SketchUp Material Editor: Enhanced Realistic Materials for SketchUp

I previously wrote a post on using Enscape with SketchUp which covered light sources. This post will cover the creation and management of photo-realistic textures and materials. These include wood, fabric, and foliage to name a few. 

It is truly amazing, the level of realism we can achieve with so little effort and with blazing fast speeds. What used to take hours to render and look decent in our old software, now takes seconds and looks remarkable using Enscape.

If you want to try the concepts covered in this article, consider downloading the free SketchUp sample project provided by Enscape. This model has interesting spaces to explore and includes a number of high-quality textures.

Enscape toolbar

Once Enscape is installed, the Enscape toolbar can be made visible by right-clicking on a visible toolbar and selecting Enscape. Drag the toolbar to dock it adjacent to other toolbars as shown in the image below. From Enscape 3.0, many of the tools are located within the Enscape real-time render window, so there is only one toolbar in SketchUp. The Enscape tools may also be accessed from the Extensions menu.

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Enscape toolbar within SketchUp

Woodgrain and finish

Let’s start with the wood material on the dining room table in our current project. Just using the default settings from the SketchUp material, the table looks nice. But, as we will see in a moment, it can look much better!

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The great thing about Enscape is its emphasis on simplicity. And to that end, anything we can set in the primary authoring tool, SketchUp in this case, such as selecting a texture, Enscape uses that information rather than creating duplicate functionality. Thus, the process of editing a SketchUp material starts with selecting the material in the Materials tray, as shown below.

Enscape material editor based on selected SketchUp material

In the previous image, we see the texture (Wood049_4k_Color.jpg), which was defined by the initial SketchUp material. Everything else represents new opportunities to enhance a material above SketchUp’s native capabilities. Note that these material ‘extras’ are saved within the SketchUp file by Enscape. Thus, anyone with Enscape installed and licensed can work with these same settings. However, for the Height and Roughness maps, only the paths are saved in the SketchUp file, so you have to ensure the jpg/png image files, if used, are located at the correct position.

In addition to the General settings, there is an Albedo tab as pointed out below. This tab offers a few additional adjustments to the texture, such as Brightness, Inverted, and Size. The size is also coming from the SketchUp material setting but may be overridden here if needed.

Albedo (al·be·do): The portion of incident light that is reflected by a surface. It is a subset of what defines the material property.

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Albedo (texture) settings

If we would like to create a high-gloss finish, we can adjust the Roughness slider to a lower value (item A). In a subsequent step, we will also add a bump map. This image points out the option to quickly use the original image by clicking the Use Albedo link (item B).

Adjusting Roughness value

Roughness: Defines the amount of microscopic surface structure that spreads the reflections.

The result of the Roughness adjustment can be seen in the comparison image below. The wood surface is much more reflective, especially relative to direct light.

Roughness setting adjustment

In the next image below, after clicking the Use Albedo option, notice that texture is listed in the Height section. There is also a Height tab at the top of the dialog. The Height ‘Amount’ slider is used to determine how much the surface is deformed based on the selected texture.
Enscape makes the process very simple in that when you clicked ‘Use Albedo’ the same scale was applied, and the texture is grayscaled.

Height texture applied based on albedo

As soon as the Height map is applied, more definition in the wood surface can be seen. And, when adjusted, the surface looks less like a smooth flat surface. You can actually see ridges in the wood grain and the light and shadow interacting with them. Beautiful. In either case, with a low or high bump map setting, the wood grain begins to appear in the bright spot on the table from the direct sunlight. This is simulating the self-shadow effect that would be caused by depressed portions of the otherwise flat horizontal surface.

Bump texture applied based on albedo

On the height tab, we have a few settings available, as seen in the following image. One is the ability to invert the image. The area that projected out previously will now be recessed and vice versa. In the case of woodgrain, this setting may not be useful, but this helps describe the opportunity.

Inverting bump texture

Let’s see what the Roughness value does; comparing a wider range of 10% and 70%. The result is as seen in the image below. The 70% result is close to what a Wisonart laminate surface might look like. Roughness, as a percentage, can be thought of as the opposite of reflection as a percentage; a lower Roughness number is more reflective.

Result of adjusting Reflection's 'Roughness' value


Laminate samples board

Like most architecture/interior design shops in the U.S., we have a large Wilsonart sample board in the office I work in. Notice the highlights from the light and the texture of the woodgrain in the previous image and compare with the Enscape render.

With the settings and results we just reviewed in mind, we have a good understanding of how easy it is to develop realistic looking wood material in our designs.

Exploring textiles and leathers

Let’s now shift our attention from wood to textiles and leather. The first thing we will do is look at the view I composed in SketchUp to see what the material looks like there. Now, in the following image, contrast this with a high-quality material already developed in Escape’s material editor. This material looks smooth to the touch, yet we also perceive a texture we would feel if touched.

Leather on chair shown in SketchUp

Leather on chair rendered in Enscape directly from the SketchUp model

The technique for getting a realistic looking material is to apply an appropriate height and reflectance map. Notice, in the following image, the albedo has been used for this. Also, observe, the texture file selected has a color and subtle pattern defined.

Reviewing the leather material settings

When the main texture, i.e. the albedo, is used as the map for the reflections, the surface will have more/less reflective areas based on the dark/light areas of the image. If we remove the reflectance map by clicking the trash can next to it, we get a slider that instead controls the reflectance of the entire surface equally, as shown in the following image. This looks less shiny, and possible more comfortable… but that is subjective. In any case, these settings allow you to employ a little artistic freedom in how you want various materials to appear.

Additionally, the height slider may be adjusted to make a smoother or rougher grained leather material. Keep in mind this applies to anywhere this material is used, so the SketchUp material may need to be duplicated if variations in the leather are needed throughout the project.

Removing the reflections texture map

Fabrics look more realistic when using a height map. In some cases, the albedo can be a solid color, and the height map is a file that defines a pattern impressed upon the surface. The following image shows a comfy looking sofa and throw pillow, which is facilitated by a height map causing the surface to look textured, where these displacements even self-shade on one side, opposite the light source in the scene.

Fabrics come alive with height maps

The following image shows the throw pillow with and without a height map applied. The result of using a height map is a more plush and full-looking material within the project.

Compare no height map with albedo used as height map

Exploring foliage

When modeling custom plants or downloading them from 3D Warehouse like I did, we can apply the special Foliage material type to the SketchUp material to get more realistic results in Enscape, as shown in the next image. Notice how the leaves receiving direct sunlight appear to glow just like they do in real life. This is a great option when the Enscape Asset Library does not have the type of vegetation needed for a specific project or location.

Enscape foliage material type example

Notice, in the image below, the selected SketchUp material within the Enscape material editor. The Foliage material type has been applied, which gets a Mask applied. Clicking the Mask tab reveals the settings shown in the second image below.

Exploring the Enscape 'Foliage' material type

Foliage 'Mask' settings

Below is another view of the plant, highlighting the effect. You can almost feel the photosynthesis happening! Notice the sense of light passing through each leaf.

Foliage material results in lightly translucent leaves


If you have a certain palette of materials you use often, consider creating them in a SketchUp template file and applying the Enscape enhancements there. Then, every new project will have these advanced materials set up and ready to use!

The images in this post speak for themselves just like the previous SketchUp post. The detail and improvements on the textures of materials, such as wood and fabric, is clear to see. If you use SketchUp and would like to quickly take your design visualization to the next level in terms of graphics realism, then Enscape is the tool for you!

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