How to Make Custom MATs for DAZ Studio
To make a truly custom mat for a 3D figure, it is a complex process that would require a lot of hardware and artistic talent. However, if you’re like me, you’re just in this for fun and you aren’t trying to market 3D mat files to the public. If so, then there are a number of options available to you that will allow you to customize figures and objects for your favorite 3D modeling program (as always my tutorial is for DAZ Studio but I’m sure something similar could be accomplished with Poser). Please note that any modifications you make to original files should not be re-marketed or re-sold in any way, as you would likely be infringing on copyright laws. The methods I describe below are strictly for personal use.
For those unfamiliar, a mat is best described as a skin for your 3D model. When viewed, it looks like someone stretched out the model and flattened it. For this article, I will focus on three different types of mats: the transparency mat, the texture map and the bump map.
(Both transparency and bump are usually referred to as ‘maps’ but you’re going to be creating them and applying them the exact same way as you would a texture mat. So if you see me refer to them as a mat or a map, for the sake of this article, it’s pretty much the same thing.)
I’m starting with the transparency map, rather than the texture mat because if you’re going to create custom texture mats, then creating the transparency map first will really make things easier.
The first thing you’ll want to do is locate the mat files for the figure or prop that you want to customize. To find these they are usually located under C: > Program Files > DAZ > Studio > content > Runtime > textures > (name of object). Remember, whether you’re customizing a figure you purchased or downloaded for free, keep in mind that you’re using their original files as the base for your custom mat. So you don’t want to be a jerk and try to re-distribute the edited files as your own. If you find that you really enjoy making mats out of other peoples’ figures, you can contact the creator of the original and ask for permission.
Once you have located the mat files you should be able to open them with an image editing program. I’m using photoshop, but any program that allows you to use layers should be sufficient. Open the file that is strictly black and white. For example, if it is a mat for a pair of pants, you should see the pants flattened out on a 2D surface. One will have a texture, another will be a greyscale of the texture and one will be solid white and solid black. (Sometimes there are more, but try to find the solid black and white). This is the transparency map. It defines where the texture shows up on the 3D model and where the texture is invisible to reveal whatever is beneath it. So, for example, if I were to draw a black hole on the knee of a pair of pants it would show up invisible on the model in DAZ Studio, making it look like a hole in the jeans. Black = transparency and White = visible. Once you know this and you have the file in your image editing program you can add black or white to alter the shape of the figure.
It is important to note, however, that adding white beyond the original boundaries of the image likely won’t produce any results because the 3D model has its own boundaries that it adheres to and probably won’t display any additional texture beyond the boundaries you see. Drawing with blacks and whites within these boundaries will produce your best results.
Also, since the image is flattened, you have to be mindful of how everything is going to connect. With the pants example, if I make a rip that goes along the left knee, I have to remember the back side of the pants as well and try to match up the rip on that side of the image so that it seems to match in a 3D environment. Similarly, not every pair of pants will connect in the same spot. In my example, when I was trying to put a rip over her knee, it ended up being more on the side because I didn’t place it close enough to the crotch lining of the map. It can be a lot of trial and error to get everything to match properly.
Some possible uses for this method are: turning a long sleeve shirt into a short-sleeve shirt or a tank top. Turning jeans into ripped jeans or shorts or giving a dress an entirely new shape. You can get really creative with it.
Once you have your transparency map then you have the boundaries in which to work. Technically you can apply any unedited picture to a 3D model and have it look fairly good, but this is an opportunity to customize that texture to this specific model. For example, if I wanted to turn the jeans into khakis I could take the khaki texture and paste it below the black parts of the transparency mat. This is why layers are important in your image editing program. You can set the black parts as a separate layer so that the texture you paste into the image is below it and you don’t have to worry about cutting anything out or erasing any lines that go over. (If the black parts of the image are not on their own layer you can use the magic wand to select the black space and do a 'layer via copy'.)
Since you know where the edges of the pants are you can further customize this texture. For example, you could use the burn tool to make the edges darker so that the seams of the pants might look less worn (or more worn) than the front and back. You can also add more textures like grass stains on the knees or a belt or buttons. Once you’ve finished you have a custom texture that no one else has. Just make sure to save a version of the file that you can still edit (in the case of photoshop a .psd file) and a jpeg. DAZ Studio won’t recognize it if it isn’t a common file format like jpeg and by saving the other one you can always go back and make minor tweaks to the texture.
The bump map gives your texture that added bit of flair by creating the illusion of something tactile. When using a bump map, your final image will render that figure with certain parts of the texture raised and reacting to the lighting. For example, if it was a cloth fiber texture, a proper bump map would show the intricacies of the fabric, as opposed to cloth painted on a flat surface. It’s really easy to make a bump map. Once you have your texture mat finished, open the jpeg (so that the image is flat) and desaturate it (remove all color so that it is grayscale). In this instance, white/lighter greys equal raised portions of the mat, and black/dark grays equal lowered portions of the mat. This can sometimes be a bit tricky as in my example the belt is black, but I want it raised up. Again layers can help in this scenario because you can just carry over the belt layer and turn it white. Or, in my example, I just inverted the blacks and whites. When you're finished, save it as a new file. You can adjust it in the bump options in DAZ Studio, but it all starts with this picture.
Applying Your MATs:
I briefly described this process in my introductory article about 3D art, but I’ll mention it again here because it is a crucial part of this process.
Open the figure you created a new mat for and click on the ‘surfaces’ tab in the left-hand menu. If this tab is not visible, go up to the top and select ‘view’ > ‘tabs’ > ‘surfaces’. Now you should see the tab on the left.
From the surfaces tab search down the list for the figure you want to change. Some times there are multiple parts to a single figure so just click on the parent selection (the first name in the list for that figure) and it will select the entire object. Next look at the menu below. The first option you should see is color. You can change the basic color of the object here, but we don’t want that, we want to change the mat so click on the arrow to the right of the color selection (or the default picture in the box below the color box), then click on ‘browse’. Now find the folder where you saved your texture and when you find it, click open. This will apply your texture to the object.
In the same menu go down to find transparency and bump and repeat the same process with each of your pictures. You may have to adjust the bump strength so that it shows up properly in the render. For me, the bump usually looks good at 100% strength with 0.15 positive and 0.15 negative.
Then you’re done! You have your own custom texture, transparency, and bump map for your item. This allows for a greater degree of customization to figures you have purchased or downloaded for free, thus letting your creative imagination run wild. I’ve provided some additional examples below of my own customized textures so you can get an idea about how these might work for you. (In the shadow dancer picture I added a few objects, but you can still get an idea of how the original was changed, I just thought it looked better with the other things.)
*Also note that even though all my examples are articles of clothing, it can be done to almost any object loaded into your scene, so long as you can locate the mat files.
- If you can't locate a transparency map for your model, it's possible to use any existing mat as the base. By using the magic wand tool (in Photoshop) on the black space around the mat, you can separate the shape into a new layer. Then just add a white layer beneath that and you have an instant transparency map from which to work.
- If no texture files exist for your object, then you can 'fake' a texture and bump map with a basic square picture. But, creating a transparency map would be more work than it's worth. I've found the square texture works best for objects, but not outfits.
- If you apply your texture mat, but the colors seem a little off, check to make sure there isn't a default color applied to your model. This is just above where you applied the mat file. White will depict your colors as they were intended. Anything else will create a 'tint'. This is also affected by glossiness and ambient color.
- If you're interested in furthering your rendering abilities, check out my article about ways to improve your 3D renders.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2010 M. T. Dremer