Customization with 3ds Max

It is helpful to understand ways we can customize 3ds Max® where it makes sense to customize it for our needs.  This article focuses on some of the ways that are helpful, regardless of the product we provide.  I’ll focus on templates, startup files, toolbars, and end on a note concerning content.


Preparing scenes with the proper environments and render settings is time consuming. With customized templates, we can store those we collect and create.  Additionally, with repetition, our abilities grow and we can improve and refine these templates.  Over time, we collect a library of templates for a variety of scenes and settings that allows us to produce the highest quality content we can in a shorter amount of time.

Figure 1: Add Template

Refer to Figure 1 where you’ll see I set up a file for mechanical rendering that shares my favorite materials, render settings, some kitbash elements, and an environment for a presentation that includes lights, a surface plane, and camera. Now I’m able to start a project using this file at any time.  The steps to generate a template are simple and marked in Figure 1.  First, select the File Menu, then choose New From Template.  Second, choose Open Template Manager on the Create New Scene palette.  The third and final step is to fill out the information about the file you have open and then select Add New.  

See Figure 2 for a few examples of templates I use to assist with the development.

Figure 2: Template examples

Customize the Startup

Customizing the startup file allows us to begin our 3ds Max sessions with preferred settings.  For example, let’s say we work primarily with Vray and wish to open 3ds Max to see our material editor already slotted with default Vray materials. We can do this by opening or setting up a file the way we prefer, then saving it in the MaxStart folder called “maxstart.max.” You can locate the MaxStart folder by navigating to the Configure User Paths option in the menus under File > I/O Panel. 

Custom Toolbars

Creating custom toolbars in 3ds Max is an excellent alternative to access tools we use most often. Toolbar creation is simple. First, select Customize User Interface in the Customize menu.  You can now create your toolbar following the steps in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Creating a custom toolbar

Step 1, select the toolbar panel.  Step 2, select the New button. Step 3, type the name of your toolbar.  Finally, in Step 4, drag commands from the action panel into your toolbar. When done adding commands to the toolbar, select the save option at the bottom.

Customize Content

Prepacked solutions gave us the ability to generate content quickly and efficiently.  Advances in technology such as RT rendering in 3ds Max and Datasmith for Unreal Engine leave us only a few short years from real-time rendering solutions.  The geniuses at companies such as Autodesk, Chaos, Pixologic, NVIDIA, Intel, and more have evolved the industry so far that in a few short years generating realistic content becomes as simple as playing a game of Sim City, leading to savings for clients and helping teams to be more efficient.   

With all of this, there is potentially a downside to the automation that we’ve already started to experience.  Generally speaking, content looks the same. While this is extremely efficient, many of us wish to avoid this.  A powerful way to do that is to create custom textures and materials.  Refer to Figure 4 for an example of some custom textures. 

Figure 4: Custom textures

Thankfully, there are programs built to help us generate these textures for 3ds Max.  For this article, I’ll present PixPlant. PixPlant allows us to select a picture (or existing texture file) and uses various algorithms to extract a color (diffuse), displacement, normal, specular, and ambient occlusion map.  Perfect for building materials in 3ds Max.  See Figure 5 for example.

Figure 5: PixPlant texture creation

PixPlant gives us options to help manipulate the image so that it’s seamless and repeatable and adjust each of the individual maps to suit our needs.  As you dive into the texture-development world, you’ll want to study more on the removal of lighting sources and shadows, the types of images to use, quality, and more, but for most cases, this software is a powerful way to help us generate unique and personalized content that satisfies our creative drive. 

Ending on this note: remember that customizing our experience and tools in 3ds Max is useless if it’s not leading to improvements. 

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