Creating Custom Textures with the Viewport Canvas

It takes approximately 13 milliseconds for the brain to process what we see. That's not much time to create an impression.  Sometimes, subtle changes to a scene can make a big difference. 

Take the pillow and blanket in Figure 1 for example.  The lack of contrast and colors doesn't leave much for us to think about. In comparison, the same blanket and pillow was used to generate the scene in Figure 2. 


Figure 1: Pillow scene

Figure 2: Modified pillow scene

By simply changing the textures, providing some contrast, and adding a few more copies of the same exact pillow, the scene provides much more interest.  Another example would be the chair in Figure 3.  By adding a second chair and books, the same scene becomes considerably more interesting.

Figure 3: Chair scene

It is important to provide subtle details to objects and scenes to make our work stand out, but textures also play a significant role when trying to capture the attention of a viewer. In perhaps just a few seconds, a viewer will determine if they've seen a graphic before (or something like it), if it's interesting (or not), and whether it is worth a second glance.

To customize a scene and make it unique, we can use the Viewport Canvas located under the Tools menu. Using the canvas we have the opportunity to customize our scene textures with many of the same paint and brush tools available in popular paint platforms used today.  In addition, we paint directly on our object within our 3ds Max® environment.  To demonstrate, I've rendered a concept car with default textures shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Concept car

After subtle changes consisting of a few brush strokes and using the clone brush tool to apply a decal, I've created more interest in the scene. Let’s discuss the basics of the canvas tools shown in Figure 5 to begin creating our own custom textures right inside 3ds Max.

Figure 5: Viewport Canvas tools

The first tool is the brush (very top left icon in Figure 5).  The first time we select the brush, a dialog will open asking if we would like to assign a new standard material or browse to select an existing one to modify. If we choose to assign a new material, we should select diffuse map and continue. At this point it will ask for the default texture information shown in Figure 6. Here we set the resolution, the base background color, and where to save the new file.

Figure 6: New Texture settings

After assigning or selecting a texture, the brush will now be active for painting.

The rest of the tools are identified in Figure 7 and represent more brush and layer controls.  As you can see, we have the ability to layer changes to our textures as well as paint with many of the common tools required to create a unique and custom texture. A particular favorite of mine is the clone tool.

Figure 7: Brush and Layer controls

In order to add a decal to the car shown in Figure 4, I simply applied a texture to a second object and chose the Clone option in the viewport canvas tools. I insured my car contained a multi-layer bitmap (PSD file) for my diffuse map, but my box diffuse was simply the bitmap of my choosing. In this case my box diffuse map consisted of my car’s decal. See Figure 8 for the example. 

Figure 8: Cloning texture from box to car door

To clone, I simply held down the Alt key and selected the area I wished to clone and started painting directly onto my car. While painting, the Viewport Canvas updated my car’s texture file to include the new decal, creating the customized texture I wanted and making the car appear a little more unique. If we choose to modify an existing texture rather than start with a new one, we should be careful here since the changes we will make modifies the original texture we are painting on.

The next set of tools, shown in Figure 9, control the brush settings, color, as well as the ability to open the layer dialog, allowing us to make changes and paint in layers that can be turned off, modified, or deleted.  

Figure 9: Brush settings

In addition, we have the ability to open a 2D view of our texture and paint directly on that if we prefer, rather than painting on the 3D object itself.  As you can see in Figure 9, we have the ability to control several options concerning our brush strokes. Figure 10 shows an example of an object being painted using the various settings.

Figure 10: A painted object

The next set of tools is a favorite. The Brush Image options allow us to brush using templates for our shapes and colors. See Figure 11 for an example.

Figure 11: The Brush Image option

With the canvas tools you can create exciting, personalized custom and unique textures, whether starting with a new one or modifying one that exists.  Many more options are available in the canvas tools and I hope you explore them and take advantage of everything they have to offer. You are welcome to download the chair and pillow scenes demonstrated in this tutorial for free at

Appears in these Categories