Vray Materials – Part 3 – Metals

Let’s continue the shader theme a bit further. Todays topic will be METALS

Metals are a special case – in their pure form, they do not have a Diffuse component, only reflections.
As if that were not enough, those reflections behave differently from non-metals.

They are much stronger, the fresnel equation (and the resulting curve) is more complex and the reflections are colored in a lot of cases.
Here is a comparison of reflection curves of aluminum and plastic.


Notice that overall reflections are stronger and that there is a dip towards the right end of the graph for the aluminum. The math to create this graph needs multiple values, not just a simple number for IOR.
Vray doesn’t natively support the complex fresnel equation with n and k values used for metals. So to get accurate reflections, we must use some tricks.

The first method (popularized by Grant Warwick in his Mastering VRay course) is by creating custom falloff curves by hand in the material editor.
This method works, although it is quite tedious to set up. If you watch his course you will see how to use it, I’m not going to repeat it here.

However, there is one important thing that Grant didn’t quite get correctly, so I feel like I should ‘fix’ it.
The falloff map in 3ds max works in a strange way, the actual values are not really exactly what they seem. It seems that the falloff goes from 0 to 90 degrees in a linear fashion, but that is simply not true. So if we place a point at 50% and expect it to represent the color at 45 degree incidence angle… it doesn’t really show up at 45 degrees.
Here’s a simple test setup and the results. The lines on the sphere are rotated at exactly 45 and 22.5 degrees As you can see, it simply does not match.



Thanks to on Wobi on chaosgroup forums for writing this osl you can use to ‘fix’ the falloff precisely. Just unzip and load this FILE as both Front and Side of the falloff and you can use the curves like Grant suggests in his videos.


After writing this post, there have been some changes that make the method below outdated. Siger from sigerstudio.eu has written a FREE plugin that works with older versions of vray and also has ready-made presets that allow you to get the correct metal reflections very quickly and easily!

Check it out HERE!

The second method (the one I prefer) uses a custom OSL shader as the reflection texture (load it into the reflection slot through VrayOSLTex node and make sure the Fresnel is off in the shader settings) and it’s a bit easier to use. You just have to enter the n and k values taken from the refractiveindex.info site for R, G and B wavelengths.


The actual values for red, green and blue are somewhat open to interpretation, Different sources use different numbers but the approximate range is similar.
I use values from NASA’s site: 0.650, 0.510, 0.475

Now the resulting reflection map has the correct color and the correct falloff calculated by the complex fresnel equation.
When you’ve set up the values for a particular metal, save the osl file for future use.

If the color feels a bit wrong or you need a slightly different alloy, just run the map through a color correction node and adjust the hue saturation there. This way you still have the correct starting point with correct falloff curve and are just making color changes.


Another interesting thing about metals is that they are actually almost never pure metals. As soon as they are exposed to air, they start to oxidize (tarnish, rust).
tarnishThe resulting metal oxides behave like dielectrics. So this means they actually have a completely different set of properties. There are a couple of ways to deal with this: Blend materials and complex map setups in single layered shaders. I’ll demonstrate these workflows in detail pretty soon as a premium video.

That’s it for this chapter in the vray PBR material guide :)

Vray Materials – Part 2 – Reflection

Reflections, or specular reflections are what we see when the light is reflected back from the outermost layer of the surface.
For non-metals 99% of the time, these reflections are grayscale.

They also always have something called the Fresnel effect, which means that the strength of reflections depends on the angle of incidence. The reflections are at their weakest when the surface normals are pointing directly at the viewer (0 degree incidence angle) and they are 100% strong when the surface normals are pointing at a perpendicular angle relative to the viewer (90 degree incidence angle)

Measured data for real world objects (non-metals) defines the strength of reflections at 0 degree incidence angle to be about 2~5%. No more and no less.

This part is actually easy to do in vray, no calculations or anything. Just set the Reflection value to pure white and make sure Fresnel is on and set to the IOR value of 1.5
The frensel calculation takes care of the rest and the reflectivity at 0 degrees is exactly 4%
For liquids, lower the Fresnel IOR 1.3~1.49
If you need to boost reflections a bit increase it up to 1.6
That’s it, 90% of the shaders should just use 1.5 value.


A lot of folks take the measured reflectance values and use them incorrectly – The reflection amount combined with Fresnel makes sure that the full strength is only reached at grazing angles, The measured amount at 0 degrees is set by the IOR. You don’t have to calculate anything, just use white and adjust Fresnel IOR. Even adjusting Fresnel IOR for non liquids is non essential. It’s quite hard to tell the difference between 4% reflectance and 6% reflectance, so you probably shouldn’t even bother.

Here’s a simple test setup so you can see that it works correctly for yourself. Pure white environment, simple sphere with pure black Diffuse and pure white Reflection.
When measuring linear reflection channel values in VFB we can see they match perfectly.


The only exception for non-metallic materials, where you might go higher with the Fresnel value is for gemstones and coated reflective glass. These can have the IOR go up to 2.4 (actual reflectance at 0 degrees up to ~17% )

The specular look of the shader is mostly controled by the Glossiness, or roughness. This value imitates microscopic imperfections of the surface and makes the reflections appear blurrier.
For pure, clean materials you don’t need to use a Reflection texture, only a Glossiness map.

It get’s a bit more complicated for dirty/layered/mixed/rough/metallic surfaces but I’ll cover that later.

The glossiness itself is worthy of our attention – there is something similar to the Fresnel effect going on in respect to the blurriness of reflections. Even relatively rough surfaces have sharp reflections at grazing angles.

Here’s a simple example photo (yes, that’s my actual phone, I’m still stuck in the last century).
As you can see the reflection becomes sharper as the viewing angle approaches parallel to the surface normals.
Try it for yourself with a relatively rough object against a brighter object.


Even things like cardboard have sharpish, strong reflections at glancing angles.

To imitate this effect, my standard practice has become using a Falloff map with a custom curve in the Glossiness slot.
The texture, if needed is used in the First color slot, while the second slot sets the upper limit for Glossiness. For most materials it should be just pure white. For rougher surfaces you should lower it to medium/light gray, as rougher surfaces never seem to reach full sharpness even at grazing angles.


The falloff curve itself looks something like this. It’s not set in stone and you can tweak it a bit in either direction, I’m afraid there’s no convenient measured data to use here, so you will have to use your own judgement. The important thing is that the effect itself is present.


I use this approach for all my shaders, except for perfectly smooth surfaces (float glass, water, etc)

Interestingly enough, even things like painted walls, fabrics, bricks and other surfaces that don’t ‘seem’ reflective, should have pretty strong reflections.
They should just be blurred quite a lot.
Here’s a link to an interesting article with some examples of specular reflections – http://filmicgames.com/archives/557

Overall the light is bounced more around the scene and it looks a bit brighter and more physically correct, when using reflections for all surfaces, even ones where the reflections are very blurred. The downside is longer rendertimes than with “cheat” materials (no reflections on things like plastered ceiling, or other seemingly non-reflective objects).

To make things a bit more balanced, reduce the amount of bounces on materials with blurry reflections, it could help out a bit with rendertimes, while still keeping a more physically accurate look. I’ve found that 1~2 bounces on blurry surfaces is all it takes to make a difference.


One final note about reflections – you really should be using the new GGX (GTR) BRDF for all your shaders, it gives a much more realistic rendering of the highlight areas ,especially when using falloff maps in the glossiness slot.


In the next lesson, I’ll focus on Metallic materials. They are a whole different beast and require some advanced techniques, so stay tuned!