Creating realistic textures with displacement maps in Keyshot 8

The guys at Luxion just released their latest version of Keyshot, and I’m absolutely thrilled because displacement maps are one feature I was rather impatiently waiting for! Displacement (or depth) maps are an absolutely great way to create REAL textures that can absolutely make your renders POP! Let’s take a look at what this newfangled feature is and how to master it!


Up until now, perhaps the biggest thing missing from Keyshot’s arsenal was its support for depth or displacement maps. You could only use bump maps in Keyshot to simulate textures, but that’s all. Now the difference between bump and displacement maps is visible in this image below.

The one on the left uses a bump map, and the other on the right has a displacement map. Bump maps only simulate texture, they don’t create it. They manipulate light and shadow to make it look like a surface has a texture, but in reality, that texture is an illusion. Displacement maps, on the other hand, actually create that texture. They physically manipulate 3D geometry to make the texture, and if you look at the silhouettes of the two below, you’ll get the gist. The one on the left is still a perfect circle. Even with the texture. The texture is an illusion. The one on the right, however, literally has those bumps that you see in the image above.

This ability to actually manipulate 3D surfaces is great for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it makes materials incredibly realistic. Concrete LOOKS like concrete. Tiled surfaces literally have 3D tiles in them. Gravel looks great too, because it’s actual gravel, not a flat surface with gravel texture. Secondly, it takes the pain out of actually modeling minor details. You can make folds in cloth by just dropping a displacement map. Crinkles on paper, grass on a lawn. You don’t need to physically model these minor details anymore. You can rely on a good displacement map you downloaded (or created!) to give you instant results.


It’s quite literally black and white. Displacement maps use grayscale to determine height, just like bump maps do (you can actually use those bump maps as displacement maps). In short, if you look at a bump map, notice that the parts that usually stick out (like the bumps on the ball in the image way up top) are the white bits, while the parts that are black recess downwards. The whiter the pixel gets, the more elevated/extruded it is, the blacker the pixel is, the further inward or downward it moves. In theory anything that’s exactly 50% gray stays untouched. Here’s a snippet of the map along with the result alongside.

Most bump maps can be used as displacement maps. Make sure you have maps that are of a high resolution because a pixelated image will result in a pixelated surface, and that isn’t good. Conversely, if you’ve got details that are way too sharp, just carry the map image to photoshop and gently blur the parts you want softened. Blurring a sharp edge that’s black on one side and white on another will cause the colors to intermingle and form the grays in between. As a result, you’ll get softer edges with bevels/fillets without having even done anything!

You can find displacement maps online (the good ones come at a price) or you can even MAKE your own bump maps. Using the black-to-white principle, you can create maps of common textures like woven carpet in a software like Photoshop or Illustrator and just export the maps to hi-resolution images. Go ahead and experiment with the portrait-mode on your smartphone camera too. It has the ability to capture a decent amount of depth, and you can use websites like to extract the displacement map from your image ( will give you an inverted version of the displacement map, so make sure you take it to PhotoShop and invert the colors to get the real map). You can see two images below of a ‘portrait-mode’ photo and the displacement map placed alongside. You won’t get incredibly crisp displacement maps with your phone, but using your phone’s portrait mode is a pretty nifty and handy way of learning about new textures, patterns, and shapes, and how they’re recreated in grayscale to allow computers to see depth.


Just to fuel my curiosity, I carried that avocado displacement map and image file to keyshot to see what I got and boy! You notice a few things off the bat. The map is far from accurate, but here’s why. A. You’re using a pretty basic piece of 3D imaging which mainly uses algorithms to calculate depth. And B. This ‘displacement’ map is actually a blur map. It doesn’t calculate depth. It calculates what’s in the foreground and what’s in the background, and uses that data to create DoF, or depth of field. (That’s why the displacement map is inverted, because the algorithm blurs the white and doesn’t touch the black. It’s essentially the same principle but a different operation.)

So let’s look at Keyshot’s Displacement Map feature in depth (hehehe, get it?) The displacement, or the geometry, forms just one part of the entire material… which is why we’re looking at Keyshot’s material graph (right-click, edit material graph), which deconstructs everything for us to better understand and build materials. Keyshot separates materials into Surface and Geometry. Surface allows you to create materials, finishes, textures, and Geometry allows you to edit or tinker with the third dimension of the model itself. In the Surface section, you get to decide whether your material is plastic, or metal, or concrete, etc. You can add other aspects like color, roughness, graphical patterns to this. The Geometry section is where things get interesting. There are basically only two components to using a displacement map. One is your map… an image file. And the second is a displacement block, which tells Keyshot you want to use the map as a displacement map.

Connect the map to the block, and the block to the geometry tab, and you’re good to go. The geometry doesn’t change right away (because it’s processor-intensive), which is why you need to “execute” the map. First off, double click on the image map block and make sure you’ve got the size, scale, placement right. You can press the ‘C’ key to preview your map on your model and press it again to hide the map. Once you’re satisfied with how the map is laid out, double click on the displacement block and hit execute. Certain things happen. The map gets executed, and you get a first impression of how your geometry changes. In order to tweak the end-result, try changing the displacement parameters.

Displacement Height: Changes how high or low the highest and lowest points of your displacement map are. For something like large pebbles, you’d have a larger height. For something like gravel, the height would be negligible.

Offset: Determines whether your displacement map pushes stuff outward or inward. Grass sprouts out of a surface, but holes in Swiss cheese go inside a surface. You’ll need to tell the software which direction to process the map in.

Resolution: The lower the resolution amount, the clearer the pixels on the map are. The resolution value basically tells Keyshot how small you want the smallest detail to be. A large value creates lesser detail, a smaller value makes details more intricate.

Max Triangles: This tells the software how many pixels (or triangles) to allow your map to have. So for maps with lots of details (individual grains of gravel), you’ll need more triangles. For something fairly simple like a tiled surface, a low triangle count works just fine!


Okay, at just over a thousand words, I’ll stop talking! Displacement maps are a great way to create geometry without creating it. If you’ve got bump maps lying around, try using them with the displacement block to get some stunning results! You can even go further to create wrinkles on skin, crumpled patterns on paper, or actual threads in a loosely woven material. I recommend checking out Poliigon for their incredible database of materials and textures. Just remember one thing. Keyshot is already rendering all your scenes in real-time. Telling it to start building 3D surfaces basically is going to require more resources. Very detailed or large depth maps may take more time to load as well as render, so depending on your needs, and how powerful your machine is, go ahead and give displacement maps a shot! They’ll “grow” on you!

Image Credits: Poliigon


Keyshot isn’t an unheard of name in the industry. Most design companies like Motorola, Microsoft, Oakley, Skullcandy, Nissan, Chrysler and DeWalt regularly use Keyshot, and nearly half of the designers we asked used Keyshot for their renderings. Its biggest achievement is making renders as simple as dragging and dropping materials, textures, environments. For a beginner, Keyshot is a great way to get the job done, and for a power user, Keyshot retains all the tools to make absolutely stunning visualizations. The rendering software released its 8th version at the beginning of this year, including a massive variety of easy-to-use features, from intersecting/cutaway materials, to the introduction of fog/smoke and volumetric lighting, to being able to add bubbles/flakes in solid materials, and perhaps the biggest update yet, support for displacement/depth maps!

Let us know what Keyshot feature you want us to talk about next!
Drop us a line here.

Transitioning from Industrial Design to User Experience Design

User Experience Design. The past decade has been stormed by this latest (although it has been an integral part of Industrial Design for years) field of design! Simply speaking, user experience design is about transferring our existing process and applying it to a digital medium. But as the technological advancements have grown, this nascent field has come up with its own sets of rules and preferences, which are also evolving as the medium evolves. To understand more about transferring the knowledge from Industrial to UX Design, the write-up by Jake Deakin takes about his personal journey as he becomes a User Experience Designer.

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The Beginning — My Story

I’ve made a career out of pushing myself to do things I was totally unqualified for. I graduated from university with an honors degree in industrial design. At the time, the scene was rough – not much was happening for any industrial designers, let alone graduates. I took a risk and decided to drop industrial design and try working purely as a user experience designer (UX)… Fast forward, I’m now working as a product designer at MYOB in AU.

Why UX? In my final year of uni, I completed my thesis on a human-centered design approach to the patient experience of a healthcare center. This project had a large digital component to it, and during that time I was introduced to the famous ‘UX team of one’ book, which opened my eyes to the field of UX. To me, it was the digital equivalent of industrial design, but it focused more on the user than the product — something that in my opinion industrial design lacked.

Earlier I mentioned dropping industrial design… well, that’s what I thought I was doing at the time. Since my career pivot, I’ve noticed many interesting parallels between industrial design and product design. Although the outputs are different, it’s amazing to see how many of the design principles and processes are the same, even some of the tools I’ve carried between industries.

I hope you find this post both interesting and useful. Hopefully, it helps an early, or even late career industrial designer decide whether UX is a path worth exploring.

The similarities I’ve found along my journey — ID & UXD

There is a number of overlaps I’ve found between both industries. This not definitely not a comprehensive list, but merely an overview of the most common parallels.

  1. Research
    In both fields we utilize research methodologies like ethnography, storyboarding, user journey mapping, interviewing, surveying, diary studies, observation etc. We have the same research goal; to learn as much about the end user as possible. User research offers both fields the opportunity to design experiences that satisfy the user’s true needs, leaving them with an experience that exceeds their expectations and creates long term engagement.
  2. Ideation
    In both fields, we generate, develop, and communicating new ideas. Ideation in both disciplines comprises all stages of a thought cycle, from innovation to development, to actualization. As such, it is an essential part of the design process. I’ve found in both fields that I have ideated through journey maps, sketches, mood boards, prototypes, and similar artifacts.
  3. Evaluation & validation
    In both fields, we evaluate and validate customers (do we have a customer?) problems (does this problem actually exist?), concepts (does this solve the problem?), experiences (does this solution present any problems?) and technical validation (code/manufacturing). In both fields, this can be done with user interviews, observation, sketching, prototyping and testing.
  4. The end goal
    In both fields the end goal is the exact same, we want to create a great product that satisfies our user’s needs. The medium we use to achieve this may be different, but the goal remains the same.

The differences & my suggestions for adapting

There are also a variety of key differences between these two fields. For me, these differences were unavoidable challenges I had to overcome. At the bottom of each subject, you’ll find my suggestion on adapting to these differences.

  1. Physical vs. digital… Tangible vs intangible
    There have long been physical products with digital components, as our world becomes smarter, the overlap of will only increase making this pointless of a difference and more or a similarity. However, the most obvious difference between the two disciplines is that industrial design addresses tangible products and UX primarily focuses on intangible products. As an industrial designer, whether you work on automotive, homewares or POS, as the outcome is tangible it requires three-dimensional rationale during all phases all the design process. Juxtaposed to this, as UX is mostly intangible, you’ll be applying your skills in two dimensions. Whenever I crave creating something tangible, I do it… There are many ways you can create tangible artifacts in UX design. However, you will miss creating 3D products.
  2. Teams
    While working in industrial design an average day was spent alongside a design manager, a few senior/midweight designers, customers and possibly a manufacturer. In UX it’s completely different (subject to where you work). In my current role on an average day ill spent my time alongside a design manager, multiple senior/midweight/junior designers, business analysts, product managers, developers, a data scientist, and customers. In my experience, UX teams tend to be bigger, and paired with many other roles. My suggestion is to learn about working with these roles and see if it interests you — in my case, it did. I enjoy having the opportunity to learn from a diverse range of thinking.
  3. Tools
    While working in industrial design I spent most my time in Solidworks, 3DSMax, Keyshot and the Adobe Suite. However, in UX my tools of choice are Sketch, Invision, and Principle. No matter the industry, as technology evolves, tools will continue to change throughout our careers. My suggestion for the transition is that you forget about it. Instead, you focus on constantly stay up to date with the fundamentals of design (elements/principles) and they’ll be transferrable to any tool you’ll use.
  4. Manufacturing vs Development… Perfection vs Imperfection
    Manufacturing requires perfection, without perfection the product will not work as intended. In development, you face the problem that perfection never ships (get released to the public), it gets stuck in an endless loop of always being improved. Unfortunately, the only way to successfully ship a product is to ship the imperfect product (something I didn’t want to accept). The good news is, in UX you’ll get the opportunity to constantly work on improving the product based on user feedback. I don’t have a suggestion for this, it’s just something you’ll need to accept.

YD’s endeavor is to increase efficiency by connecting employers to their ideal candidates. Yanko Design has curated industrial design followers for the past 15+ years, and we know these are the best match for your company. To recruit now, post a job with us!

The original write up by Jake Deakin published on Medium can be found here.

Chromebook App Hub gives teachers ideas for class activities

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The Soar kit teaches tech to kids the right way


The future generation won’t look at VR headsets and controllers the same way we do. For us, the generation that used pens, pencils, notebooks, and blackboards, VR headsets and future-tech aren’t as easily accepted and integrated into our lives as they are with younger generations. The Soar ensures that this tech is introduced at a young age, in the right manner, to children. Rather than playing with an iPad or a VR headset first, the Soar ensures their first interaction is a positive learning experience.

The design of the Soar kit is as perfect as it gets. A dock, a VR headset, and two controllers (with stylus heads) all come together into a singular form, nesting neatly within each other. The dock charges the devices, while the headset can be used for interactive experiences. The controllers can work either with the headset, or with a tablet that’s used separately. On the other end of each controller is a thick stylus that works as a drawing/coloring pen with the aforementioned tablet.

The Soar’s nesting design makes sure that the schoolchild has all their tools at their disposal. Its small form factor also makes it easy to carry around, and to school and back home… where rather than rely on their parents’ iPads or Nintendo Switches, or Oculus Rifts, they’ll be immersed in tech that’s built just for them, to induct them appropriately into futuristic technology.

The Soar is a winner of the Red Dot Design Concept Award for the year 2018.

Designer: Choi Jaewan








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