Applying Materials in Revit

March 19, 2016 | Comments

Over the last few years, Revit materials have been continually refined to offer users the best in material representations that produce photorealistic images in renderings. Starting with Revit 2009, Autodesk has incorporated mental ray as its renderer. Thereafter, subsequent Revit releases have improved the interface and features of the Material Browser dialog box. It is now easier than ever to edit, customize and organize materials. This article will show you how.

Materials are render properties in Revit that make a family look realistic in renderings (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Materials make families look realistic in renderings.

You can control and change the properties of a material such as color, texture, pattern, bumps, highlights, reflectivity, transparency, translucency and self-illumination (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Material properties make families look realistic in renderings.

Materials also control how families look in other visual styles. You can specify the color and surface patterns they display in shaded views as well as how they appear in section cuts. Materials can also contain various descriptive metadata (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Available metadata fields in the material description.

The Material Browser dialog box has undergone changes throughout the years, culminating in the interface introduced in Revit 2014 (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Material Browser interface.

In this part of the series, you will learn how to apply materials to a component. But first, let’s take a look at the Material Browser dialog box to understand its parts.


The Material Browser Dialog Box

The Material Browser is accessed from the Settings panel of the Manage tab (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Location of the Materials button.

Because you will be constantly assigning materials to components in the Family Editor, it is a good idea to add the Materials button to the Quick Access toolbar (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Adding the Materials button to the Quick Access toolbar.

Initially, when you click the Materials button, it opens the Material Browser dialog box, which consists of two panels: Project Materials and Material Editor (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. The Material Browser interface.

A third panel is also included but minimized until the Shows/Hides library panel button is clicked (see Figure 8). This is the library panel.

Figure 8. The expanded Material Browser.

If you leave the dialog box in this configuration, Revit remembers it the next time you open the application. Here are the parts of the Material Browser:

  • Project Materials: This panel contains the default materials of the family template being used. On an existing family, it also contains custom materials created by the user. When a material is right-clicked, the context menu displays additional options (see Figure 9).

Figure 9. The right-click context menu.

  • Material Editor: This panel consists of tabs that allow a user to change specific information pertaining to its properties or assets. Depending on the selected material, the panel may display three to five tabs (see Figure 10):

Figure 10. Material Editor tabs.

  1. Identity: This tab contains editable metadata fields pertaining to the material, such as manufacturer, costs, model, class, keywords, etc.
  2. Graphics: This tab controls how materials look in nonrendered visual styles, such as shaded views. This is where the appearance of surfaces and section cuts are specified in terms of color and pattern.
  3. Appearance: This tab contains specific properties that determine how a family is displayed in realistic visual style and renderings. Depending on the chosen material, the user can adjust the settings of the following properties:
  • Color
  • Glossiness
  • Highlights
  • Reflectivity
  • Transparency
  • Cutouts
  • Self-illumination
  • Bump
  • Tint
  • Replacement image

Just below the Appearance tab is a gray bar containing additional buttons (see Figure 11).

Figure 11. Other tools in the Appearance tab.

The buttons in the appearance tab function as described below:

  •  Hand/sharing icon : The number above the hand indicates the number of times an asset has been assigned to any of the materials in the Projects Materials list. Zero means that the asset is only being used by the material currently selected. The text to the right of the hand icon is the name of the asset.
  • Replace asset button: Clicking this opens the Asset Browser dialog box in which an additional asset can be selected to replace the current asset.
  • Duplicate asset button: When this button is clicked, it duplicates the currently selected asset and appends “(1)” at the end of the asset name (see Figure 12).

Figure 12. When an asset is duplicated, a “(1)” will be appended after the asset name.

4. Physical: Used for structural analysis, this tab consists of information pertaining to:

  • Basic thermal
  • Mechanical
  • Strength
  • Concrete

5. Thermal: The properties in this tab are used for energy analysis.

So far, we’ve covered:

  • Project Materials, the panel where default and user-created materials are listed.
  • Material Editor, the panel where the properties of a material are changed.

Now let’s take a look at the Library panel:

  • Library Panel: If you want to add a new material to the Project Materials list, you can select it from this panel. The panel consists of two panes: the Library list (see Figure 13, C1) and the Library Materials list (see Figure 13, C2).

Figure 13. The Library panel.

In the Library list (Figure 13, C1), Revit provides three material folders, namely:

  1. Favorites: Denoted by a star symbol, this folder contains the user’s most commonly used standard or customized materials. Materials here are added by right-clicking a material from the Project Materials list or Library Materials list and then selecting Add to → Favorites from the context menu. Materials from these two sources can also be dragged on top of the Favorites folder. This creates a copy of the material into the Favorites folder.
  2. Autodesk Materials: This folder contains a categorized listing of standard Autodesk materials.
  3. AEC Materials: This folder contains a categorized listing of Autodesk materials specific to all Revit flavors (architectural, MEP and structural).

The Library Materials list (Figure 13, C2) displays the materials of a selected category in the Library list. When a specific material is searched, the result is displayed here. Thereafter, the material can be added to the Project Materials list by dragging it there or clicking the Adds material to document button (see Figure 14).

Figure 14. Dragging a material from the Library Materials list to the Project Materials list.

At the bottom left of the Library panel are three icons that add additional functionalities to the Material Browser (see Figure 15). They don’t have particular names, but when you hover the cursor over them, the tool tip indicates the functionality.

Figure 15. Additional tools at the bottom left of the Material Browser.

(a) This folder with a wrench icon is a neat feature of the Material Browser. It lets you create a new library and populate it with custom materials that can be shared over the network with other Revit users in your company (see Figure 16).

Figure 16. Create library button.

This is done by selecting Create New Library from the drop-down menu (see Figure 17).

Figure 17. Create New Library option.

This opens the Select File dialog box where you can save the library at a specified location in your company server (see Figure 18).

Figure 18. The Select File dialog box.

After clicking Save, the new library is added to the Library list (see Figure 19).

Figure 19. A library added to the library list.

Materials here are added by right-clicking a material from the Project Materials list or Library Materials list and then selecting Add to → Name of Folder from the context menu. Materials from these two sources can also be dragged on top of the new library.
(b) The miniature material icon with a plus sign lets you create a new default material or duplicate a selected material (see Figure 20).

Figure 20. The Create New Material option.

When the Create New Material option is selected, a Default New Material is added to the Project Materials list (see Figure 21).Figure 21. Adding a new Default New Material to the Project Materials list.

Create New Material basically functions the same as the default material included in all the family templates. It lets users create a new material from scratch.

The Duplicate Selected Material option creates a duplicate of the selected material but appends a “(1)” after the name (see Figure 22). Users have the option to keep this name or rename it to a new one.

Figure 22. The Duplicate Selected Material option.

Note, however, that even if you rename the duplicated material, it still contains the same properties as the original material from which it was duplicated. If you change a material property in the original, the duplicate will inherit the change and vice versa. If you want to create a unique version of the same material without affecting the original, click the Duplicate asset button from the Appearance tab of the Material Editor as explained below.


How to Create a Unique Duplicate of an Existing Material

Here’s a hypothetical situation:

Say, for example, you’ve assigned a light-colored oak wood material to the legs of a parametric table. You then want to use the same type of wood for the tabletop but also specify a darker color.

Your first thought may be to duplicate and rename the material from the Project Materials list and then change its color. However, once you’re done, the two materials (original and duplicate) update to the same new color! Your intention was to change the color of the duplicate without affecting the color of the original.

This is where the Duplicate Asset comes into play (see Figure 11, c). Select the renamed duplicate wood from the Project Materials list. In the Material Editor, click the Appearance tab and then click the Duplicate Asset button. This appends “(1)” at the end of the asset name. Now change the color of the duplicate. You’ll now notice that this change won’t affect the original. Try and experiment on this procedure.

(c) The third icon is a miniature window (see Figure 23).

Figure 23. The Opens/Closes asset browser button.

When clicked, it opens the Asset Browser window (see Figure 24).

Figure 24. The Asset Browser.

This window contains optional materials that are not found in the Library panel. It has the same window configuration as the Library panel, including a Library list on the left (Figure 24, A) and a Library Materials list on the right (Figure 24, B). It also has a search field on top (Figure 24, C). However, it only contains the miniature folder icon with a wrench (Figure 24, D), which lets you create a new library, save it to a specific drive location and share it over the network to other Revit users in the company.


Methods of Applying a Material to a Component

  • Applying a material through the Paint tool: This tool is useful in situations where different materials are required on different faces of a component. When the Paint tool is clicked from the Geometry panel of the Modify tab (see Figure 25), it opens a version of the Material Browser that only displays the Project Materials (see Figure 26).

Figure 25. The Paint tool button.

 Figure 26. The Material Browser access with the Paint tool.

Thereafter, when you click the surface of a component with the Paint tool cursor (see Figure 27, a), it acquires the image of the selected material from the Material Browser (see Figure 27, b).

Figure 27. Selecting and applying a material on a model face using the Paint tool.

The Paint tool can also be used to apply a material to any portion of a face created with the Split Face tool (see Figure 28).

Figure 28. Applying a material on a portion of a face using the Split Face tool.

  • Applying a material through the Properties palette: This is the primary means of applying a material to a family component. This is done by selecting a component and then clicking the Material button from the Material field of the Properties palette (see Figure 29).

Figure 29. The Material button in the Properties palette.

This opens the Material Browser dialog box where a material can be chosen from the Project Materials list.


How to Create a Material Parameter

The methods above, although fast and effective, have their disadvantages. If you load the family in a project and want to change its material, you’ll have to edit the family and then load it back in the project again. However, the family’s material will not update. In the project, Revit will not recognize the change in material unless the family is renamed. This procedure will add unnecessary families in a project, creating confusion and also increasing the file size.

The best way to overcome this limitation is to create material parameters in the family. Follow this short tutorial:

  1. Open a Generic Model template and save it as “Materials – Parametric.”
  2. Create a simple square extrusion—the dimensions don’t matter.
  3. Click the Family Types button (Create or Modify → Properties). In the Family Types dialog box, click the Add button (see Figure 30).

Figure 30. The Add button in the Family Types dialog box.

In the Parameter Properties dialog box, type “Wood Finish” in the Name field and then specify Instance. In the Type of Parameter drop-down menu, select Material and then click OK (see Figure 31).

Figure 31. The Parameter Properties dialog box.

Back in the Family Types dialog box, click the Material button on right side of the value field next to the Material parameter (see Figure 32).

Figure 32. The Material button from the Family Types dialog box.

This is the Material button that is similar to the Material button in the Properties palette.

In the Material Browser dialog box, click Default material from the Project Materials list and then duplicate and rename it as Oak. Click the Asset Browser button from the bottom left of the window. This opens the Asset Browser window. Type “Oak” in the Search field. Choose any Oak type from the search results, and then click the replace arrows at the right side of the Asset (see Figure 33).

Figure 33. The replace arrows in the Asset Browser.

This assigns the Oak wood asset to the Oak family you created in the Project Materials list. In the Graphics tab of the Material Editor, check the Use Render Appearance box and click OK. Then Click OK from the Family Types dialog box.

In the drawing area, click the extrusion component. Go to the Properties palette, and then click the Associate Family Parameter button beside the Material name field (see Figure 34).

Figure 34. The Associate Family Parameter in the Properties palette.

In the Associate Family Parameter dialog box, select the material parameter you created and then click OK (see Figure 35).

Figure 35. The Associate Family Parameter dialog box.

Back in the Properties palette, you’ll notice that an equal sign was added to the top of the Associate Family Parameter button (see Figure 36). This signifies that a material parameter has been assigned to the material. The dimmed Oak name means that when the family is loaded in a project, the material will default to Oak. But this can be changed in the Properties palette of the project. If no material has been assigned when the material parameter was created, the family will appear gray in the project until a new material is selected from the Material Browser.

Figure 36. The equal sign on top of the Associate Family Parameter button.

In complex families, using the right patterns and images can save you hours of modeling and rendering time. Instead of modeling certain repetitive fine details that aren’t critical to the design, photographic images can be used to replicate them more easily. An example is a chain link fence, where the specific details of the fence are irrelevant to the overall design. Although possible, it would be impractical to model the fence, as it will bog down the computer during rendering times and increase the file size significantly without improving the utility of the model. Using a .jpeg image of a chain link fence in the Cutout feature of the Material Browser → Appearance tab, the image can be substituted for the fence. Therefore, you only have to model a simple extrusion to represent the fence. During the rendering process, Revit will substitute a tiled version of the chain link image to make the fence look realistic. On nonrendered visual styles, a cross hatch can be selected as the fence’s surface pattern.

Creativity is the key to creating families that accurately represent the object being digitally replicated. This holds true when creating components, assigning parameters and, of course, applying materials.

This is Part 8 in a 10-part series on Creating Loadable Revit Families. For more information, see:

  • Part 1: Classification of Revit Families
  • Part 2: The Revit Family Editor User Interface
  • Part 3: The Ribbon, Quick Access Toolbar, Keyboard Shortcuts and Snaps
  • Part 4: How to Use Work Planes in Revit
  • Part 5: How to Dimension with Revit
  • Part 6: Using Revit Draw and Modify Tools
  • Part 7.1: Modeling Basics: The Family Editor Modeling Tools
  • Part 7.2: Modeling Basics: How to Create Simple Parameters in Revit

About the Author

Michael Anonuevo currently works for YWS Design & Architecture located in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a technical writer, published author, BIM modeler and musician who owns and runs Founded in 2009, his website specializes in unique and highly detailed Revit families created in native Autodesk Revit Architecture geometry. Anonuevo is an Autodesk Revit Architecture Certified Professional. He is also an Autodesk beta tester for Revit Architecture. At, he regularly writes articles pertaining to Revit families. He also writes product reviews and is a contributing author at AUGIWorld, AECbytes, CAD Digest, and He is a member of AUGI, Club Revit, UK Revit Register, Los Angeles Revit Users Group and Southern California Revit Users Group.


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