeline is a fast and efficient way to render your scenes, making it useful for physically based rendering workflows and for real-time applications.


  • Because of their standardized format, they are easy to share between applications (Unreal Engine, Unity, Blender, Game Design, etc.). A good set of textures will allow you to save time by reusing them in different scenes.


  • When you model your 3D objects, it can be difficult to make them look exactly as you want in all lighting conditions. PBR makes this process easier by defining base materials for different types of surfaces and then letting the computer calculate how they will look depending on the lighting conditions. Using these materials will make your figure more realistic and improve the visual quality of your work.


What is the purpose of using PBR material?

As mentioned above, PBR material is typically used to add a realistic feel and textures to objects. This type of file is most often used in computer graphics and VR applications to texture 3D objects. However, they can also be used to texture 2D sprites or in real-time rendering engines.

How do you make a PBR material? Where can I find them?

There are many ways to create PBR textures and shaders. For instance, it is possible to use a polarized camera system. However, this technique can be complicated and time consuming. Advanced systems like Substance Designer can also be used. With this said, today, many third parties on the web offer existing free PBR materials making it accessible to all. PBR materials libraries such as ambientCG and FreePbr offer these files. At Visao, our 3D experts help you choose and apply the best PBR materials for your 3D visualizations.


How do you apply a PBR material on a 3D model?

PBR material can be applied to a 3D model in different ways. Some software programs have built-in PBR material editors, while others rely on third-party tools. 3D modelling softwares such as Blender, Maya and 3ds Max offer its users to apply pbr materials. In general, you can import a PBR file into your project by clicking the Import button in the Materials panel. The imported material will be added to the list of materials and you can select it for any object. You can also save the material in the program.

However, if you are looking for a user-friendly and online way to enhance your 3D model with PBR materials, you can use Visao‘s online 3D visualization platform and create realistic models in a few clicks.


How do PBR materials create realistic and specular textures on materials using linear space rendering?

The quality of physically based rendering materials is largely dependent on the texture that is created for it. A large part of creating high-quality textures is understanding how light and shading interacts with the real world, and this involves getting to know how different materials work and using linear space rendering. A PBR surface is described as a collection of small reflecting facets whose orientation dictates how rough the surface will appear. The surface will have a diffused appearance if facet orientations are primarily random, but the surface will have a smooth reflective appearance if facets are generally aligned. When paired with a Fresnel effect, which defines how much light is reflected based on the viewing angle, the PBR surface will give a realistic look.


What is the file format for PBR materials?

A PBR material usually uses the JPEG (.jpg) or PNG (.png) extension. The .fbx extension can also be used.


How does the PBR file encode values?

PBR materials are a type of material that is physically based. This means that they don’t use the old techniques of reflective, roughness, or metalness. In fact, the PBR material file is a collection of 6 channels, each containing a different type of texture. A channel for the base color, 3 channels for the roughness and 2 channels for the metallic. In other words, the PBR relies on the properties of the material itself to determine how a ray of light reacts with it. For example, if you have a PBR material made of wood, you would need to specify that it has a high diffuse value and is not very reflective.

PBR materials also include a complex shader. The shader contains two tags: BaseColor and Specular. The base color is setted using the standard #RRGGBB format, where RR is red, GG is green, and BB is blue. A RGB color picker can also be used to see and choose from a full spectrum of colors.


A list of pbr materials


How to know which PBR material to pick for a 3D model?

3D experts usually choose a PBR material that represents the physical material of the 3D object. However, any virtual material pipeline can add a unique feature to a 3D model. For example, a PBR material in the shape of a wood parquet strip can be applied to a new 3D model of a bedroom floor to give a more realistic impression of lighting and shading.

Below is a list of common PBR materials.

PBR Tiles

  • geometric marble tiles
  • Square marble tiles
  • Herringbone marble tiles
  • Hexagon marble tiles
  • rectangle marble tiles
  • geometric marble tiles

PBR floors

  • Chevron parquet floor
  • versailles parquet floor


Do I have to use metalness and reflectivity in my PBR material? What about diffuse?

You don’t have to use metalness and reflectivity, but it’s recommended because of the flexibility that it provides. It is possible to achieve excellent results simply by using a combination of specular and diffuse (or even a color map). However, there are cases where you may need different values for different components of the material.

For example, if you want to apply a realistic gloss effect to your metallic material, you may need a higher than normal reflectivity value in your case. This is because gloss affects the amount of luminance reflected from the surface.


Need help with integrating PBR materials in your 3D model?

Visao provides a web-based platform that allows manufacturers to use their industrial files to create interactive 3D visualizations of their products for marketing, sales processes, trade shows and production.

We specifically use base color, metalness, roughness, emissivity, occlusion and normality parameters in our PBR materials.

Do you need help integrating PBR or even custom recommendations for producing new photorealistic 3D models of your industrial designs? Contact us and we’ll be happy to help you with the process!

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