Living in a Material World (Circles and Lines AutoCAD Tutorial)

31 Jan, 2007 By: Lynn Allen

Learn how to add materials to your drawings.

As technical designers, we have a tendency to get caught up in the minute details of our CAD drawings and forget the value of aesthetics. Being a math major, I am as guilty as the next person -- focusing exclusively on all those lines, arcs and circles. Adding materials seems foreign to me, and a bit too abstract for my liking. But, materials can add so much to a drawing - and they can even win contracts. This month, let's dabble in the powerful world of materials in AutoCAD 2007 -- in terms us techies can grasp.

Down to Basics
AutoCAD 2007 comes with more than 300 materials (from Autodesk Viz and 3DS Max). That means you can create awesome renderings completely inside plain old AutoCAD. Plus, the new updated Render command works with the touch of a button. No longer do you need to decipher all those cryptic settings. Now you just select the level of rendering you prefer -- somewhere between Draft (for speedy renderings) and Presentation (slower but much more precise) and you're set. All those cryptic settings are there for you rendering nerds who actually understand what a Lanczos filter type is, or what an Energy multiplier means, but the rest of us don't even need to touch those settings.

When you install AutoCAD 2007, it asks if you want to install the Materials Library. If you didn't say "Yes" at that time, you'll need to grab your installation disk and add it. You'll also find that your Tool Palette populates with all of the great materials for easy access. If you don't see the materials on your tool palette, simply right-click on the tool palette bar and select the Materials library (as seen below). This gives you the following palettes of real-world materials to choose from: Woods and Plastics, Door and Windows, Finishes, Furnishings, Masonry, Metals, Sitework, and Thermal and Moisture. Each of the materials is displayed with a checkered underlay. There is also a Materials group that has fewer materials to work with, but includes the material tabs for Concrete, Fabric and Flooring (in case you were looking for them).

Easy access to all your materials exists in the Tool Palettes.

Attaching Materials
You can attach a material to an object, to a face on an object, or to a layer (in which case it would be assigned to all the objects on that layer). To attach a material to an object or a face, it's as simple as dragging and dropping from the toolbar to the object. Once you drop a material into your drawing, it's displayed as a swatch in the Materials window and saved with the drawing.

If the materials are not displaying in your drawing, make sure Materials and Textures is turned On. You can set this in the Materials control panel on the Dashboard. You''ll also need to make sure your Visual Style is set to display materials (choose Realistic).

To try another material, don't delete the first one. Simply drag and drop another material, and it replaces the existing one.

If you have a difficult time getting the right materials on the right objects, you can also select a material tool on the palette and make a selection of objects in the usual manner. A friendly paintbrush indicates that it's waiting for you to select the objects for the material. This method also makes it easier to attach materials to multiple objects in a selection.

Materials are applied to an entire solid object by default. What if you want to assign a material to just one face? There's no need to slice and dice the object. Just follow this procedure: right-click the material tool in the palette and choose Apply Material to Objects. Hold down the CTRL key and select the desired face (or faces) to assign the material. It's that simple.

Assign Layers
The ultra-organized users out there like to assign materials to layers. This, of course, requires some forethought because you'll need to put objects that have different materials on separate layers. It is, however, a clean way to assign materials.

You must load the materials you want to attach before you can assign them to a layer. Just drag them from the tool palette and drop them into the drawing area (just don't drop them on a specific object). You can also select a material and select Add to Current Drawing from the right-click shortcut menu. Type in MAT at the Command prompt (short for Materials) to view all the loaded materials. You can also find this in the View menu / Render / Materials.

The Materials command displays materials and lets you customize them.

Once you've loaded the materials in the drawing, you can attach them to a specific layer with the MaterialAttach command. I prefer to use this command via the Materials control panel on the Dashboard by selecting the Attach By Layer icon as seen below (let's face it, who wants to type in "materialattach").

Use the Dashboard to quickly assign materials by layer.

The loaded materials appear on the left side of the dialog box, while the existing layers are on the right. It's really just a matter of dragging the material from the left over to the appropriate layer. See the figure below for an example that shows the Granite material assigned to the Counters layer and the material White Oak assigned to the Cabinets layer (sounds like a great kitchen doesn't it!).

Drag and drop the materials to the appropriate layer.

Remove, Turn Off Materials
If you want to remove a loaded material from a drawing, simply right-click on the swatch in the Materials command and select Purge from drawing from the menu. You can't purge the material if you have assigned it to an object. And, if you want to remove a material from an object, select the last icon in the Materials command window, as seen below, to delete the materials from the selected objects.

Use the last icon in the Materials command to delete materials from objects.

If you have a very large model you might find your machine slowing down due to multiple materials and textures. If this happens, turn off the display of materials and textures from the Dashboard, as I mentioned earlier.

What is the difference between a material and a texture? A material defines the surface qualities such as color, shininess and translucency (because now we can create materials we can see through!). A texture is an image that is mapped to a surface to give the material a more realistic look and feel.

Customizing Materials
Next month, we'll dive into customizing materials to get exactly the effect we're after. Even with 300 materials available, you may need to tweak them to get the desired results.

Until next month?happy AutoCADing!

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