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Rendering Realistically in Keyshot with Sam Gwilt

Hey I’m Sam and I do design! I recently made a YouTube video demonstrating how to Render Realistically Really Rapidly! This process helps break down your 3D models and turn them into photorealistic renders. Below are a few tips that should help you get some eye-poppingly real Keyshot renders.

I recently attended a talk at Develop3D Live by Luxion Chief Scientist Henrik Wann Jensen and was amazed by how detailed the algorithms behind Keyshot are. He showed sample renders of the Ford Interceptor renderings used as adverts in car magazines, as well as various glasses of milk that, by inputting the chemical compounds of each into the Keyshot algorithm, could even distinguish between skimmed, semi-skimmed, and full-fat!


If realism is what you’re looking for, it’s important to understand what you’re trying to replicate. Keyshot’s algorithms can do a lot behind the scenes, but making realistic renders means understanding photography theory, and knowing what to look for when it comes to image styles.

There are three golden rules that make up a good photograph:

• Subject matter: what is the thing you’re capturing?
• Composition: what is the right angle and the framing?
• Lighting: How is the scene lit?

The same principles apply to renders. In Keyshot, the first thing I do is import the data I want to render, and start laying things out to get the composition right. Camera settings also contribute to the composition: as a rule of thumb, I usually stick between 50mm and 80mm lenses. These are typically what photographers use for portrait and product photography, as it replicates what our eyes naturally see.

Here you can see the two image layouts I chose to render, before applying the materials.

The difference between a 30mm and 50mm lens can be seen here. The 30mm gives this coffee pot a strange perspective, whereas the 50mm is a lot more natural.


With the scene set, it’s time to apply the materials. Keyshot’s material graph has become incredibly powerful recently. It’s possible to fine tune each material to have an exact base colour, reflection, translucency, opacity, and much more. Adding in these complex material nodes increases the render time so, while you’re still fine-tuning your scene, I would recommend keeping things simple with just the base materials (and possibly reflection maps to check the highlights aren’t blown out).

Once the base materials are set, it’s time to light the scene. Deciding on the lighting setup really depends on the style of image that you’re aiming for. A soft white light in a studio environment or a sharp warm 2700k temperature light simulating a sunrise with crisp shadows can really change how the scene looks, so remember to replicate real photography if you’re going for realism. I’d recommend learning the basics, like colour temperature and 3-point lighting as a starting point, and then you can really start to have fun!


The final push for realism comes from disrupting the perfect geometry that only computers can create; nothing in the real word has a mathematically perfect straight line. This is where rendering is different from product photography, even though the end goal is the same. Photographing products in the real world involves post-production editing in which all of the imperfections are airbrushed out to produce an “ideal reality”. Renderings come from the opposite direction; starting with perfect geometry and applying precise surface imperfections to make it look realistic. The end goal for both is to hit the ideal reality target, without falling into the uncanny valley, which would make the product look like an eerie airbrushed painting.

Adding displacement maps, refraction maps, specular maps etc. are great ways of adding these surface imperfections. Combining these textures, along with the three golden photography rules, will help create realistic images could one day be on the front of a magazine. Now the only thing left to decide is; would you like to advertise cars or milk?

For more tips and tricks, don’t forget to check out the @sam_does_design Instagram and Youtube pages, and


Sam Gwilt is an industrial designer with an eclectic mix of skills. He graduated Brunel University London and worked for Paul Cocksedge Studio, specializing in bespoke lighting installations and exhibitions internationally. He now works with clients globally at consultancy Precipice Design, and also runs an Instagram Page and YouTube channel – Sam_Does_Design – where he shares industry tips with the community.

Nike’s new free Circular Design Guide helps designers embrace sustainability

We’ve all seen those memes about how our CO2 levels are at the highest they’ve been in 3 million years, and that we’re going to face major environmental consequences in the next few decades. It’s scary, but those statistics and numbers don’t help us come up with a solution to this massive problem. Guidelines do.

Years of Nike’s efforts to develop consciously designed products, practices, and behaviors has culminated in Nike’s “Circularity: Guiding the Future of Design”, a free-for-all design guide that lets students, designers, studios, and industry members embrace sustainability and ‘circular thinking’. Designed in collaboration with the students and staff of Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, while taking inspiration from Global Fashion Agenda and insights from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the Design Guide (accessible by clicking here, or right at the bottom of the article) aims at empowering designers with the right tools to design for longevity as well as considering a product’s entire journey in mind.

The guide looks at all aspects of the design process, and adds key insights to it, from making conscious material choices like Nike’s Flyknit technology that eliminates the need to punch out shapes from fabric (causing waste), or especially their Flyleather, an innovative “engineered leather material that looks, feels and smells like natural leather, made by binding at least 50% reclaimed leather fibers together in an innovative, environmentally sustainable water-powered process.”

Other chapters in the guide also talk about disassembly, or how your product would be taken apart to re-purpose or recycle different components, and even considering circularity in packaging, perhaps one of industrial design’s biggest afterthoughts.

“We have an obligation to consider the complete design solution, inclusive of how we source it, make it, use it, return it, and, ultimately, how we reimagine it.” says John Hoke, Chief Design Officer Nike. The Circular Design Guide in its entirety, accessible below, breaks down Nike’s efforts and processes in a way that helps others take key insights on how they can make their design approach more future-focused and sustainable.

Click Here to visit Nike’s Circularity: Guiding The Future Of Design

How to win a design award: A handy guide

If you haven’t read our piece on What Awards Do For Your Design Career, I do recommend you check that out first. An award is instant validation. It puts a stamp of approval on your work, your process, and even you as a designer, helping you stand out from the rest. Awards, aside from validation, also have a number of additional benefits. Cash prizes, trophies, internship opportunities, interested funders/clients, collaborators, and just a fast-track to getting your work seen by thousands if not millions. Here, we try to break down the process of applying for a design award and deliver some insights on what you can do to maximize your chances of winning one. This is, by no means, some cheat-sheet or a hack, but just a very structured way of choosing your battles properly and having the correct strategy in place to win them. So let’s dive in, shall we?


You’ve got a project, you want an award. Pretty simple, right? Actually, it’s much more complicated than that! Awards, as many as they are, don’t operate on the same principle. Yes, they do reward great design, but a few things change from award to award… the most noteworthy ones being –

A. Different award programmes reward different aspects/types of design. Not all awards are the same.
B. Jury panels vary from award to award, and from location to location.
C. Prizes vary from award to award too.
D. Budget – Perhaps the most crucial part of a design award. Awards require money. Some more than others.

So ask yourself what you’re gunning for. You could be looking for a stamp of approval on your work/portfolio, or you could be looking for potential collaborators/investors, or even press coverage. You could perhaps do it for the prize money, or a dream job. Based on what you exactly want to achieve, your choice of which design award to apply for will change. Here are a few steps to help you get on the right path.


Every award is different. It’s important to do a little research on the awards, their requirements, etc. If you’ve got a conceptual product, maybe an award for design concepts is your best bet. If you’ve got a product/proof of concept and you’re looking to take it forward, an award that grants you that sounds like a perfect plan of action. Some awards are category-specific too. There are awards that are strictly for architecture, some specifically for designs aimed at enabling people with special needs, and some just for consumer electronics, or even earth-friendly. Sometimes an award could be country-specific as well. Knowing which award suits your requirements, and which award your project fits best into really goes far to help secure your spot on the winner’s stand.

Spend a healthy amount of time reading the award’s About Us page. See what their aim is, what their ethos is. Take things a step further and look at past winners to get a better idea of the qualitative standard the award demands. Ask yourself if your work compares to theirs. You wouldn’t design a product without putting in a healthy amount of research, so why would you send your product for an award without doing your due diligence too, right?

The MOTOROiD by Japanese Yamaha Motor Co Ltd won the Luminary Award at the 2018 Red Dot Concept Design Award. Red Dot is arguably one of the most well-known international award programs and is split into two legs, one specifically for product design, and one for concept design.


An award is perhaps the best way to get a panel of established designers and judges to look at your work. Look at the jury panels to see any noteworthy figures. Not only does the jury speak of the award’s qualitative standards, the jury is also a pretty great way to stick your foot in the door at a good design firm. Not sure what I meant? Imagine your favorite designer is on the jury panel for a design award. Sending your work to the award is a sure-fire way to get them to see your work. If they do like it, chances are they’ll remember you because of your project, making it easier to strike up a chat with them, or to even get an opportunity to work for/with them!

A camera for the visually impaired, the 2C3D Camera secured a win at the Asia Design Prize in 2018. The 2019 jury panel is presided over by none other than Karim Rashid, among some incredibly noteworthy talents.


Here’s the most interesting bit… The reward! First and foremost, figure out what you’re really looking to achieve. Some awards give you media-coverage, some awards give you a cash prize, some awards give you job or internship opportunities, and most awards come with their fair share of recognition. If you’re looking to put your name on the map, choose a reputed national or international award… preferably one that has a strong marketing/publication component. If you’re looking for a cash prize to fund the growth of your product, some awards do give out hefty rewards to their winners, although winning them is definitely an uphill battle. If you’re looking to launch a product, look for an award that’s interested in prototyping your ideas. If you’re looking for a stellar work opportunity, some award programs reward internships or exchange programs too! (We’ve got a nifty design award guide coming up soon!) And here’s a critical bit. Always be prepared. Without sounding like a complete buzzkill, being handed an award is a great feeling, but it can often come with unintended consequences. Winning an award can often result in a lot of media coverage, and may open you up to a wide variety of counterfeiters, embroiling you in a copyright battle… and moreover, all awards require NDA clearance from your client, or your college, so make sure you’ve taken proper legal advice before applying for an award… Especially if you’re looking to file a patent later down the road.

The splendid, portable, lightweight, foldable EcoHelmet received the James Dyson Inventor Award in 2016. The James Dyson Award is always looking to find young innovators with life-changing ideas for products. The winning designs are reviewed by Sir James Dyson himself, and are entitled to a hefty cash prize to help kick-start their career or their product journey.


It’s important to look at the award from the organizer’s perspective too. Medals, trophies, prizes, juries, exhibitions, galas, and a lot of moving parts in between them, they all require a budget… and more often than none, that budget comes from award application payments, which means you need to pay to enroll for the awards program. Depending on how grand the award is, its enrollment fee varies too, which can sometimes make awards an expensive ordeal. So, factor your budget into your choice of awards too. Some awards are cheaper for students, which is just great if you’re studying with no source of income and you’re looking to bootstrap your future career. In fact, some schools will even pay the entire or a portion of the fee just to help students out (after all, a school’s reputation does increase if its student wins an award). If you’re not a student, you may be required to pay full price, so make sure you allocate a sufficient amount. If you’ve worked with a client on the project, you can even ask them to pay for the award too… after all, they benefit the most from it because the award also goes to the product AND the company. Some companies use the award logo on their websites, products, or packaging, so it’s a win-win for everyone! Along with money, time plays a big role too. Make sure you’re ready with your project way in advance, so you can enroll during the early-bird stages of the award, and conveniently skip the hefty late-application fee if you cross the deadline. Conversely, if the award is free for all (because their business model relies on something else altogether), more power to you! Go for it, you rockstar!

The Humla Forest Recon Drone won the iF Design Talent Award in 2018. A separate award program dedicated to rewarding upcoming talent, the Design Talent Award is a branch of the widely known, international iF Design Award. It’s exclusively for design students and is completely free of any charge.


Selecting the right award is just a mere first step. The application is the daunting bit. Make sure you do the following. First, carefully read through the guidelines to see if you and your design are applicable. Once that’s done, make sure you’re aware of the deadlines, and more importantly, the deliverables. Some awards require JPEGS in certain aspect ratios and sizes, some require PDFs, some actually require printed documents, and some make it a point to ask for videos of proof-of-concept, or even your actual product (to examine and/or to showcase at their exhibition). Go through your project with a fine-toothed comb making sure the renders aren’t pixelated, colors are accurate, and DEFINITELY avoid grammatical errors or typos. Ask a friend, colleague, or mentor for feedback on the layout, the aesthetics, and whether the information and design intent looks crisp and clear. You can even go one step further and ask past-winners of the award for some key pointers and tips. Never underestimate the power of a fresh perspective or a piece of critical advice.

Lastly, check to make sure your client, university, design-teammates, or even your boss are all okay with you sending the project for an award. Getting that approval is crucial because the last thing you want is to violate confidentiality agreements, or not credit an individual or organization if they played a part in your project! Once you get a green signal, and you’re happy with the quality of your output, and you’ve checked everything off your to-do list, send the application in! The earlier you send your application, the better. Not only do you save money on regular or late fees, but some competitions offer preliminary judging to give you pointers and feedback that can help make your application better. It’s always great to know that you’ve put in every bit of effort to deliver your best work!

What next? Well, you know what’s better than one award? Multiple awards! Securing accolades from multiple award programs and competitions is a sure-fire way to brand yourself as a great designer. Whether you’re a student, a professional, a team, or even a studio, winning awards is a great way to gain a reputation. It helps put you, your product, your client, your university, and even your own company/brand on the map! Applying for awards can be a daunting task, but the benefits definitely outweigh the demerits – besides, if you don’t apply, you can never win, right!? So I hope this guide should prove incredibly handy when you’re looking to send your work in for a design award! And hey, all the best!

Also Check Out: You’ve Won A Design Award, What Next?

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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.