Shaders, Materials, and Textures

What is the difference between a material, a shader, and a texture? And why do they exist?

First of all, be aware that in some programs, there is no difference. For example, in Maya, a shader and a material are the same thing. Phong shader, Phong material, same exact thing. Such is true for other programs. However, a texture is completely different from either of these.

A texture is a 2D image pasted onto a material, basically. The material typically contains all the properties of how the model looks, such as the shader, color, opacity, glowyness (is that a word?) and so forth. The shader, generally speaking, makes the model look different. It can make the model pretend like it’s more detailed than it really is, or make it look like it’s on fire, or make it look like water is dripping down it the sides of it, or turn the model into glass, or a mirror, or whatever. There’s  many cool things you can do with shaders. They are typically used to make objects more shiny, though.

Shader Types
Image courtesy of

Textures are kind of the root of it all. Textures are what give the model color and realism. There are many great websites you can download free textures from; I’ll name a few here:

…and much more…

Image courtesy of

You can paint textures directly onto your model in programs like Autodesk’s Mudbox or Pixologic’s ZBrush. As a modeler and texture artist, I have been using Mudbox for several years now and I don’t know how I ever survived without it. It’s so cool. I personally have never tried ZBrush, as it costs about six hundred dollars, but I happen to know that it is just as good as Mudbox, if not better.

Image courtesy of Pixologic

Textures are not only used for adding color to your models, they can be used for creating extra detail with normal maps, creating more realistic lighting with AO (ambient occlusion) maps, creating displacement maps, specular maps, and more maps. These different maps basically add more detail to your model, in different ways. You probably won’t be dealing with displacement maps quite as much as the other ones, but you should pretty much get into the habit of using them all well, especially when trying to shorten render times or create 3d games.

You can take your own pictures of textures with a good quality camera. This is a good way to make your own textures and sell them, or use them in your games, instead of having to rely on textures downloaded off the web. If you want your textures to be seamless, there are several programs that can automatically make your textures tileable and seamless; I do not know any off the top of my head, but you can Google it or Bing it or whatever and you’ll find some neat programs. You can also tile your textures seamlessly in Photoshop. Simply offset your texture photo by half the current dimensions of your photo, then seam it by using the clone stamp brush in combination with the spot healing brush.

One particular program that has good automatic generation of texture maps is Crazy Bump. Check it out at their website.

Image courtesy of Steve Streeting (

That’s all for now. Hope you learned something new today. Make sure you subscribe to learn something new every day!


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