Material Matters

February 16th, 2012

AutoCAD® Architecture has everything you need for presentation-quality renderings.  Before you are able to create these photorealistic renderings, however, much needs to be understood about working with materials, including creating, modifying, and applying materials to objects.

A material in AutoCAD Architecture corresponds to a specific finish material in a building model, such as concrete, glass, or brick.  Materials are useful for illustrating plans, sections, elevations, and renderings in the design process.  Materials also provide a way to manage the display properties of object styles.

You can take advantage of Visual Styles, Rendering Materials, Lights, and Cameras in AutoCAD Architecture.  Materials provide the ability to assign surface hatches to objects.  Surface hatches can be displayed in model, elevation, and section views.  This is helpful to clearly illustrate sections and elevations.  Let’s take a closer look at materials.

Materials Browser

You can use the Materials Browser to navigate and manage your materials within an AutoCAD Architecture drawing.  You can organize, sort, select, and search materials to use in your drawing.  From the Materials Browser, you can access the Autodesk library as well as user-defined libraries. To access the Browser, select the Render tab of the ribbon, Materials panel, and then Materials Browser.  The browser contains the following main components (see Figure 1):

  • Browser toolbar – This contains the Create Material menu, which allows you to create generic materials or create from a list of templates.
  • Document Materials – This includes a set of display options for the materials saved in the current drawing.  You can sort the document materials by name, type, and color.
  • Material library – This displays the Autodesk library, which contains the predefined Autodesk materials and other libraries that contain user-defined materials.  It also contains a button for controlling the display of libraries and library categories.  You can sort the materials in the library by name, category, type, and color.
  • Library details – This displays previews of the materials in the selected categories.
  • Browser bottom bar – This contains the Manage menu, which provides options for adding, removing,  and editing libraries and library categories.  It also contains a button for controlling the display options for the library details.

Figure 1: Materials Browser

Materials Libraries

The Autodesk library contains more than 700 materials and over 1,000 textures.  The library is read-only, but you can copy Autodesk materials into the drawing, then edit and save them to your own library.  There are three types of libraries.

  1. Autodesk Library – This contains predefined materials provided by Autodesk for use by all applications that support materials.  It contains material-related resources such as textures and thumbnails.
  2. User Library – This contains all materials, except those in the Autodesk library, that are intended to be shared between drawings.  You can copy, move, rename, or delete user libraries.
  3. Embedded Library – This contains a cache of materials used or defined in a drawing and available only to that drawing. 

This library is created automatically when the first Autodesk application using Autodesk materials is installed.  You cannot rename this type of library as it is stored within the drawing.

The materials in the Materials Library are typically assigned to 3D objects.  AutoCAD Architecture objects to which you can assign materials are:  curtain walls, walls, doors, windows, railings, roof, stairs, spaces, slabs, mass elements, mass groups, and structural members.

You can add materials to a library by opening the Materials Editor, right-click the material, and select Add To.  Now select the library to which the material will be added.  You can add the material to multiple libraries if desired.

Note that materials that you use more often can be placed on a custom tool palette for easier access.  Click the Tool Palettes window title bar and click New Palette (see Figure 2) to create and name a new palette. The palette is customizable and you can add material tools by copying and pasting from other material palettes. The controls for doing so are on the Tool Palettes window shortcut menu.

Figure 2: New tool palette

Applying Materials

A material can be applied to individual objects and faces or to objects on a layer.  Note that AutoCAD Architecture 2012 supports per-face color for all materials and textures.  If an object has per-face color and a diffuse texture, the pre-face colors are shown when the texture is faded.

To apply a material to an object or a face, first select the object and then select the material from the Materials Browser.  The material is added to the drawing and it is also displayed as a swatch in the Materials Browser.  When creating or modifying a material in the Materials Browser, you can click a material in the library and the material is applied to any selected objects in your drawing, drag the material swatch directly onto objects in your drawing or assign a material to an object by clicking the Assign to Selection in the shortcut menu on the material swatch in the Materials Browser. 

You can assign a material to a layer by entering MATERIALATTACH at the command prompt.  The Material Attachment Options dialog box will open and you can drag a material onto a layer (see Figure 3).  When applying materials to objects by layer, the material is applied to all objects on the layer whose Material property is set to BYLAYER.

Figure 3: Material attachment options

Creating Materials

A material is defined by a number of properties. The available properties depend on the selected material type.  To begin, open the Materials Browser.  Next, on the browser toolbar select Create Material (see Figure 4).  Now, select a material template. This opens the Materials Editor.  Enter a name for the material and specify the material color options.  Finally, use the sliders to set the properties for shininess, opacity, refraction, and translucency.  You can also copy and modify an existing material.  Note that the material GLOBAL is always available in a new drawing.  This material is applied to all objects by default until another material is applied.

Figure 4: Creating new materials

Modifying Materials

After a material is created and applied, the properties can be modified in the Materials Editor.  The material swatches that are available in the drawing are displayed in the “Materials In This Document” section of the Materials Browser.  When a material swatch is double-clicked, the properties for the material become active in the Material Editor sections (see Figure 5). 

As you modify the settings, they are saved with the material.  The changes are displayed in the material swatch preview.  By holding down the button below the swatch preview window, a set of fly-out buttons display different geometry options for the material preview.

To modify the name of a material, open the Materials Browser and select the material.  Right-click and select rename.  Now you can change the name and description of the material in place.

If you wish to change the material preview shape and render quality, open the Materials Editor and then select Options.  Now you can select a different swatch shape and render quality for the material.

Figure 5: Materials editor

Manage and Organize Materials

Managing and organizing materials will ensure less confusion in finding what you are looking for.  When a material is moved, a copy is created and it is added to the new category.  If the material is copied into the root node, its original category is maintained and it is recreated in the new library.  There are two ways in which to move materials.

  • Drag and drop – You can drag swatches or materials from a library to the Materials in This Document section in the Materials Browser.  You can also drag materials from a library to another library.  A new copy of the material is created and saved with the drawing.
  • Shortcut menu – You can use the shortcut menu to copy a material to a new library.  Use the Add To option and then select material in the library copied to the document or a library material copied to another library.

You can search the materials in all open libraries based on the material’s name, description, and keyword information entered in the Materials Editor.  All the materials are filtered to show only those matching the search string.  Only the materials that have a match for the search string are displayed.  Click the X button in the search box to clear the search and return to viewing the unfiltered library.

The search results depend on the library you have selected in the tree view.  For example, if you select the Library root node, it displays the search results for all matching materials in the selected library.  However, if you select a category, it searches only within that category.

You can delete a selected and unlocked material by using the shortcut menu or with the Delete key.  It is important to note that locked materials cannot be deleted from the Materials Browser or from the shortcut menu.

Converting Materials

When a legacy material (any material created in AutoCAD 2010 or earlier releases) is shown in the Materials Editor, you have the option to convert the material into an editable format.  After the conversion, the Materials Editor controls are enabled and editable.

Legacy materials are rendered but not editable in the application.  It is recommended that you convert these materials to their generic equivalent.  The new materials provide better results and can be shared across Autodesk applications.


AutoCAD Architecture has many available materials that can be used to render photorealistic images for presentation purposes.  As the architectural industry is moving toward these types of presentations, it is best to learn all you can about materials and then rendering.  It is best to begin slowly and progress forward as you learn. 
In my next article, I will explore how to use these materials in the actual rendering process.  Stay tuned!

Melinda Heavrin is a CAD Coordinator & Facility Planner for Norton Healthcare in Louisville, Kentucky.  She has been using AutoCAD Architecture since release 2000.  Melinda can be reached for comments and questions at

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